Mark Steel: It takes a goal (and a few Amstels) for Dutch courage to kick in

Fan's eye view: At last, they were a proper football crowd, screaming, squealing, no longer fated to lose

The Dutch, it seems, watch their team in the West End of London, not in one bar but in the general area. This seems slightly cruel as the poor sods who march around there all day trying to recruit people to the Hare Krishnas must see all the orange and think, "Fantastic! We're making an impact at last."

The reason is the Dutch aren't brought together in London by where they live, but where they work. Several thousand are employed by the banks and companies whose offices are around there, so they flock to the chain pubs of Soho; the places into which endless research has been poured to make it impossible to create any atmosphere at all. The muzak, the bouncers, staff wandering around with ear-pieces; this all makes it less exciting than watching a match in a branch of World of Leather.

And for the quarter-final against Brazil this wasn't helped by the sullen nature of the fans. As the game approached they ordered their burgers, and sat in small groups with no sense of being collective, which took some effort as they were all in orange, and when the team appeared one man clapped on his own, which was probably Arjen Robben's dad. A few of them sang along with the national anthem, but either this was extremely half-hearted, or the Dutch anthem goes "buuur phew ffffff baaa I give up".

"Are you hopeful?" I asked Josef. "Yes," he said, "I am hopeful we'll keep it to less than 5-0."

Maybe they'd have been jollier if they'd lived up to their stereotype, by announcing, "If there is a ball in our goal then this should not make us worry, instead just relax, maybe have a little massage and maybe some sex and this is good and we can hope for an equaliser." Or they could reserve one screen for porn with expert comments provided by Mick McCarthy.

Outstandingly moderate was Dan, tall, slender and in an immaculate suit, the picture of someone young and in the city, except he was wearing an orange tie. "I see you've gone a bit wild with the tie," I said. "Yes," he said, "I think that it helps to support the team if I wear this tie."

Dan was a management consultant in Covent Garden, and added: "This afternoon I have many things to do but I decided I should leave them until later, which is not really correct but I think I must watch the game."

And so it all remained as the inevitability of a Brazil win unfolded, with Robinho's goal, and Robben marked out of the game, and at half-time it was so quiet you could hear Kevin Keegan say, "There's no way back for Holland."

But then a Dutch free-kick bobbled into the goal and then they became a group. As soon as the screams subsided they roared that tune from Verdi's Aida they introduced to football a few years ago, which placed them at a cultural level not always matched by those fans who tend to prefer chants about the goalkeeper's sexuality. But such arias have caught on a bit now, so to stay ahead the Dutch will probably start celebrating goals by quoting chunks of Proust, or expressing the shot as a piece of modernist dance.

At last, they were a proper football crowd, screaming each move forward and squealing each retreat, unable to turn away but unable to watch, no longer resigned to defeat but injected with a dangerous slither of hope. "This makes me very surprised," said Dan, almost smiling.

And then they scored again. Now they became a glorious, random, uncoordinated mass of unchecked emotion. One lad bear-hugged his girlfriend and yelled, "I haven't felt like this for years," and I felt like saying, "Really? Don't you feel like this every time you're beating Brazil?"

Then came the eyes behind fingers, the shrieks of "three more minutes" and yelps with every hoof upfield. "HollAND HollAND" they screamed when they could get their breath, and around the room each person who, an hour earlier, had looked cold or cynical or unlikely to be good company was infectiously vibrant and vulnerable and passionate and combusting with the splendour of a crowd that can't believe it's about to win. "This is more good news, I think," said Dan, softly, when the Brazilian Felipe Melo was sent off.

At full-time this energy ricocheted off the walls and into the West End streets, where similar groups of Dutch flowed into each other causing all sorts of geological reactions. Dan bought me a half of Amstel, but immediately disappeared, presumably to compile a spreadsheet, but I think somewhere, deep inside, he was going, "YEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSS."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most