Euro 2024: ‘I gatecrashed the wildest party at the tournament – it was absolute madness’ | Football | Sport


Orange-clad Holland fans bouncing through the streets of Germany have, in many ways, become the defining images of Euro 2024 thus far. Their football has been underwhelming, but when it comes to pre-match shenanigans, nobody does it quite like the Dutch.

Hopping off a four-and-a-half-hour train which rolled into Berlin’s central station shortly before lunchtime, my mission was simple: Find the Oranje Army and get a taste of what it’s like to be one of them.

Scenes of the Dutch doing their ‘links rechts’, or ‘left right’, routine before their opening match against Poland instantly became iconic. But could they maintain those energy levels for their third group game, against Austria, having already booked a ticket to the last 16?

It was easy to forget that the Austrians were also in town when Holland supporters began flooding the streets. On a scorching, 30-degree day, a crowd gathered at Unter den Linden, near the fan park at the famous Brandenburg Gate, while thousands of others flocked to an open space outside the Messe Berlin convention centre before walking to the Olympiastadion on foot.

The chaos element from Holland’s earlier pre-game antics certainly remained intact.

Within minutes of wading into the crowd, I was met by a sequence of bizarre sights. Two ecstatic fans lighting up a flare in the back of a tuk-tuk and the driver stopping in the middle of the road, not to chastise the duo on board, but to get his phone out and capture the carnage. Three grown men on a single push bike – one on the handlebars, one on the seat and another clinging on for dear life at the rear as the tyres strained under their weight. A fleet of mini cars racing past painted in the flags of different European countries. A man playing an accordion leading others in a form of impromptu conga. What could be next?

When I asked one fan whether Holland has the craziest support at the Euros, he shot back: “Definitely. Nobody supports their country like us. It doesn’t matter if it’s F1, darts or football, the Oranje Army is always there.”

Certain ingredients have become staples of Holland’s following at major tournaments. The most instantly recognisable is the dress code. At least one item of blinding orange clothing is mandatory – whether it’s the national team’s jersey or a more daring, head-to-toe configuration. Long-haired orange wigs, three-piece suits and dungarees were chosen by a few in full party mode. And it all makes for a striking sight in their end of the stadium.

The Ruud Gullit impersonators were out in force again, several complete with darkened faces which has sparked stinging criticism from some corners, even though Holland defender Nathan Ake leapt to their defence.

And the drinking, chanting and dancing are all played out amid a backdrop of Dutch ‘hardstyle’ – a kind of fast-paced, thumping dance music popular in that part of the world, which is enough to make those of an older generation, or anyone with an ear canal, wince. But hey, who am I to criticise the self-proclaimed wildest fans at Euro 2024?

My overriding impression from being amongst the melee is that the Dutch supporters are a bunch of big kids – in the best way possible. That much was evidenced by the list of things which prompted them to temporarily ditch their conversation and holler loudly: A sporty bike revving its engine, two local women walking through the crowd, a man collecting cans and bottles in a bin bag, the sight of an Ajax-themed coach driving past – although that, in fairness, prompted just as many boos as cheers.

Somehow, there was still a scrap of energy left after all that for another monumental rendition of ‘left right’ before the game. It’s no wonder things went a bit quiet in the orange end of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium once play got underway.

Not that Ronald Koeman’s side gave them much to get excited about, of course. Holland fell behind three times against Austria in a 3-2 defeat, sending them stumbling through to the knockout rounds as one of the four best third-place teams.

Their group-stage survival guarantees Germany at least one more dose of Dutch madness. If you’re planning to get involved, get plenty of sleep the night before and be warned: It’s not for the faint of heart.



Source link