Firstly let me get one thing straight - I'm not a football fan and I have no real interest in the Dutch. But with Brilliant Orange, David Winner seems to have cast these minor inconveniences aside and written a masterful analysis of the Dutch psyche, using football, (and specifically the 1970's team of Cruyff, Kieser, Rep et al) as a counterpoint to their particular and sometimes peculiar ways. Winner has really done his research - he brings in subjects as far and wide as "art and architects, cows and canals, anarchists, church painters, rabbis and airports", and deftly weaves them into the rich tapestry of footballing history. His real skill, however, is in bringing the matches to life and demonstrating the artistry of the game. I wasn't even born when the Cruyff team of 1974 lost against the German's in the World Cup final, but how I want to go back and see the match now.
Winner manages to explain the Dutch flair, their inventiveness, their spatial awareness, their internal wranglings and their inevitable defeat at the hands of lesser opponents. (take their losing to the Italians in last night's semi-final as a perfect example) There's something of the grace of the Dutch footballing style in Winner's writing too; a light anecdotal touch by turns endearing, personal and very funny, which enables him to really engage the reader. Even if you're not a Dutch loving football-aficionado, this is a must read!