Yesterday became my first chance to experience some football on this trip. I knew there was a Belgium v Netherlands friendly scheduled for Wednesday, but I wasn't sure how much fan attention a national team friendly would get. I had found out that the game was sold out, and attempts to find tickets online were fruitless. Fan/supporter sites seemed to explain a lot like our ACB site about the need for participation to create an atmosphere, so I wasn't sure what to expect as far as the fan experience. Walking through town on my way to the Metro, I saw more orange than red. I know Dutch fans are pretty dedicated and wondered if Belgium might be outnumbered. Apparently not. Getting off the subway, you couldn't miss the massive Atomium looming over everything. I wandered toward it to discover the long park area in front of it filled with masses of fans in red (as were streets, bars, and corners in every direction, for that matter.) I walked around a bit holding a "cherche/seeking 1" sign, but hardly saw anyone at all selling tickets. I did find one guy selling one in the Dutch section, but (with due respect to my friends Johann and Jan-Willem) I had decided by then to adopt the Belgian team for the day. I went back to the supporters village to at least take in more of the sights (and beer) when I saw someone point out my sign to his friend. He came over and offered an extra ticket he had at less than face value. It wasn't in the supporters curve, but was close. And available. I took it. From what I understood from my seatmate and from some reading, the Belgian team has been one with really talented players who just could never put things together to get wins, and fans were somewhat used to living with disappointment. They did have a new coach, and this was the beginning of a new campaign leading to World Cup qualifying, so hopes were either high or they're just always optimistic and ready to support. Belgium got an early goal, leading to celebration, but before long it was 2-1 Netherlands. As the game went on I began seeing exactly what my seat mate had said. So many amazing and downright beautiful plays that just never led to a goal. Late in the second half it finally happened: a tying goal. The crowd erupted. It felt like a victory. But then there was another goal. And another. The stands had already been a party, but now they were in overdrive. Everyone was jubilant. It felt like they had won a championship. And exactly how a win should be.
[note: apologies for blog posts before June 2009 that may not be correctly formatted]