"He vandalised cigarette ads with a giant letter K and in his temple every Saturday night, dressed as a shaman, he performed weird anti-smoking rituals while the crowd chanted ‘Bram! bram! Ugga! ugga! Bram! bram! Ugga! ugga!”"
Brilliant Orange – The Neurotic genius of Dutch Football, by David Winner
Slightly off the beaten track, I know, but, what the hell, I implore all Incendiary readers to get hold of this book and read it. Especially if you live in, or have a love for Holland as a country. This plea even applies if you don't like football; because (for those of you who, inexplicably, don't love the Great Game) the book has surprisingly little to do with football per se, outside of the great Ajax teams of 1967 to 1973 and the incredible Dutch teams of 1974 and 1978. Rather, it is a tome dedicated to investigating the Dutch character, posing questions such as what are (if there are any) the links between the design of Schipol airport and the methods Louis van Gaal employed whilst trainer of Ajax in the early 1990s? (The answer? Yes, there are parallels, as a matter of fact; namely the concept of fluidity and incessant movement as a decision-maker or problem solver, as applied to both football team and airport).
Before that last sentence has you running for the hills, screaming "pretentious bastard" at the top of your lungs, please, take heed. This is one of the most readable, enjoyable, least pretentious books I've read outside of Lucky Jim. I suppose the best thing I can do at this point, (to further my argument that is), is to furnish you with some quotations. Here are a few paragraphs on the change in Dutch society in the 1960s (a change which ran parallel to the rise of Johan Cruyff's fabulous Ajax team).
"Across the city a cultural revolution was coming to the boil. Throughout the Western world the relatively affluent and independent-minded youth of the post war baby boom was generating a mood of cultural, moral and political change. Nowhere, though, was youth rebellion fuelled by so surreal, anarchic and theatrical a sense of playfulness as in Amsterdam. Max Arian's first memory of 'uprising' was on Liberation Day in 1965. 'We heard that there would be dancing on the Leidseplein. Thousands more people went than there was space for, so we were stuck in a side street, a huge crowd of us. We started shouting 'Wij willen Bolletjes' which was an advertising slogan for a breakfast snack. Thousands of bored young people chanting this absurd phrase! It was our party, our rebellion!
The principal catalyst of this new mood was Robert Jasper Grootveld, a self-styled anti-smoking "magician" and voodoo showman. In 1964 Grootveld began to attract large audiences to his weekly anti-tobacco 'happenings" at the K-Temple, an old garage behind the Leidseplein. 'K' stood for kanker, (cancer), and Grootveld, (to relieve the general tedium, he later explained) was waging a one-man war against what he saw as modern enslavement to a consumer society, as epitomised by tobacco products. He vandalised cigarette ads with a giant letter K and in his temple every Saturday night, dressed as a shaman, he performed weird anti-smoking rituals while the crowd chanted 'Bram! bram! Ugga! ugga! Bram! bram! Ugga! ugga!"
There you are, not a football in sight.
Other arguments that are of interest include Winner's attempt to blame Holland's disappointments in major tournaments on Calvinism, and the link between Dutch Protestant art, modern design and the patterns created on the pitch by great players such as Dennis Bergkamp. There's also a very honest portrayal of Dutch behaviour (both individual and national) during the Nazi occupation, and an investigation into Surinaam players in Holland since the sixties; thankfully, Miller doesn't pull any punches whilst writing about either of these sensitive topics, rather he reports what he finds, often with surprising results (mainly for those who don't live here).
Anyway, why witter on? It's clear that I like the book, and you should gather by now that I'm recommending you give it a try. Go on, be bold... Cruyff was.
Words: Richard Foster.