As many of you can guess from my “Oranje_sky” username, I am of course a devoted fan of the Dutch National football team. This has been a painful Euros for me as you can imagine. What caused the most pain for myself was not the infighting and lacklustre performance of the Dutch, but the negative and often cruel comments and attitudes of my fellow Gooners on Twitter.
I can appreciate banter, and Holland deserved every bit of criticism they got, but the personal attacks, the questioning of my support of Holland, Arsenal and the Canadian Men’s National Team were all surprising to me. I understand internationals can be tense, fans who are normally supporting the same team are divided and it can cause tension. If you are wondering why people get so sensitive around international tournaments or simply don’t understand those who support a country, allow me to share why.
Watching football became special to me because it was something that I shared between my grandfather and myself. Growing up in Canada it was difficult to watch international football and impossible to follow a club. Together we would make the effort to follow and track the Dutch national team as best we could.
As I grew older and we watched games together that would be one of the few times my Grandfather would share stories about living in an occupied country during WW2. Although the stories were always humorous and related to his football antics, they were tinged with the sadness and desperation of that time. He threw himself into practicing tricks and developing techniques to avoid being in a house that was often used by German soldiers as a food base because of the large garden in their backyard. Football started as an escape and blossomed into a passion, which he was determined to pass on to me.
Being an Oranje fan has never been easy. Loving a team that is hell-bent on selfishness, drama and self destruction can be painful at best. They have traditionally shown the world incredible football allied with a legion of colourful and devoted fans. My Grandpa taught me to appreciate the skill and vision needed to complete the perfect pass, the incredible talent and intelligence it takes to direct a midfield and the strength required to constantly probe and attack a solid defense. We always rooted for the players who not only showed great skill but were full of passion and drive. We were mutual fans of players like Edgar Davids and the de Boer twins. But it was Dennis Bergkamp who I fell in love with. We watched his now famous goal against Argentina together and it has become one of my favourite football memories.
Fans who argue that club is more important than country often fail to recognize that, for quite a few of us, our Country lead us to our club. For me it was Dennis Bergkamp and Robin van Persie who attracted me to Arsenal. Although I have come to love Arsenal in its own right, I wouldn’t be a Gooner today if it wasn’t for the Netherlands NT and my Grandpa.
When you see people like myself – a Canadian with an Oranje heart – take a minute to ask them their story. It’s so easy to judge and criticse people’s love and passion for a National Team, but to me Holland is so much more than just Robben’s selfish behaviour, World Cup finals or fans in goofy wigs. The team carries the legacy of my grandfather, my introduction to football, and the start of the journey to being a Gooner. Hup Holland Hup!