Hello, welcome to my blog on the UEFA Women’s Euros final between Netherlands and Denmark. I was there to support the Netherlands and the properly boss Mandy van den Berg and Shanice van de Sanden and it was the best.
I’d like to begin this blog with a disclaimer by saying first and foremost I am a supporter of Liverpool and have documented over the years ambivalent feelings towards following the English national team. With friends from all over the country I’m convinced this is a ‘Liverpool’ thing, I have friends that support Liverpool that aren’t from Liverpool yet can get wholly behind England yet friends from Liverpool that support Liverpool predominantly aren’t too fussed either way.
In short: I am Liverpool through and through and like to see England do well. That would be the best description.
Anyway with that out the way, I planned my trip to this summer’s European Championships based on what players I wanted to see; Liverpool players, ex-Liverpool players and Italy.
The first game was the opener, Netherlands v Norway in what was a truly unbelievable atmosphere, a great city and with incredible support. It was completely infectious. Next we went to see Italy, where there was a much smaller crowd yet still in with the Italians again I felt like I could get behind Italy trying to claw a victory back from Russia – particularly when Elena Linari was joined on the pitch by Cristiana Girelli and Barbara Bonansea.
Then it was England. And England were brilliant. A rampant 6-0 win over Scotland of all teams, a Jodie Taylor hat trick, a Lucy Bronze masterclass.
The only Liverpool player to feature that day however – Caroline Weir – was on the receiving end of the 6-0 defeat and I felt more sorry and sad about that.
Following that and the England games and performances that came next, I couldn’t see past anyone but England winning – Germany, France, Norway then Sweden all out… surely it was England’s year!
So I wanted the Netherlands to do it. Having been there for two of their group games, watching Shanice van de Sanden week in and every other week out for Liverpool and knowing how genuine her and Mandy van den Berg are. I wanted them to win, I love the underdogs.
I tweeted as much – in my defence prior to the Netherlands knocking England out – “My dream is to watch Shanice & Mandy in the final and for Mandy to lift the trophy”.
Which brings me up to the final.
With the final on the other side of the Netherlands we had an absurdly early start, which wasn’t helped by my complete inability to sleep the night before due to excitement.
My alarm rang at 2:30am and I was up, showered and out of the front door by 3:30am, headed for John Lennon Airport to start what would be one of the best days of my life. There’s no embellishment or exaggerating going on there, it was hands down top three (don’t forget I’ve seen Liverpool win the league twice).
At the airport I met up with Deb, Ley and Oonagh and had a vegetarian breakfast (my sister would be proud of me) yet swapped the fried eggs out for bacon (maybe not so proud).
The flight was delayed a little and I think the pilot came out at some point to explain way but at that stage I could barely keep my eyes open, I don’t even remember take off all I remember is waking up as we were coming down to land.
From Amsterdam we had a two-hour train journey to Hengelo, where we threw our bags in and headed straight for the fanzone in Enschede. I had been impressed by the fanzone in Utrecht but this was four times the size. An ocean of orange that filled two city centre squares and then some.
We found some FC Twente supporters – a choir no less – and sang them our Shanice van de Sanden song, drawing a round of applause and I signed up to be a ‘Young Red’ because I collect football scarves and wanted a Twente scarf. If you were over 16 membership was €100, under 16 €20 so I told them I was 15 because I didn’t want a €100 scarf.
After meeting Ianthe myself and Deb went to do the fan walk from the fanzone to the stadium, it was a crazy 90 minutes of orange singing and dancing; resembling a pride march yet completely orange and with those epic Dutch dance along hits.
Every five minutes the bus leading the parade would stop and someone on a megaphone would shout out instructions that were obviously in Dutch so we just had to follow the crowd and hope for the best. Most of the time they just wanted us all to get down on the floor, count to ten and then all jump up and around. My favourite though was the dance were you literally just bounce from left to right, right to left and then jump around, it’s deliriously brilliant and fun.
As we walked the streets were also lined either side with people of all ages that had come out their houses to watch and wave flags, filming everything on their phones.
The atmosphere was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life, if you could bottle it and sell it you’d be the richest person on the planet.
It was insane and it just built and built and built, the closer you got to the ground and the more people that were milling around, it was insatiable and electric. We met back up with the others at the stadium and basically headed straight in, I was able to hang my flag up by tying it to some railings.
The teams did their thing warming up and then it was time for the closing ceremony, a woman representing each nation taking part in the tournament came out waving that nation’s flag and – it was fantastically entertaining – did ‘battle’ with the other nations. So for example Denmark and Germany’s flag wavers had a blag fight that ended with Germany running to the side and throwing her flag on the floor.
This continued until there were only two flags left standing, Netherlands and Denmark of course, and in fact I’ll have to state here that the only disappointment of the entire day came after the game when the two flag wavers came out once more yet no flags were thrown or battles fought!
Once the game began it was apparent that this was a Denmark team that were taking a wholly different approach to proceeding than the side that showed up in Rotterdam. Pernille Harder was whizzing about here, there and everywhere causing all kinds of trouble for the Dutch defence while at the other end the tried and trusted front three of Lieke Martens, Vivienne Miedema and Shanice van de Sanden were doing the same.
If you’ve followed me for a while you’ll know I have the tendency to get carried away and describe everything as the best, but as this game drew on it was hard not to get carried away by the level of attacking prowess that was on display. It was superb to watch.
First as Denmark took the lead when Kika van Es stuck a rogue leg out and Nadia Nadim stepped up to smash the ball home from the penalty spot, to van de Sanden setting up Miedema for an equaliser and Martens creating a goal from nothing to put the Netherlands ahead before Harder struck to level the score once more.
Once the half time whistle went you could almost hear this collective ‘and breathe’ from everyone within the stadium, my heart was racing and it felt like my mind couldn’t quite keep up with what was unfolding in front of me.
I’ve even watched the game back since I’ve been home, Kelly Smith describing it on Channel 4 as the “best 45 minutes of football I’ve ever watched” and Eni Aluko calling the action on display “a great advert, not just for women’s football, but for football.” It’s hard to disagree with them.
The game, thankfully, appeared to slow a little in the second half although after Sherida Spitse netted from a free kick the Danes gave me multiple heart attacks with how close they went to getting another equaliser.
Just as we were readying for a tense final few minutes, and I was close to sitting on the floor as I had the second time the Reds won the league, Miedema popped up with goal number six of the afternoon, putting the Netherlands 4-2 up with 88 minutes on the clock.
The stadium went wild and continued to go wild until the final whistle, Miedema was in tears and there was even time for Mandy van den Berg to come from the bench and play the last few minutes of the final.
While waiting for the Dutch to be presented with the trophy we were treated to a playlist of Dutch classics, including Links Rechts which will be getting played at the Select Stadium next season and Auld Lang Syne (not a clue), to which both supporters in the stands and players on the pitch danced along to.
Then came the moment we’d all been waiting for, and the one I had dreamt of yet never thought I’d see – Mandy lifting the trophy alongside co-captain Spitse. What a moment.
Both teams did a lap of honour following the celebrations, the Danes deservedly receiving a great ovation from all supporters in the stands but the biggest cheer of the afternoon came as the trophy passed each section.
Following the game came a brief opportunity to congratulate Mandy through a sea of supporters and then it was almost as if the entire day had caught up on me. We stopped back briefly in Enschede to have some dinner by the fanzone – where the party was in full swing with even the Denmark supporters in attendance. The Danes attendance prompting the DJ to ask, “What is the biggest song from Denmark?” and resulting in the response “Barbie Girl” which turned into hundreds of people singing along to Barbie Girl after winning the Euros. It’s these moments you just don’t get from sitting back at home.
All in all it was an absolute honour to support the Netherlands in the final, from the opening game the people, supporters and players have been a credit to the tournament and the atmosphere is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life! As for Mandy and Shanice it was just incredible to see two people who you know to be genuine and so deserving of every success receive the adulation from the crowds and be crowned European Champions.
This has been a long, long post. I have others to fine-tune to post from the tournament that will be up over the course of the next week, to conclude this one however: I am Dutch, Mandy and Shanice are the best, I love football, Up the Reds.