dimanche 12 juin 2011

THE DUTCH TEAM AND ME

THE DREAM TEAM
My favourite clubs were defeated in the football season 99/00. Dutch nationals played in most of the clubs I supported When I thought about it, I came to a conclusion. They were losing in order to win an even greater victory in June, the Euro, to be held on their soil. Those losses meant they would all come together in Oranje and seal a victory for that talented generation of football players.
I came to know the Dutch team, officially, at World Cup ’98. They struck me when I first saw them and found the beauty of their team. Their football style was delightful; I was amazed when I saw them play. I am convinced they formed the best team at the 1998 FIFA’s World Cup and the 2000 UEFA’s Cup though they didn’t receive any trophies. .

My Players


These are the players that formed the Dutch dream team. First, Edwin van der Sar, the famous Dutch goalkeeper. He was amazing at the goal with his impressive height. I could hardly see him smile when he was younger. He had a proud look with a heart of gold. He has been one of Europe’s best keepers. He was assisted by Ruud Hesp, Sander Westerfeld, and Ed de Goey….
Ronald and Frank de Boer are my best football players. Frank and Ronald are identical twins. I love them because they are always together, The Inseparable Brothers. I was unable to distinguish one from the other in the past. Later, I found some differences between them. Frank was defender while Ronald played forward. Ronald looked more emotional than Frank. I judged this when I compared their attitudes when they lost their penalty kicks at World Cup ‘98 and Euro ’00. Frank was not as dejected in 2000 as Ronald was in 1998.
Dennis Bergkamp was the emblematic figure of that generation. It was Bergkamp’s Generation. He was the cornerstone of the team because of his exceptional talents. One would have expected him to be captain but Bergkamp was full of humility. He was calm yet liberated a joyful rage whenever he scored a goal. Bergkamp knew how to score goals but was not its master. The master of goals in the orange team was the tireless Patrick Kluivert.
Patrick Kluivert was the leading goal scorer of the team. Kluivert was terrific when he played. He was always ‘in the zone.’ Yet sometimes, Kluivert was badly ‘out the zone.’ In such instances, there was no way to bring him back. Marc Overmars, the bicycle, was relentless. He was able to make a 100m race and Usian Bolt would see nothing He knew how to transport the ball from Frank and Numan’s defence to Patrick’s attack. And he also scored goals. Edgar Davids was very combative but it was difficult for him to score a goal. Clarence Seedorf was the great midfielder of the crew together with Philip Cocu, who sometimes got lost only to emerge decisive. Ruud van Nistelrooy was one of them though unfortunate to be selected in those times.
Since I am short of information about other Dutch players, I will only list their names: Boudewinj Zenden, Winston Bogarde, Michael Reiziger, Wim Jonk, Roy Makaay, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Jaap Stam, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Aron Winter, Pierre van Hooijdonk and all the Dutch players that you know so well.

Coaches
In addition to these lovely players, you have coaches who have been very close to them. Some had played in Ajax and later became coaches of Dutch and European clubs. They knew the younger players since some were their trainers and others formed part of the old crew within the emerging generations. I see the Dutch team as a family of grandfathers, fathers, sons and grandsons.
I only know a few of them but let me begin with the celebrated Dutch player Mr Johan Cruyff and the legendary Marco van Basten. You also have Ronald Koermann, Dick Advocaat, Louis van Gaal and Gus Hiddink. There is also the inevitable Frank Rijkaard, and the mythic captain Ruud Gullit, first person to brandish a trophy for Oranje.
This is the Dutch team that I knew whose players have been excellent in their game. They played in Europe’s best teams and many can testify that they played good football. At the club level, they won countless titles with Ajax and PSV. Many were successful at the European Champions’ League. They were named among the best players and FIFA ranked them among the best teams in the world. But the sad thing is that Oranje has won only one title, and Bergkamp’s Generation has retired without winning any title. This ordeal is the subject of my story, The Dutch Team and Me.

LOVELY
My passion for football started at Euro 1996. I watched a match at the quarter finals where an orange team was eliminated. I was moved by the tears of a man who missed his penalty kick. I sympathized with them for I had once admired a Rastafarian who had a beautiful laughter and who used to wear an orange jersey.
After that match, I continued watching football though nothing made me remember the Dutch team. Imagine the passion of someone who comes to love football at 15! I was eager to know all football players. I noted down the names of every new player I came across. The name ‘de Boer’ was in my list though I never knew who he was. I didn’t have the chance of watching football often but there was a competition our national TV would show. I had the possibility of watching two Champions’ League‘s matches on Wednesdays. It was the only opportunity I had of seeing football players. I was always excited so that I would do the cleaning on that day.

Ronald & Frank
There was a certain match I watched one night. It was the quarter-finals of the Champions’ League between Atletico Madrid and AFC Ajax. As I was watching the match, I heard the commentator call someone ‘Frank de Boer.’ After I had written it down, I saw the same player and this time, the commentator called him ‘Ronald de Boer.’ I glanced on my paper and saw that it was Frank. I thought the commentator made a mistake. Soon after, I saw the person defending trying to score a goal. I said to myself that they were playing disorderly.
My surprise and excitement were overwhelming when I saw two identical people making their way to the field after break time. Football astonished me in those days. I was so amazed to see two people who were exactly the same.. Ronald and Frank de Boer became my best players from that day onwards.

Dennis & Patrick
I later read a magazine talking about the ’98 World Cup qualifying matches. There was a picture of an orange guy who liberated an exciting rage after scoring a goal. I mistook his name for Kluivert. I also saw the picture of a young Blackman. I thought his name was Bergkamp. When I realized my mistake, Bergkamp became Kluivert’s big brother to me because they formed a terrible attack for Oranje.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity of seeing these players often. I could only see them once or twice a year. But by not seeing them, I grew to love them more and they became part of my life.

BERGKAMP’S GENERATION
World Cup 1998
I was happy during World Cup ‘98 because I could see my players. And how lovely they were! It was the first time I was watching such great football. It was a feast for the eyes to see the Dutch team play. They scored many goals and beat every team they met. I was really fascinated by Marc Overmars. He was perfect in his game. Bergkamp scored the terrific goal against Argentina and Holland made its way to the semi-finals.

Holland versus Brazil. I remember that night, how our house was crowded with neighbours who came to watch the match. My brothers and sisters were there and I was in a thrill. Ronaldo scored and Kluivert equalized. I don’t remember if there were more than two goals but I do remember the penalty shoot-out. Frank and Bergkamp succeeded, Cocu and Ronald lost and the Dutch team was eliminated from the World Cup. I was grieved, not only because Holland was beaten but because Ronald lost his penalty kick. I prayed for him and asked Frank to comfort him. It was even more pathetic to see Overmars’ tears when Holland lost the little final against Croatia.
After the World Cup, I supported clubs where I could find any Dutch player. I supported Barcelona most because it was a little Dutch team. Frank and Ronald had joined Kluivert, Cocu, Reiziger and Hesp there. Barcelona didn’t win any title that season. Neither did any of the clubs wherein the Dutch players were found. I can still remember what I said on the night Barcelona was eliminated from the Champions’ League 2000: “Aren’t they all falling now because a greater victory awaits them in June? And won’t it be greater to see all of them winning in Oranje?”

Euro 2000
Euro 2000 was hosted by Holland and Belgium. The Dutch team played at ‘their Euro’ and won. I supported them even more. I did not doubt them though there were moments of fear. I prayed for them every time and sought for the latest reports concerning them. I was with them daily and their joys and hopes were mine as well. They had a lovely coach whom I didn’t know before; thus it was my first encounter with Frank Rijkaard. I was impatient as I waited for that moment when Bergkamp’s Generation would be crowned as the best football team and their names forever sealed as Europe’s champions.
During the quarter-final, I made some comments which revealed my doubts. I said: “Why score six goals in one match and not keep some for the other matches?” When I saw Overmars very confident about the semi-final at the press conference, I feared the World Cup tragedy might happen again. Unfortunately, these words and fears came to pass.

The Match
I thought the match would be played on Thursday night. I had not prayed nor had I done the cleaning when I realized that the match was about to start. I made a quick prayer and went before the TV. The semi-final of Euro ‘00 between The Netherlands and Italy kicked-off. Holland played like they did in ‘98. They were so combative and the Italians would see none of the ball. Oranje was dominating but my fears would not allow me appreciate their amazing game.
Then it happened that a penalty was awarded to the Dutch team. Frank de Boer, the captain, specialist in free kicks and penalty shoots, shot and lost. When I saw that, I knew something was wrong with my players. I kept my outward calm but I was so scared within. I thought to give-up watching the match. But I remembered that their struggle was my struggle.
At break time, I retired to pray yet became more troubled when the match resumed. They were not able to make concrete any of the many chances they had. They were controlling the game but were unable to score a goal. And a second time, they were given a penalty and it was Kluivert who lost it this time The TV showed Frank Rijkaard and he seemed disturbed. Although he kept his outward calm, I knew he did not understand what was going on with his team. The stress was heightened as the match drew unto extra-time. I could not tell what was in the mind of the Dutch players; there was no way for them to put the ball into the nets.
What do you think I was still sitting there to see, the penalty shoot-out? Hadn’t they missed two penalties in the normal period? When the time was over, there was the penalty shoot-out. And again, Frank lost. Was it because Ronald wasn’t playing that day? Stam lost, Bosvelt followed the tune, and the Dutch team was eliminated from ‘its’ Euro.

The Nightmare
I could not believe what had happened. I had projected the joy of their victory but that was then impossible. I soon thought that it was not true. Holland was at the final. How could it be otherwise? All that I had prayed and hoped for? But the nightmare was there.
I could not stay in that night. I wanted to be where I could free myself. I left home and went to a small field at the roadside and poured out tears. I was crying out: “Lord, why do you do me this? O Frank, why Lord, the Dutch players are not the champions, when then?” People saw me and wondered. I then sat down and started thinking. I asked the Lord why I loved people who brought grief to my life. I thought of going to the clouds to be free from the pains. But when I remembered Frank and the Dutch players, I refused to be comforted. Where would my players go? Their pains were my pains and I had to support them in everything.
I set myself to imagine their pains, how long the night would be to them. I did not want them to feel the pains I was feeling. I shouted the names of Ronald, Frank and of the Netherlands as I ran back home. I spoke to no one that night. Only, these pains encompassed me. I went to the veranda and looked at the stars wondering how the pains could be assuaged. I prayed God to comfort them and then I would be comforted.
On Friday, Frank Rijkaard said he did not know what happened to his team. He said he was disappointed for his players and had gone to give them his support. I felt sorry for him for I had seen his worried face during the match and knew he was going through the same pains. I wept even more when I heard that Dennis Bergkamp was retiring from international football. That generation was Bergkamp’s Generation and if he was retiring, the rest would follow and they would never win a trophy together in orange.
I did not speak to my family for three and a half days. One of my sisters asked if those players knew me that I was moved to that point. She did not know anything about the Dutch team and me. Even though they didn’t know me, I loved them. As time went by, I felt better and by Monday, I began speaking with my family, convinced that the Lord had comforted the Dutch players though the scars of that night were still there.

Lovely
I happened to see some reports about the Dutch team during the Euro which made me very happy. I saw Davids being applauded by the others when he came to the pitch. It was beautiful to see Van der Sar bowing down to Kluivert who scored three goals at the quarter final. My best image was that of Ronald embracing Frank after scoring a goal. I was idealizing the love these brothers had for each other. And it was noble of Kluivert to refuse to be accorded one goal which would have made him top-scorer of the competition. It was a pity that they didn’t win when they were so lovely and so united. Aren’t they more than champions?

The Last Straw
In January 2002 I sat down to write another episode of the Dutch Team and Me and it was more than enough. I saw the way things were unfolding in the world and stopped asking questions.
In September 2001 I received sad news from the radio. I wanted to get the results of the qualifying of Korea/Japan 2002. I remained still when I heard the journalist say that Holland was already out of the race. Surprisingly, it did not come as a shock. I continued listening to the subsequent items until the news was over.
I went to the veranda and saw a group of stars which I had named after the Dutch players. I suddenly got an intense desire to change the life I was living. My youngest sister noticed that I was sad and she came to me and insistently told me not to cry. I could not answer any of her words. I went within myself pondering more about the Dutch team and their fate. My sister would not leave me alone. She came nearer and sang a song and I gave her a smile.
Then I tried to imagine the implication of this elimination for the Dutch players. I was thinking of writing down what I was feeling and what the players were feeling. I accused football of being responsible for the pains of my players. Was I sad for myself or because I knew the Dutch players were sad? I wondered if all was finished for that generation.

Oranje my Love, Oranje my Heartbreak
After Euro ‘00, I did not want to hope in the World Cup because I was afraid the same story might be repeated. But they had to play qualification matches for World Cup 2002 and I could not forsake them. Their struggles were also mine. I prayed that all should be present at the World Cup so that none should be absent in case of their victory. Even though Bergkamp had left, Ruud van Nistelrooy was his right substitute. I hastily projected the team at the World Cup forgetting that they had first to qualify. Finally, it was Bergkamp who was right. Maybe he foresaw this final blow and retired before it happened.
And what about Ruud van Nistelrooy? I was particularly sad for him for he had never taken part in a big competition. And 2002 was his year. He had been so bright and emerged the best striker of the season. He wanted to confirm that at the World Cup. And wouldn’t he have been the revelation of Korea/Japan 2002?
Many of the Dutch players were aged 29-31 and I doubted if all could be present for World Cup 2006. What I wanted was that all of them win a trophy in Oranje. I continued to support them though I knew no victory could be beautiful as it would have been in ‘98 and ‘00 with Dennis Bergkamp.
Football has been the passion of Ronald and Frank, of Patrick and Dennis, of Edgar and Cocu, of Edwin and Arthur, of Michael and Marc, of Clarence and Ruud. Football has also brought sorrows in their lives. Guus Hiddink was disappointed in ’98; Rijkaard had remorse in ’00. Can van Gaal still believe in the Dutch team?
I used to ask many questions about the ways of the world during those times. Was it possible that the best do not win? Yet, no one can take away what they have lived in Oranje. The orange team was the loveliest dream of my players though also, their nightmare. Yet they have won an undying trophy, their friendship, unity and loveliness. And you have won me, if at all I could mean anything to you.

The Dutch Team and Me
Don’t tell me that this is how football works and that people do not win all the time. Have you ever seen such lovely and talented players before? I wanted their names to be sealed as those who gave the Netherlands its first world trophy. I don’t know if van Basten’s generation was as talented as Bergkamp’s Generation though they won.
When I started writing this article, I thought the pains the Dutch players felt in 2000 would never be removed. And I was so grieved that they would carry it all their lives. Now I know the Dutch players did not allow that sad experience pull them down. Their victory was to be gathered together for a single destiny: Oranje. Lovely people as the Dutch players that you know! Look at them when they line up in orange for the anthem and see how lovely they are!

A Letter
I love you the Dutch team and have written The Dutch Team and Me to share my version of your career in Oranje with you. I have sought to meet you these last ten years. How many letters did I send, with drawings, making phone calls, to your various clubs? I wrote articles, poems and composed two songs for you Oranje and Always Oranje. I would like to meet you who have become part of my life. Let me meet you my lovely players and tell you face to face what I have lived because of you.
If the Dutch players have not won here, certainly there must be a place where they shall win. There is a greater victory to be won and that is greater than the World Cup.


CHAPTER TWO
Holland vs.Portugal, first half of the 8th finals, World Cup 2006.Holland concedes a goal through a terrible shoot from a Portuguese defender. Don’t panic! It’s not yet half time; they shall equalize and score the winning goal. Just look at them, youths gifted with talents! Van der Sar, van Bronkhorst and Cocu make a link with the former generation. Gaze at the tireless Robin van Persie, and Arjen Robben, Overmars’ double. Stare at Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babbel, and Andre Ooijerl. There is Oranje, though with no de Boers, Kluivert, Bergkamp. Certainly it is Oranje for that is the same loveliness. At the bench, a wealth of substitutes! Isn’t their coach the legendary Marco van Basten?

Marco Van Basten, Coach
Holland has always been coached by fantastic technicians. After giving all they had, each retired leaving the post for someone likely to be more fortunate. For it was a matter of fortune rather than of talents in Oranje, for none could doubt its potentials.
At long last he came out of his shell. Many had wondered at his silence over the ordeal of the Dutch team. They didn’t qualify for World Cup 2002 and they were not impressive at Euro 2004. Seeing how things unfolded, he had to come out. He led his team-mates to victory in 1988. Good luck was with him. The time came for the legend to retire from isolation and repeat the marvels of the past.
Marco van Basten took over the Dutch team after Euro 2004. Taking the team at a transition point, he wanted to reform it by creating a new generation of players. The team he was bringing up would be at its peak at World Cup 2010. Marco was very confident and knew what he wanted to achieve with his players. And his race for World Cup 2006 was extraordinary. Oranje lost none of its matches and finished first in its group. Yes San Marco has returned. And when the legend returns, history surely repeats itself.

The New Generation
It surprised many that Van Basten did not retain active players of the former generation in his 23 squad for World Cup 2006. His rejuvenating campaign was extreme. And the World Cup started timidly for the Dutch team. They played S. Montenegro for their first match. Ruud, Edwin, Cocu were present and Robben was remarkable. Holland won the match with no little painstaking.
Margaret you were in a dilemma during the match they played against Cote d’Ivoire. It was a match between the team you love and the team of your continent. Your heart versus. your race, whom shall you choose. You were afraid and didn’t watch the match. You disappeared and came back to know the scores. You found out that Holland had won. Were you happy for your players or sad for your people?
The Dutch team qualified for the 8th finals and their match vs. Argentina was more of a friendly. The real test was at the 8th final vs. Portugal. Portugal was one of the teams I loved because of its former players Joao Pinto, Sa Pinto, Paolo Sousa, Fernando Couto, and Nuno Gomes. I thought I would be divided in my support but at the kick-off, there were no doubts about the team my heart preferred; it was always Oranje.

8th final World Cup 2006
Oranje was not in orange but in blue and white, their national colours. It was remarkably rejuvenated. Still, these young ones were talented. They were masters in tact and techs. They played in Europe’s top clubs and contributed to the successes of their clubs. Frank Rijkaard won the Champions’ League together with van Bronckhorst and van Bommel. Robben won the Premier League. Van Nistelrooy was top scorer in Manchester United and Clarence Seedorf was making a festival in AC Milan.
A catalogue of great players with amazing talents! If you open the orange book, you would only find gifted players. Yet, there was still this sad reality. They had only one trophy with Oranje. Don’t despair; for Marco van Basten has come. The manifold techniques that amazed Europe in 1988 are back. 2006 is your year. You are in Germany to win.
Sunday June 2006, second half of the match between Holland and Portugal, Portugal leading 1-0. They tried all to reverse the situation. Sneijder was splendid in the midfield, Van Persie, relentless in his shoots, Cocu struggled hard for ball possession, Kuyt recovered all lost balls, van Bronckhorst never gave up till expulsion, Ooijer tightened the defence, Van der Sar saved threatening balls, Van der Vaart came in to fortify the attack. Oranje struggled hard but the old story was told again that night. Holland was eliminated from the World Cup.
Did Marco van Basten put too much trust in these young players? Were these young men prepared to handle the World Cup? Are experience and maturity not decisive factors in football? Marco van Basten received so many criticisms, mostly because he didn’t allow Ruud van Nistelrooy to play the match.


Ruud van Nistelrooy
Ruud van Nistelrooy! Wasn’t he the best player in 2002, who would have been the revelation of Korea/Japan 2002 except that Holland did not qualify for the World Cup? Wasn’t he the unlucky one who did not take part in Euro 2000 because of injury? Wasn’t it the same one who was not selected for World Cup 1998? And wasn’t it the same Ruud van Nistelrooy who was not allowed to play the 8th finals of the World Cup 2006?
Ruud van Nistelrooy was agitated during the match waiting impatiently to enter the pitch. Ruud made some warm-up but soon realized he would not play since the three substitutions were already made. Ruud was not only Holland’s but also one of Europe’s best strikers at the moment. That was his first World Cup only and Holland was eliminated without Ruud playing the match.
I could not tell what was on van Basten’s mind though I trusted he did all for the good of the team. But doubts arose in me on that Sunday night, and I asked: “Van Basten, did you sincerely believe that these children were able to accomplish such an exploit of winning the World Cup, or did you go there only to participate? And why didn’t you line-up van Nistelrooy? What would van Nistelrooy feel henceforth about you, his model in football?”

Unity
I am very concerned with the spirit of unity in the Dutch team. Their friendship, to me, has compensated the fact that they never won the World Cup. I love the solidarity between and among coaches and players. You can hardly find only one Dutch player in a club. They love to be together. Rijkaard’s was assisted by a compatriot in Barcelona, Van der Sar joined Ruud in ManUnited, van Persie was Bergkamp’s younger brother in Arsenal. Louis van Gaal nearly turned Barcelona into a little Dutch team when he was there. The Dutch team is a family of many generations; it is a team of relationships.
Marco Van Basten made a choice for the team which no one could understand.. I became afraid when I thought Ruud would be angry at Van Basten. I don’t want any disagreement among them. Don’t nurse any grievance against each other Remain united and un-break my heart. I can quote this scripture for you– see how they love each other. Isn’t World Cup 2010 taking place in my continent? Won’t you win on my soil? But O what will I do, I am divided between my heart and my race, whom shall I choose?


Consolation for Bergkamp’s Generation?
Van der Sar, van Bronckhorst, Philip Cocu, survivors of the all-time talented Dutch team of Frank de Boer, Bergkamp’s Generation, have encountered another defeat. There are no consolations to take to their former team-mates. Was it ordained that that generation would not win any trophy? Hasn’t the nightmare been prolonged in them?
Didn’t you know that there was no justice in football, and even in the world? Isn’t there injustice in football else I see Bergkamp winning many international trophies. Why do you want to understand any logic behind the fact that the best do not win? Don’t try to install justice by your own strength. Haven’t governments and organisations failed to put an end to terrorism, famine, wars, racism, global warming leaving many in misery today? You’ll be disappointed and tempted to give up when your work for the cause of justice appears to be vain
Don’t set your heart on things of this world. Don’t you know that it is the Lord who establishes all our endeavours on earth? Rely on the Lord, who Himself is Justice, and your efforts will be recompensed. He will establish the work of your hands and you will never work in vain. He shall comfort you always as he has done for the Dutch players.

A worthier victory
You’re champions already, when you love each other and live in unity like Frank and Ronald? Weren’t Ronald and Frank separated from each other in Barcelona only to be reunited in Qatar? Weren’t Frank Rijkaard, van Basten and Ruud Guilit inseparable in their days? Wasn’t Bergkamp always with Kluivert? Isn’t van Basten the model of van Nistelrooy?
God has given you talents in football. When you win the World Cup one day, it won’t be a matter of pride. It will only signify that in the Netherlands, there have been great generations of football players. What else do we want the World Cup for?
From Johan Cruyff to Patrick Kluivert, from Ronald Koerman to Dennis Bergkamp, from Guus Hiddink to Edwin van der Sar, from Frank Rijkaard to Marc Overmars, from Ruud Gullit to Edgar Davids, from Marco van Basten to Ruud van Nistelrooy. It is the same beauty, the same loveliness: Always Oranje.
Isn’t this our victory, being a player of Oranje? Yes Oranje, there is a more excellent way.

To the Dutch Players
Margaret Newmeli