Paint the town orange

With the national team enjoying a renaissance on the pitch and a fan base with a reputation for being among the most passionate – and colourful – in Europe, the Dutch are looking forward to being part of hosting an unforgettable EURO 2020.

Amsterdam (Photo: I-stock)
Amsterdam (Photo: I-stock) ©iStock

This will be the biggest EURO ever, and while it is a celebration of 60 years of the competition, it will also mark 20 years since the Netherlands jointly hosted EURO 2000 with neighbours Belgium – a tournament that Michael van Praag, president of the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB), remembers fondly.

“I have some great memories because all those great [footballing] countries were close by. You could go and see them play. It was also very important in the development of Dutch football,” Van Praag says. “I also think that many young boys became enthused by what they saw there, and also started playing football [because of EURO 2000].”

Johan Cruiyff ArenA (Photo: Jorrit Lousberg)
Johan Cruiyff ArenA (Photo: Jorrit Lousberg)©UEFA

Bid success
Their successful bid to jointly host EURO 2020 was welcome news for the KNVB and the enthusiastic supporters, who back not only the brilliant Oranje, but are also enthusiastically gearing up for a great party in Amsterdam. “Everyone wanted to [bid]. We, the Netherlands, are also too small a country to organise something like this on our own. But, we really wanted to take part because we have a huge fan base and everybody dresses up in orange, and we thought if we manage to qualify, then you have a European Championship where you can also play a couple of home games. And that’s great for them. Also, we think it’s great that young kids are able to see famous players from other teams in the flesh in Amsterdam. 

“The idea behind [EURO 2020] was that you organise the European Championships in places where it would never normally take place, because many countries in Europe cannot organise a European Championship as they are too small. So, by going to various cities, you end up in places where the EURO wouldn’t normally take place. That’s what I really liked about it and also it’s the European Championship’s 60th birthday, so that calls for something special.”

Football for all
Football is a way of life for the Dutch, and as Van Praag explains, helping to host a history-making EURO will trigger a new kind of legacy, as support for the game, and women’s football in particular, following their Women’s EURO 2017 home triumph and Women’s World Cup runners-up spot, continues to grow. “We are a country with a very dense infrastructure. We’ve [only] got 17 million people, but we have 3,140 amateur clubs, so a young boy or a girl can get on their bike and within ten minutes they can be at a club where they are trained by a qualified coach.

“But what we also see is that, especially between the ages of 13 and 16, both boys and girls stop playing football because they want to do something else, such as a different sport, gaming, going to cafés, and even though they are still very young, they can always go out and relax on a terrace [in a bar or café] somewhere. So, we obviously see a decline. We see that there’s an increase in women’s football, but we’re seeing a decline in boys. But, we hope that the fact there’s such a huge tournament coming to the Netherlands provides an extra boost, and those kids will say: ‘Hey, football really is great and let’s keep playing’.”

After failing to qualify for both EURO 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, the Netherlands began to rebuild and are enjoying better fortunes on the pitch, most recently as finalists in the UEFA Nations League, defeated only narrowly by Portugal. Naturally, this is an added reason to be excited about the upcoming EURO.

“The Dutch team is always celebrated,” Van Praag adds. “The side events around a match are always very important. Thousands or perhaps even tens of thousands of people attend these, all dressed in orange shirts or with an orange hat. We also see that the people who are fans of the Dutch team are not necessarily fans of football clubs. So, it’s often families with wives and children, which always creates a very special atmosphere at the national team’s matches. And when that is all organised in your own country, we put a lot of extra emphasis on [providing] good events on the side, to make sure to create fan zones, not only for the Dutch fans, but also for fans of other teams. One of the things that the Netherlands is famous for is inclusion. We find it very important to be together with people from different countries and backgrounds. So I expect that, when you talk about a united front against discrimination, the Netherlands will be at the forefront. Football for everyone. That is what we promote, and we will certainly use this tournament to put more focus on this.”

Amsterdam’s appeal
Off the field, the KNVB and the city of Amsterdam are jointly preparing plenty of activities to engage local and visiting fans to the Dutch capital, while the city’s eternal and diverse appeal will attract fans to sights outside of sport.

“You have the canals, nice terraces and nice restaurants,” Van Praag says. “People from Amsterdam and the Netherlands are welcoming, we have that capacity. Amsterdam is not only a city. Just take a look at our beaches. Zandvoort is called Amsterdam Beach for example, and everything is accessible with ease. I think that Amsterdam and its surroundings are a great place for everyone to enjoy a day out. If you want to go out sailing, then you can do that, but you can also go and visit the forest, see the beautiful fields of flowers or visit a museum to see the The Night Watch by Rembrandt. You can all do that here.”

One of the world’s busiest port cities since the Dutch Golden Age, Amsterdam is a vibrant capital with a historical centre that has retained a relaxed and intimate vibe – its man-made canals, charming alleyways and ubiquitous bicycles combining to create a unique atmosphere. Amsterdam is a city steeped in art too, with masterpieces galore at the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum, and the creative spirit alive in its galleries and street art. The locals’ approach to football is equally colourful, orange being the preferred choice whenever the national team are playing. Johan Cruyff remains Amsterdam’s most famous footballer, and the Dutch legend’s name now adorns the stadium where Europe’s finest will star at EURO 2020, the same venue having hosted five games during the 2000 tournament.


Johan Cruijff ArenA

Capacity: 54,000
14 June: Group C match
18 June: Group C match
22 June: Group C match
27 June: Round of 16

This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 186