Book Review: Brilliant Orange by David Winner

When I started reading Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football I was wary that it had first been published in 2000 and that arguably Dutch football’s darkest day – the 2010 World Cup Final – would not be covered.


Fortunately, the latest version has been updated by author David Winner in the aftermath of the 2010 ‘Clogs of War’ final against Spain. This match was made famous for how De Jong’s kuck fu kick on Xabi Alonso – and numerous other fouls over 120 shameful minutes – undid a half century of good will towards the Netherlands’ attractive style of Total Football.


“You can explain the whole thing in one word: stupidity,” Winner quotes Dutch journalist Henk Spaan as saying. The post-2010 addendum, with its decade-long break from the original Brilliant Orange, really is a dramatic juxtaposition to the pre-2000 history of Dutch football, in which Winner argues strongly that the Dutch psyche, pragmatism and post-war societal experience helped create a uniquely Dutch brand of football. A unique brand which almost conquered the world from a small corner of northwest Europe.

The long shadow of Cruyff


If there’s one constant presence throughout Brilliant Orange – and therefore the entire history of Dutch football – it’s Johan Cruyff. In the 1960s when Holland was beginning to liberalise, he embodied the free-thinking of Dutch football’s awakening.


Winner speaks with those from the first great wave of Dutch football – the late 60s and late 70s, a decade that started with Feyenoord and Ajax keeping the European Cup in Holland for four successive years and saw the country appear in two World Cup final defeats to host nations.


Winner describes the impact of the 1974 final defeat to West Germany on the Dutch people, and the role the desire to play beautiful football over winning at all costs seems to have made on successive Dutch teams. This desire also explains Dutch players’ distain for penalty shoot-outs, Winner argues.


If anything, Winner concludes that Cruyff laid the foundations of Holland’s European successor to Total Football, Spain, at his time in Barcelona. Total Football has gone south. [Continues]

The second great era of Dutch football


The second great wave of Dutch football came in the late 1980s to mid-1990s. PSV Eindhoven were European Cup winners in 1988 and the exciting Ajax team of Louis Van Gaal in 1995. Holland – under veteran coach Rinus Michels – famously won Euro ‘88, capped by this fantastic volley from Marco Van Basten:



Winner chronicles the complex the Dutch had with Germany at that time, the significance of the Euro ‘88 win, and the subsequent decline of the team into factions that affected the tournament chances of a supremely talented generation of players.


Brilliant Orange is a wonderfully written narrative from the unique perspective of a man who lives in Amsterdam and therefore has an insight into the Dutch way of life, but at the same time retains the objective view of an outsider.


I’d personally like to add my favourite piece of Dutch football history here: Dennis Bergkamp’s incredible last minute goal against Argentina in France ’98, made even more special with legendary Dutch TV commentator Jack Van Gender’s impassioned words. Enjoy:


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