The last time the Netherlands played Italy in a game that mattered, I missed all but the tragic ending. It was the semifinals of the 2000 European championships, and I had somehow gotten the idea that it was an evening game. The Curious Capitalist family (although I guess we weren’t the Curious Capitalist family yet then) was staying in the Italian village of Barolo, and we wandered its streets in the hot afternoon exclaiming at how completely deserted they were. It took a while, but we finally got the idea, and rushed back to our hotel room to watch the desultory extra time and then the horrific, game-ending penalty shootout, which the Dutch lost 3-1 after having missed two penalty kicks during the game proper.
The game, played in Amsterdam (the Dutch and Belgians shared hosting duties that year), was understandably a source of great national trauma. Not up there with the German invasion in 1940, of course, but certainly in the same rank as, say, the murder of William the Silent in 1584. According to an article in the WSJ on Friday, the country has been involved in an all-consuming penalty-kick-improvement effort ever since.
Not that the Dutch needed to take any penalty kicks Monday, when they played Italy in a first-round game of this year’s European championships. I forgot to watch yet again, partly because I was working on something. Then I was visiting my friend Brian O’Keefe (the man who coined “Curious Capitalist”) in his office at Fortune and he remarked, “Hey, aren’t the Dutch playing?” He turned on his TV and we saw a smiling Ruud van Nistelrooy wandering aimlessly about a field occupied only by a few other guys in orange shirts. It was over, and the Dutch had clearly won. Then ESPN2 did a quick run-through of the highlights. They had won 3-0!
I tried taping a rerun of the game that was supposed to run at 2 a.m., but when I watched this morning it was all Nascar and arena football (I think the rain delay at the Indians-Tigers game messed up ESPN2’s schedule). So it wasn’t until the way into work this morning that I was able truly to drink in the victory. I did so by listening on my iPod to Met het oog op morgen, the Dutch sort-of-equivalent to All Things Considered (the main differences being that it’s in Dutch, only lasts an hour, and airs at 11 p.m.). About two-thirds of last night’s show was devoted to reliving the glorious victory. So there I stood on the subway, stupid grin on my face, listening to a rerun of the radio announcer’s call of the third goal: “Van Bronckhorst! Ja! Ha ha ha!” And the news that, at half-time, soccer legend and TV color guy Johan Cruijff had declared that being ahead 2-0 was a very dangerous place to be. That’s the classic attitude of the Dutch fan. Always tensed for that disaster lurking around the corner.
I’m not sure what the point of all this is, other than pure self-indulgence, but there is something magical in getting to share in another culture’s special moments, even if via iPod. Or SMS. As I was leaving the office last night I noticed a text message from a Dutch friend. “What a beautiful evening,” he wrote. I puzzled over that for a minute. It was still 90 degrees and muggy in New York. Was the weather especially lovely in Utrecht? And then, duh, I got it. Yes, it was a beautiful evening.