Chewed lips in Amsterdam – Holland 2 Wales 0

Holland v Wales 2014
I blame the Dutch for everything, good and bad.

In 1988, bewitched by their sublime football to win the European championships – where they thrashed Germany in one of the best games ever played – I noticed they were due to face Wales in a World Cup qualifier in Amsterdam.

The match at the tatty Olympic Stadium, built for the 1928 Olympics ended 1-0 with a late Ruud Gullit bullet header killing us off.

One of the most one-sided games ever, and as a Welsh fan that’s saying something, we hardly got out of our own half. I went to admire the Dutch but the real fun was off the field.HJolland v Wales 1988

On the high terrace a brave Englishman, resident in the city, offered me a stub-ended spliff for some hearty blasts on Wales’s first vuvuzela, bought earlier in the year at an Espanol game and then called simply a ‘horn’.

He went over to near the Dutch and blew it in their general direction as though he was one of God’s messengers reproaching them from heaven for their sins.

By the time he’d finished my brother had smoked the spicy stub , no bigger than a fingernail, and was rendered virtually speechless for the next 12 hours.

Holland v Wales 1988
I can almost recite this team: van Breukelen, van Aerle, van Tiggelen, Ronald Koeman, Erwin Koeman, Muhren, Wouters, Vanenberg, Gullit, Rijkaard, Van Basten

Later, he fell asleep on a bench outside the appropriately named club Babylon in Leidseplein for three hours and when checked for health could only utter: “My brain has gone!” in Frankenstein movie tones. I suspect he as an early victim of Dutch dynamite – super-strength skunk with the power of a horse tranquiliser.

Inside Babylon, half the Welsh players were enjoying the real business of the night – Mark Hughes, Peter Nicholas, Ian Rush were drinking and chatting with fans and entourages.

Marco van Basten mural
A mural of Mr van Basten on the wall of the AJax fans’ base near the stadium

Rush bought everyone a round of drinks – about 40, there were a lot of fans about.

My mate Vince grabbed him round the neck and kissed him on the neck.

One of the players, who must remain nameless, then pulled the young lady I’d been with earlier in the night. Sheesh!

It was downhill from there and all ended messily as I got picked up by the police.

Literally. I had fallen asleep on a grass embankment next to an arterial road into Amsterdam. They dragged me up, established I could walk and pointed me in the right direction.

What a night. I went to admire the Dutch and came back a convert to watching Wales anywhere, any time forever.

26 years later

Heartening to see a new horde of 20something drunken Welshmen not lucky enough to see Gullit and van Basten have emerged to take on singing duties at games.

But you felt taunting Arjen Robben with: “You’re just a shit Gareth Bale!” might not be the wisest choice. Best tone down the arrogance chaps, eh?

The Amsterdam Arena is a big bombastic stadium. Built in the mid 90s, it looks like an oversized pressure cooker and maybe stadia since learnt a few lessons and have incorporated wavy, more attractive lines to tone down the gun-metal grey austerity. Undeniably impressive and a sharp contrast to the rickety Olympic Stadium but charmless.

Holland v Wales 2104
Ajax fans, like cats, mark their territory next to the stadium

Against the run of play, the shit Gareth Bale, left-footed to an almost OCD level pounced on a half-clearance after Robin van Persie got tricky down our right and fired in a cross.

And in the second half, his counter-attacking surge down the left prompted a superb cross that cut out three defenders and left Lens with a far post tap-in.

Not bad for a shit Gareth Bale.

So where was the non-shit Gareth Bale when you need him?

Indonesia I hear -and there’s no doubt he would have made a difference in this game.

Amazingly, we played so well that we were the better side until Robben scored against the run of play.

The 1988 Welsh side got nowhere near this level of performance. Jonny Williams, Joe Allen and Hal Robson-Kanu were big threats to a below-average Dutch defence.

The shame was that they couldn’t provide the pass for Simon Church to score.

The view from the Welsh fans' pen
The view from the Welsh fans’ pen

Van Gaal regrouped at half-time – in the first half you were left wondering whether Man U had made a mistake in appointing him, Holland were so lacklustre.

They beefed up the middle and we couldn’t knock the ball about so daintily and deftly.

And then, after an hour, as is nearly always the case in friendlies, the game fizzled out.

These matches are one-hour affairs aren’t they?

It’s all over at 60. Everyone mentally packs their bags and makes sure they don’t pick up something nasty.

But Emyr Huws and Fulham’s Geroge Williams came on to good effect, both showed a willingness to run with the ball.

Williams, who so effective in the under-21s game in Swansea last month, was selected purely on the basis of that performance, which shows that Chris Coleman is taking a close interest in all age groups. He was the stand-out midfielder in that match, for Wales.

As for the Dutch, I still love them for turning me on to international football and for the amazing way they transformed Kharkiv in Ukraine at Euro 2012 turning into a love-filled city of hope.

The doomy boom of the Dutch drumbeat was the only attempt to raise an atmosphere ‘ – its dull thump was like bad heavy metal and seemed to be an omen of tough times ahead.

With this defence, the onus is on Sneijder, the shit Gareth Bale and Robin van Persie to rustle up two or three goals a game because I can’t see this defence keeping a clean sheet.

Euro2016

Wales v Bosnia is our biggest game since the Italy win in 2003.

Win it and we are ahead of our greatest rivals for second spot and they have to chase our tails rather than us chase them us. I’m assuming Belgium will be too good for anyone else and will win the group

This game shows it will be a close-run thing.

That means 1) Prepare well for disappointment and 2) it could be the best campaign ever.20140604-180411-65051184.jpg

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