Expectations may be low, but the Netherlands are playing in a major tournament again, and it feels so good.
Hi, I’m Finley, the guy behind Clockwork Oranje, and throughout the Euros, I’m going to be sharing my thoughts and feelings in a series of posts.
That’s all I have to say in terms of an introduction really. So yeah, here’s my state of mind ahead of the first match….
On a warm summer’s night in Brazil in 2014, the Netherlands’ beat Brazil 3-0 to secure third place at the World Cup.
Since then, a lot of good things have happened in my life. I’ve finished secondary school, gotten into university, backpacked through South East Asia and Europe, studied in America, graduated with first-class honours and started a dream career in sport’s journalism.
If I went back in time and told my 16-year-old self about the last seven years though, he wouldn’t be over the moon, because in that time period, the Netherlands haven’t played at a major tournament.
That may sound a bit silly, but it has been a big, big hole in my life in the summers of 2016 and 2018. After all, some of the fondest memories from my childhood are of Oranje dazzling on the big stage.
I’ll never forget the anticipation I felt when visiting my Dutch family at easter and seeing the entire nation covered in orange; the excitement of rushing home from school to watch afternoon matches; the sheer disbelief when witnessing the team destroy Italy, France and Spain in 2008 and 2014.
The emotions, of course, weren’t always good ones. To this day, I have rarely sobbed more than I did after the final in 2010. The losses to Russia and Argentina in 2008 and 2014 hurt too, as did the complete disaster of Euro 2012.
To say how the Dutch did determined whether I enjoyed my summer holidays or not would be a bit of an exaggeration, but however ridiculous it may be, it did have a major impact. A big win would keep me smiling through the week, and a heartbreaking defeat would hurt for even longer.
(If you’re not into your sport, you probably think that’s insane and that I should get a life, but that’s okay. As Johan Cruyff once said: if I wanted you to understand, I would have explained it better.)
Through all of the above experiences though, I was a kid, so when we finally qualified for a tournament again, I began to wonder if, seven years on, now technically an adult, I would still feel everything – the anticipation, the agony, the ecstasy – so intensely. Considering that the overriding feeling has been one of flatness when the team has let me down post-2014, I wasn’t so sure.
A day prior to our first match though, I can already confirm that nothing has changed.
Bizarrely, it was Wesley Sneijder rapping that made that abundantly clear to me. Ridiculous TV adverts are something of a tradition in the Netherlands prior to a big tournament, and seeing them back again felt so so good.
Since then, my eagerness for the start of the tournament has only grown, and not even the somewhat negative atmosphere surrounding the side can dampen it.
Given that, I’m fully expecting to revert to my 12-year-old self during each and every one of our matches over the next month. I’ll be jumping up and down with joy if we win, and struggling to get to sleep at night if we lose.
As is the case with most things in life, caring so much about something I have no control over is both a blessing and a curse. A group of men that I don’t know and have never met have the power to put me on top of the world or leave me absolutely miserable for weeks on end, all with how they kick a ball.
Ultimately though, I can’t change how I feel, and even if I could, I wouldn’t. Sure, the lows are rough, but the highs more than make up for them.
The 2010 final was absolutely heartwrenching, but I wouldn’t choose to banish it from my mind if it meant losing the memory of the win over Brazil two rounds earlier.
That match not only brought a huge amount of joy at the time, but continued to do so long after it was over. I rewatch highlights on a regular basis, will tell my children and grandchildren about it, and will remember the elation I felt that afternoon forever.
I suppose that’s what makes me so pumped for this tournament; the hope of another match like that. Sure, it’s unlikely that we’ll get one, but it is possible, and my God that’s exciting.
What’s more, while the chances may be fairly slim, I genuinely don’t think that we’re as bad as many people are making out, and really do believe that we have the ability to do something amazing over the next four weeks if the team clicks.
The fact that our first match is against the biggest threat in our group doesn’t help though, and I’d be lying if I said I was confident of a win. Still, a draw wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Regardless of how things go, one thing is certain: the world is a better place when the Dutch are in the draw.