Beautiful Bridesmaids Dressed in Oranje by Gary Thacker – Review
By Karl Hornsey
There seems to be something far more appealing, attractive and even romantic about sporting nearlymen that make them so much more interesting than the victors. In football, that helps to explain the continued fascination and passion for the Mighty Magyars of the early 1950s, the wonderful Brazilian side of 1982 and, perhaps most all, the Dutch teams that finished as runners-up in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, losing on both occasions to the host nation in the final.
Gary Thacker is the latest author to delve into the history of Dutch football, focusing not just on those two tournaments, but everything from the early years of the international team, through the dominance of European football of Feyenoord and Ajax in the early 1970s, to the more modern-day near misses that have somehow helped to carve out a special place for the Oranje in the hearts of fans all over the world. And, while it’s almost impossible to read a book on Dutch football without comparing it to David Winner’s unsurpassable Brilliant Orange, Thacker’s work certainly merits a place on the bookshelves alongside it.
Given the sheer volume of articles and stories that have been written about the Dutch side of the 1970s, it must seem a difficult period for any author to find anything new to say. But, tracing the history of the sport in the Netherlands back to the early 20th century and adding a social context as well helps to explain what was to come, even though there was little to suggest that such a small country would have such a major influence on the world game. Of course the emergence of a certain Johan Cruyff helped to turn the Netherlands into a global player and one that could, indeed should, have won both World Cup finals in which they competed in the ‘70s. Thacker delves deeply into those tournaments, of course, focusing on the usual politics that always seem to envelop the squad, as well as the much lesser documented European Championships of 1976, which was arguably there for the Dutch to win had their mentality been as perfect as their lauded technique.
What helps to elevate this book from many others that have touched on the subject is the sheer enthusiasm shown by the author, and it’s refreshing that he doesn’t try to hide his love for the side that he grew up admiring, in much the same way as Stuart Horsfield in his recent book, 1982 Brazil: Glorious Failure. The fact that the Netherlands have since endured and enjoyed more than their fair share of ups and downs adds to the story, with their infamous bust-ups, and their third and final near miss in the 2010 World Cup documented here. I think there was scope for the years from 2010 to the present to have been given greater attention, especially as both the national side and the likes of Ajax have enjoyed something of a resurgence, and there are many fascinating stories to be told, but there’s always the chance of that being added in future editions, especially following the Oranje’s showing at the recent European Championships. On the whole, this is a great addition to the collection for anyone with even a passing interest in football, and one that goes a long way to showing why so many millions of fans around the world still have a soft spot for the ‘beautiful bridesmaids’.
‘Beautiful Bridesmaids Dressed in Oranje – The Unfulfilled Glory of Dutch Football’ by Gary Thacker is published by Pitch Publishing, £16.99 hardback