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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 23 April 2015
The best football book I've ever read. And half the time it's not even about football. Essential.
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on 1 March 2017
Not sure if this is a book about Holland or about Dutch football: both probably but neither are subjects that I am particularly interested in. Perhaps once upon a time, when I was younger. I am old enough to remember Ajax and Johan Cruyff, whom even I could see was a born genius that could turn the most average of teams into something special but what this book does is explore how the Ajax team could only have flourished in a country like Holland, sharing as it does the same national values and the same contradictions in society, a quintessentially Dutch combination of collaboration, team-spirit, ill-discipline, complacency, and lack of will [or nerve]. The Dutch seem to have an allergy to authority, leadership and collective discipline.

Patterns of self-destruction . . .

A large section in the middle of the book is devoted to why Holland lost the final of the 1974 World Cup to Germany. A game that is still seared on the consciousness of many Dutch, even fifty-years later. All the stars played in that game, the virtuosos: Cruyff, Rep, Neeskens and they were regarded by everyone in sport at the time [even South Americans] as not only the best team in the world, but with their attacking style known as totalfootball, the most noble, elegant and skilled.
Years of self-analysis as to why they lost to the Germans, echoes of the Second World War and Holland’s suffering after the May 1940 invasion have all been considered part of this failure, but the author writes:
This football hatred has existed for only ten or twenty years and has nothing to do with the war. Did you ever go to Auschwitz? It is very interesting: every country has its own barracks where it tells its own history. If you want to hear all the lies a nation tells about itself, you should go there: Holland is the most tolerant nation . . . they have a long history of tolerance; Austria was the first victim of the Nazis; Yugoslavia liberated itself; Poland won the Second World War.

The Dutch were a finer, nobler team and should have won. The Germans were more journeymen footballers. After the war, in Holland there was a great deal of anti-German feeling, but a lot of it was guilt. The Dutch knew there had been a lot of collaboration, so they were keen to show how much they hated the Germans. Holland had the highest proportion of citizens to join the Waffen SS of any occupied country, and the Dutch economy assisted the Nazi war effort. Most troublingly, within the Dutch services were a frighteningly high number of supporters actively helping the Nazis murder Holland’s Jews quietly and efficiently. These are issues the Dutch still prefer not to examine too closely.

It has tremendous reviews and if you are at all interested in football or in Holland you should give it a go.
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on 30 June 2000
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!
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on 14 July 2014
The Dutch football team are liked by almost everybody - they play a style of football that is entertaining, coupled with their status as perennial bridesmaids who never quite make it to the top (three times World Cup runners-up, twice semi-finalists). David Winner explores aspects of Dutch football, from the swift rise of the side in the Cryuff-era to the Van Basten-era European Champions and on. It's not a chronological history, but more thematic. Winner has selected the issues that interest him and give him the scope to explore the Netherlands on a broader scale. It's an approach which pays off - great writing.
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on 20 March 2010
Beckenbauer was once asked a question about Cruyff and his answer was "Johann was a much better footballer than me, but I won the World Cup". You probably get some answer there about the difference between Dutch and German football, Holland play the attractive stuff, and Germany wins. This is to oversimplify of course - Holland is a far smaller country than Germany and its success is way above that of other countries of similar size and this book explores the reasons for that. Is it because Holland is very flat and therefore suits the development of football fields? Is it because through the Bauhaus movement the Dutch have an unusual understanding of geometry and therefore space which applies equally to the football field? Somewhere in there, there is a reason and this book has some interesting vignettes on some of the long forgotten heroes of yesteryear when Ajax dominated European football which may help explain Holland's unusual tendency to create footballers of a brilliance that only Brazil can rival and equally explain how such brilliance has only yielded one major international championship. As van Basten himself once put it winning is important but to win beautifully that is the most important thing; no doubt Beckenbauer would agree with the first part of that viewpoint.
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on 15 March 2002
An excellent insight into Dutch football, especially the Ajax and Dutch teams of the 70s. Also using the views and opinions of Dutch artists and architects, as well as Dutch footballing legends puts a whole new spin on looking at the Dutch style of football. The chapter on the Dutch fear of penalties makes for the most interesting reading, and certainly makes the English aversion seem small in comparison. The only criticism is that sometimes the analogies are a little over the top, suggesting that the Dutch style of football is a direct result of the geography of the Netherlands being my favourite example. That said this is still an excellent read, especially if you have an admiration for beautiful football.
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on 2 August 2002
Just try to think of all the questions you might ask about Dutch football from its origins to its lack of competitive strenght in crucial matches. Brilliant Orange has the answers. Based on interviews and on his own life experience in the country, David Winner present the readers with a masterpiece that goes far beyond the mere "how Cruyff was fantastic thing" and suggest that the famous total football theory is a consequence of a cross over between arts, philosohy and sports. The book makes you clap you hands harder for the Dutchmen's legacy.
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on 31 July 2006
If the originality of the cover of this book is what attracted you to David Winner's excellent football book, then that is just a taste of what to expect. Surprisingly original and at times very abstract, Winner has managed to craft a book of spectacular inventiveness, combining examninations of Dutch architecture and insightful looks at Dutch football, Winner has created not only a dazzling look at Dutch football, but Dutch society aswell by using football as a looking-glass. I can't rate this book highly enough. An essential purchase.
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on 30 October 2001
This is quite simply one of the finest football books written in years. The first indepth study of football in Holland and the pecularities and style of that football so quintessentially Dutch. Winner examines the finer points of Dutch football (without being side-tracked by the Ajax Academy) and what makes Dutch football so different, so unique, by examining it in its historical and social context as well as its sporting context. Ajax, Johan Cruyff, Rinus Michels, the heartbreak of the 1974 World Cup Final, the Dutch football mentality and the Dutch national team's record at taking penalties (which, incredibly, is worse than England's) are all examined thoroughly yet succinctly. The interviews with Johnny Rep, Ruud Krol and Dennis Bergkamp top off a fascinating book that is very rereadable.
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It's not often that you can describe a book as 'an education', but this one certainly is. For one growing up in the 1970's watching the majestic Ajax then the national team change the way the game of football was played, this is a mouthwatering account of a side I have never seen equalled. The surprise was to find that the Dutch used to be canal clodhoppers, technically clumsy and tactically naïve, until the enlightened Englishman, Vic Buckingham, began their transformation. As well as being an account of this, Winner has managed to make this the finest example of pop anthropology it has ever been my pleasure to read - here is all sorts of fascinating stuff that went to make the ethos behind the new style: for example their conceiving of space on the pitch almost relativistically; explaining the influence of being below sea level; assessing the contribution of arts looking into the reasons why they have this aesthetic side (Brazil haven't come near since 1982) and all in a style that communicates Winner's infectious delight; on their underachievement (even England have won more World Cups than them; my little joke). Thus he suggests why they were unable to beat the clearly inferior German side in the 1974 World Cup final, showing their self-destructive aspect. The players are brighter than yer average too; the peerless Cryuff's gnomic utterances, like those of that other genius Ayrton Senna (and I hate motor racing) can actually be called mystical without embarrassment. And Cryuff is the link to the sublime Barcelona side asserted too soon to be 'the best side ever' by commentators who should have known better (you need to win at least three European Cups in consecutive years for this to be a sensible remark, that's obvious). The more prosaic genius of manager Rinus Michaels is deftly analysed. The whole business is here in one slim, rather beautiful tome. A must for all football fans AND more. I reread it every year to undiminished returns.
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