Fifty shades of Oranje: How the face of Dutch football has become more diverse

Team 33's Raf Diallo looks into one aspect of Dutch football on The World Is A Football

BY Raf Diallo 15:48 Wednesday 6 January 2016, 15:48 6 Jan 2016

Ibrahim Afellay celebrates his goal against Northern Ireland during an international friendly soccer match between The Netherlands and Northern Ireland at the Arena stadium in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Saturday June 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski)

Unbelievably, thinking back now there was a time where my view on football drifted somewhere between indifference and dislike.

One wee occasion as a 5-and-a-half year old (the half is very important at that age) sums it up. On the day Ireland played Mexico at World Cup 1994, I was watching some sort of cartoon (memory suggests it was something from The Den but I could well be wrong on that one).

I remember popping out of the room to do something and in the meantime my Dad had just arrived back from work in the early evening to catch up with the score from the game.

Walking back in towards the tellybox, he was standing there in front of it with the remote - and no cartoons.

Instead, a troop of footballers were trudging off a hazy field in what looked like the warmest place on earth - the noon heat and a linesman did get to John Aldridge at the time.

In about two seconds (which feels like 20 minutes when you're a child), Dad had made the smart decision to switch things back to cartoon mode after some quickfire persuasion from myself along the lines of "Don't like football. Stick the Biker Mice From Mars back on now!"

To put an end to the most pointlessly long-winded anecdote possible, by the time Euro 96 rolled around, I had somehow fallen in love with the game of football and my next memory of the sport still pops back into my mind to this day from time to time.

A dreadlocked Clarence Seedorf steps up to take a penalty against France at Anfield, strikes it poorly and goalkeeper Bernard Lama makes a relatively easy stop.

He was the only player to miss his kick and as the video and as memory and the video above shows, Seedorf was clearly distraught.

World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 were other enjoyable watches for anyone captivated by the famous bright orange jerseys of the Dutch. But while that Dennis Bergkamp winner against Argentina in '98 or Patrick Kluivert's four-goal haul against Yugoslavia two years later will go down in history, the tag of perennially brilliant runners-up (Euro 88 aside of course) equally made the Dutch national team an attractive second international team to follow.

That of course is until they tried to rough up Spain in the 2010 World Cup final in a losing cause, disgusting the great Johan Cruyff in the process - certainly calling his country's approach anti-football was not meant as a compliment.

Dutch football is on the brain again at the moment, not because of their failure to reach this summer's Euros, but because I started reading David Winner's Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football over Christmas.

But also a reminder of Off The Ball's sit-down with Dutch legend Ruud Gullit last year is another reason and there is something tying the former Milan great and a later Rossoneri hero in Seedorf.

Both can trace their origins to Suriname, a country of half a million people perched just above Brazil - even if the nation is culturally and footballistically (not a word, I know) more tied to the Caribbean.

While Gullit was born in Amsterdam where he would grow up alongside future Netherlands and Milan team-mate Frank Rijkaard (another player with part-Surinamese heritage), Seedorf was born in Suriname, only to move to the Netherlands with his parents as a toddler.

Long-story short, Suriname was a Dutch colony, gaining full independence in 1975 which was preceded by mass immigration to the Netherlands.

Netherlands Georginio Wijnaldum, left, Wesley Sneijder, center, and Anwar El Ghazi celebrate scoring the first goal during a Euro 2016 qualifying Group A soccer match between Kazakhstan and the Netherlands at the Astana Arena stadium in Astana, Kazakhstan, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexey Filippov)

Thus Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Michael Reiziger, Nigel De Jong and Newcastle United's Georginio Wijnaldum are a legacy of that migration across the Atlantic.

As Winner wrote in Brilliant Orange, "the Suriname connection is now vital to the Dutch game", with the first sprinkle of players coming as far back as the 1960s, and the floodgates then opening from the '80s Rijkaard-Gullit era.

And a Surinamese law which prevented dual nationality players from representing the Suriname national side meant that there was never temptation for them to ever switch from the Oranje.

That situation is in stark contrast to the sizeable Moroccan and Turkish-descent groupings. Interestingly, Dutch people of Surinamese, Moroccan and Turkish descent account for about 300-350,000 each of the Netherlands' population, yet it was only in recent years that footballers of the latter two backgrounds became prominent internationally.

For example, Khaldi Boularouz, Anwar El Ghazi, Adam Maher and Stoke's Ibrahim Afellay are all Dutch Moroccans of origin and have all represented the Netherlands internationally.

Yet only last year, Ajax starlet El Ghazi was still in limbo between the choice of playing for his birth nation and that of his descent, reasoning with the help of Cristiano Ronaldo that: "Choose Netherlands and Moroccans will say I'm not a real Moroccan, opt for Morocco then the Dutch say 'Hey, you're born and raised here, what the hell is that?' "I'm going to do my best. I'm going to give everything for the country because I was born and raised here."

He might have finally made the choice to go for the country he was actually born and raised in, but others have gone for drastically different choices.

Ex-Aston Villa midfielder Karim El Ahmadi and the likes of Nordin Amrabat and Mounir El Hamadoui are all Dutch-born, yet decided to represent Morocco.

Unlike Suriname of course, Morocco do call-up dual nationality players, while it was a different form of integration for both communities.

The Surinamese of course, as a former colony, share linguistic, religious and historical ties, whereas the first Moroccan and Turkish arrivals came in the form of guest workers (similarly to the Turkish-descent minority over the border in Germany which is now represented in a footballing sense by the Mesut Ozil generation) who remained part of the social fabric. 

The contrast in integration is also socio-economic with those of Surinamese descent "relatively-well socially integrated in comparison to Turkish and Moroccan minorities" and "more likely to join mainstream Dutch community organisations".

But on the football field at least, it is noticeable that the likes of El Ghazi and Afellay are pointing to greater representation and prominence for the Moroccan-descent minority that can interlace itself with the Cruyff, Bergkamp and Gullit tradition that has been built over the past 50 years of "sexy football" ideals. 


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