Have you seen Jurassic Park? Remember that iconic scene, where the kids are in the Jeep, it’s pouring rain and suddenly the water in a cup on the dash starts to wobble as a T-Rex stalks towards the vehicle?
Well, the scene in Sheffield on Saturday afternoon, as Dutch Oranje fans descended on the city center and filled the streets with orange, was something like that.
Devonshire Green, a small green space near one of the city’s busiest shopping areas, was turned into a fan party, but it looked more like the Eurovision Song Contest final. The happy hardcore and Eurotrash beats came out of a sound system better than most UK festivals, and from about a mile away you could hear the booming bassline of Armin van Buuren’s Blah, Blah, Blah .
The Oranje and their beat master took control of the city five hours before kick-off; drink beer, sing songs and do their usual choreographed dances to some of the best Dutch pop tunes ever produced. Around 2,500 Dutch fans headed to Devonshire Green before kick-off to bask in the Yorkshire sunshine and then take part in the supporters’ march that has become one of football’s most iconic traditions.
— OranjeLeeuwinnen (@oranjevrouwen) July 9, 2022
Oranje fan walks have been happening in men’s football for years, but it was in 2017, during the Women’s Euro in the Netherlands, that the country really rallied behind the Oranje Leeuwinnen. During that glorious summer, the country went crazy for women’s football, selling stadiums, taking over fan parks and even rolling down the canal in Utrecht after the home side beat Denmark in the final.
Two years later, at the World Cup in France, they became part of folklore, crowding French squares, opening Heinekens at 9 a.m. and wearing outrageous outfits – and, of course, blowing up the same classic hymns. After following their team to the final, they were even nominated for a special FIFA Fan Award.
The Oranje’s reputation for good times drew plenty of neutrals to Sheffield on Saturday, and for around three hours the city center bounced back. It was like Arcadia in Glastonbury, Space in Ibiza or Warehouse Project in Manchester.
Dutch fans of all ages were going hard – but certainly not returning home as they had traveled far to be there. Take Ellen and Jose, who had arrived that morning after taking a ferry from Rotterdam to Hull and then taking a train to Sheffield. For them, the family atmosphere is what makes the Oranje Leeuwinnen supporters’ march so special.
“It’s more relaxed than the men’s game – you can bring your kids,” Ellen recount Athleticism. “I also went to the men. It’s a lot of beer to drink, a lot of noise, sometimes riots too, but here it’s for everyone, even small children.
“All people are really surprised when they see us parade. They’re looking over their balconies, looking at us thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ Sometimes there is no atmosphere until the Dutch arrive and the party begins.
— OranjeLeeuwinnen (@oranjevrouwen) July 9, 2022
The people of Sheffield were certainly taken by surprise. The usual downtown hubbub of shoppers, bachelor parties and families was interrupted by a party of 20 young women dressed as carrots and thousands more dressed in orange.
One of the leaders of the Oranje marches scene is Ron Boszhard, a television presenter in the Netherlands, who has been following the Oranje Leeuwinnen and filming content with them for a few years. It is a Dutch celebrity, who came dressed in waders and wellington boots, despite the 25 degree heat. He can’t really explain to Athleticism why he went for this look, especially because every time we try to chat he gets interrupted by fans asking for selfies.
It’s Boszhard’s fifth fan party after the men’s and women’s team and this one in Sheffield is quite small compared to what he’s seen in the past, but for him the magic comes from the Dutch: “The Dutch people are kinda crazy, funny people. We love our country and we won’t always win, but football unites us. Walking unites us. Its very important; we are 100% Orange.
After three hours of toasting in the sun and trying to beat the hour-long queue for a beer, it’s time to start the walk to Bramall Lane, which is only a 20-minute walk away. The Oranje double-decker bus is loaded with some kings and queens of the fan group and Dutch pop singer Stefania, who wrote the official Netherlands anthem for the Euro, and nearly 3,000 people parade through the streets of Sheffield.
Like 90s kids waiting for the song Birdie to play at a kid’s party (wait, you mean that wasn’t everyone?), Dutch fans were chomping at the bit for a song and a single song while walking to the ground. . Liens Rechts – which translates to Left, Right – is a dance anthem by Dutch artist Snollebollekes. It’s basically a song about partying, and when sung at an Oranje meeting, everyone has to jump from left to right in time with the beat.
Links Rechts has been played at least five times on the walk to Bramall Lane, with each rendition becoming increasingly hysterical. Athleticism even spotted a Dutch fan walking with a bicycle, a scene that seemed almost too good to be true. It turned out that Sue had hired the bike in Sheffield because she thought it would be easier to participate in the wheelie than walking after injuring her ankle before her trip to England: “C is the best way to experience everything. It was the only solution. I can’t miss this.
“When I was little, I dreamed of playing in the Dutch team. It will never happen, but the fact that he has grown so big, it’s incredible.
As fans continued to follow the bus for the last few meters towards the stadium, more and more locals stopped, took out their phones and took photos of the incredible scene.
The Oranjes had single-handedly shut down Sheffield. They had brought life, energy, music and fun to a tournament that was just beginning. Oranje Leeuwinnen may not be the same team that won the tournament in 2017, but the fans are still there to leave their mark on the Women’s Euro.
(Photo: Joris Verwijst/Agence BSR/Getty Images)