With the national football team now billeted 1,200 kilometres away in Krakow, Poland, thousands of die-hard Dutch fans are planning a journey twice that distance.
It’s a three-day trip that will take them across the breadth of the continent to one of the largest countries in Europe, a country where the roads, living standards and customs are not quite the same as back home.
The eastern city of Kharkiv is the venue for Holland’s three Euro 2012 group-stage matches. It’s where Yulia Tymoshenko is imprisoned. The treatment of the jailed former Ukrainian prime minister has prompted European Union politicians to boycott the entire tournament. The Dutch government will decide Friday on sending a delegation to Ukraine to attend the matches in Kharkiv. Holland fans, however, are driven by other, more mundane motives.
[media:image1]“We’re gearing up for another great party,” say Caroline and Hans, “We’ll paint the town orange like we did in Switzerland in 2008 and in South Africa two years ago.”
The couple dress up differently for each tournament. They’re now having a professional designer create “something really special for the occasion,” says Hans.
The two loyal fans are looking forward to the day-long mega-events in Kharkiv’s main Freedom Square, to be transformed into Orange Square on Holland fixture days: 9, 13 and 17 June.
Performances include home-grown singers like Danny Lukassen, Rasta Ruud and Danny de Munk. One of the deejays is Theo Pouw, board member of Supportersclub Oranje (Orange Fan Club).
"We expect about ten thousand fans per game there. And of course, people from Ukraine will join our party too. And rumour has it that we have an opponent as well. So, their fans will join in the Polonaise [carnival dance, ed.] too.”
Pouw is proud that star deejay Armin van Buuren is to perform on 13 June, when Holland face Germany in their “Group of Death.” “Armin will get the fans in the right mood for their ‘Orange Parade’ to the stadium,” he says.
[media:image2]But, he warns, “don’t expect the same atmosphere as in Switzerland in Euro 2008 or Portugal or Germany." Ukraine doesn’t quite lend itself to the type of parties the Dutch fans tend to throw abroad. “It’s a completely different culture there,” he says.
For that reason, the Supportersclub Oranje has distributed a booklet among its 50,000-plus membership, containing key information about the tournament and the two countries hosting it. Fans are told, for instance, that there is a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and for drink driving (even a single unit of alcohol can get you in trouble). And although both corruption and prostitution are rife in Ukraine, they’re illegal too and carry heavy sentences.
Eight kilometres northeast of Orange Square, in a lakeside park, lies the Orange Campsite, open from 7 to 18 June. Prices are hefty, ranging from 209 euros for three days if you bring your own tent to around 1,500 euros for a full 11-day package including flight and tickets. The prices were initially much steeper, but have been lowered to boost flagging demand.
[media:image3]There hasn’t exactly been a mad rush for accommodation at the campsite: up to 1,300 spots have been sold per match and there are hundreds still available. Still, Joris Gieske, the camping’s marketing director, is satisfied:
“Remember this is Kharkiv, where two planes land per day. In Nice, there are over one hundred arrivals a day. If this had been Gdansk, it would have been a real cause for concern.”
Should Holland make it to the second round, then they’ll play in Poland. That will trigger a genuine orange invasion, Pouw predicts.
“The quarter-finals will either be in Gdansk or Warsaw, but tickets reserved for Dutch fans are already sold out for both fixtures. And we expect many others to go to Poland on spec or enjoy watching the match on a big screen in the fanzone. They’ll just go for the atmosphere, just as in Basel four years ago.”
Pouw doesn’t expect many fans to travel to the Dutch team’s tournament base in Krakow.
“No, there won’t be many people in Krakow in the first round. They won’t travel all the way to Poland to watch the training sessions. It’s just too far away.”