When it comes to devotion to the cause, fans at UEFA EURO 2012 will have to come a long way to match the commitment of Netherlands fans Toon and Margo Winters.
The couple have made the 2,500km trek from Eindhoven to Kharkiv, where the Oranje will play their three Group B games, in their campervan, crossing Germany and Poland en route to Ukraine. It is a personal record for the Winters, whose mix of footballing passion and wanderlust began in 1992, when Toon proposed to his wife during a road trip to the finals in Sweden.
Since then, Toon and Margo have missed only one final tournament – EURO '96 in England – travelling to Portugal and Switzerland as well as having a more leisurely UEFA EURO 2000 in Belgium and the Netherlands. Their goal now is to see the Oranje win the Henri Delaunay Cup. "People from all over the world love football," said Toon, 66. "But everyone wants to see their country become champions," added Margo.
Their journeys across Europe have allowed Toon and Margo to meet plenty of people, and they have enjoyed their contact with their new hosts. "The Ukrainians are very welcoming," Mr and Mrs Winters concluded. "
A lot of Ukrainians have tried to help us during our journey – even those, who know only a couple of English words."
While crossing Ukraine from west to east with their dogs, Aion and Eros, Toon and Margo stopped off for four days in Kyiv, visiting the big sites in the capital city and taking a trip on the River Dnepr. In Kharkiv, they have parked up near the artificial Lake Pechenezhskoye, surrounded by idyllic pine forests.
Will the trip be worth it, though? The Winters think so. "As you remember, our team played admirable football four years ago," said Toon. "We impressively defeated Italy and France. Why were we defeated by Russia? You cannot become champion without help of fortune. I hope we'll be luckier this time."
The PSV Eindhoven supporters are hoping that their personal favourite, Mark van Bommel – set to return to PSV after UEFA EURO 2012 – will be the Oranje's lucky charm. "Mark is a true captain," Toon said. "He fights from the first 'til the last second of the game, giving all he has." Arjen Robben is a Winters family favourite too. "Those players like Arjen fill stadiums," he added. "In the stands, supporters don't appraise the quality of the tactical plan. They enjoy skill and technique."
On the eve of Saturday's opener against the Netherlands, Toon and Margo will bring their camper van closer to the Metalist Stadium. Their big hope now is that Bert van Marwijk’s side can inspire a journey to the quarter-finals in Gdansk or Kharkiv at least before they make their long journey home.
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