So it happened. The day I was both dreading and looking forward to. The World Cup match between Australia and the Netherlands; my sporting equivalent of nature versus nurture. It was weird. I impossibly wanted both teams to win. The internal conflict was as riveting (and at times as painful) as the one playing out on the pitch in Porto Alegre in the small hours of a Thursday morning. In a way the result spoke to both camps – a Dutch win sees them progress to the next stage and every chance of avoiding the home nation; a positive and stirring performance by the Socceroos bodes well for the future of the Australian national team. And my head didn’t explode, much to my relief!
I’m Australian born and bred, and ultimately nothing will change that. Growing up however the lack of an Australian presence in major football tournaments such as the World Cup (due to performance issues, FIFA bastardry and witch doctor curses) and the European Championships (due to not being European) led me to supporting an alternate national team. And as my heritage is predominantly English and Dutch, the obvious choice was one of those famous footballing nations.
The reason I chose Oranje over the Three Lions could be analysed until the cows come home. Perhaps it had something to do with the Dutch shirt standing out a lot more than the English one. Perhaps it had something to do with the way the Dutch team of the mid-to-late ‘80s played. Perhaps it had something to do with a subconscious longing for an absent father. Perhaps it was D) All Of The Above. The clincher for me though was this:
Poetry meets wizardry, all wrapped in an orange shirt. With that one sweep of his majestic right foot, Marco van Basten took my footballing allegiances by the scruff of the neck and said “Come with me”.
I embraced the enigma that is the national football team of the Netherlands as much as I could. I went to bars in the middle of the night to watch them play whenever they featured in a major tournament. I purchased shirts, scarves and other paraphernalia. However deep down I never really felt as if I fit in. Being with a group of people that you hardly know who are all speaking a language you can’t understand doesn’t help, neither did my lingering paternal abandonment issues. I looked Oranje, occasionally acted Oranje, but never understood or really felt Oranje. Loyalty however is a dogged trait so Oranje I remained. And boy could they play!
That belonging did come, however its colour was yellow and not orange. When John Aloisi and Mark Schwarzer ran the back straight of Stadium Australia the night Australia qualified for the 2006 World Cup after a 32 year absence I, along with millions of other Australians, ran after them. I kept running when Tim Cahill had his second goal in five minutes in that “wonderful moment in Kaiserslautern”, continued through the cacophony of vuvuzela noise that was South Africa and with forays into Asia. I had a tribe, a herd with which to run with.
What this meant was that as the Socceroos rose in stature the theatre of combat with the Netherlands, once mutually exclusive, now intersected. Friendlies took place between the two, interesting yet not meaningful within the biosphere of a World Cup. Yet still, this had for some time worked out as well for me as it had for both countries. A somewhat symbiotic relationship between the FFA and the KNVB had developed. Dutch coaches and technical people had made their mark on the Australian national team, whereas the Eredivisie has seen its fair share of Australian talent grace its pitches during their footballing journeys.
All this changed on the 6th of December 2013, when a ball was drawn from a pot at a resort in Bahia in Brazil; indicating that Australia and the Netherlands would face off in the forthcoming World Cup. The internal conflict personified by the forthcoming game between the less credentialed country of origin and the more fancied ancestry began. It was almost as if I had Johnny Warren on one shoulder and Johan Cruyff on the other, fighting it out for my favour. The end result of this mythical encounter saw my allegiances remain with the green and gold, however the emotional outcome resembled a stalemate more than anything else and this I believe played a part in my struggle to get excited in the World Cup this year.
I still run, though not with the same intensity as I once did. Time has slowed me, circumstance has burdened me and cynicism has blunted me. My embrace is also looser than it once was. My tackles no longer stick. So it was then that I found myself on the couch in suburban Melbourne at stupid o’clock on a cold Thursday morning in July watching a very entertaining game, wearing neither country’s shirt yet supporting both to varying degrees. The nerves that accompany such a big game were still there, they were just spread across 22 players instead of 11. The gamut of emotions were traversed – pride, elation, disappointment, jaw-dropping wonder, and above all else relief. I am genuinely relieved that the match is done and dusted. I can now resume my practice of following both teams now that their orbits have crossed and their destiny for the next round determined one way or the other. Perhaps it’s now time for me to get excited. Brazil 2014 may see me run still!
Some parting thoughts:
- Ange Postecoglou does not drive buses. His reinvention of the Socceroos should be spoken of in the same breath as the effect Guus Hiddink had on the team. Whatever he’s being payed to manage us, it should be doubled;
- If Tony Bloody Abbott does one thing right during his one term it should be to bestow a knighthood on King Cahill, for all that he’s given to the sport and to the country over many years. And like Marco van Basten, his clincher is this:
What did you think of the goal, Craig Foster?
What did you think of the goal, bogan Aussie commentators?
- Say what you want of Arjen Robben, he’s a jet. Love his work;
- Matthew Leckie’s a beauty, and I liked the look of Memphis Depay. The injury to Bruno Martens Indi may well end up being the luckiest of the tournament (not for him naturally… or for Australia);
- Finally this: in 1974 Australia lost to the eventual winner (West Germany). In 2006 Australia lost to the eventual winner (Italy). In 2010 Australia lost to the… wait never mind, however they did lose to the team that was beaten by the eventual winner in the semi-final (Germany). In 2014 will Australia have lost to the eventual winner??? Sit down Chile, I’m not talking to you.
Oranje Oranje Oranje, oi oi oi!