David Winner’s book isn’t just about Dutch football, it’s about Dutch life, culture and geography; about how football’s greatest teams were created by a country’s neurotic genius.
Winner’s argument is one that has been made before, and will likely be made again, that the essence of a footballing style is dictated by the country that harbors it. Through analysis of architecture, geography, politics and a vast assortment of interviews, Brilliant Orange explains why Dutch football is what it is.
Written by an author who has professed his love for all things Dutch on numerous occasions, Winner’s passion for the subject of his writing is clearly expressed, and makes for a highly enjoyable read.
In the book’s introduction, Winner explains that although Brilliant Orange is a book about Dutch football, mentions of politics, art and the Second World War far outweigh those of Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven. A concession that might put off many football fans thinking of reading the book, it would be a fallacy to say that Brilliant Orange frequently veers away from football- even when Winner delves into art, politics and geography, the relationship to football, and the thesis of the book, remains clear.
From the glory days of Ajax in the 1960s to the Dutch World Cup tragedies in ’74 and ’78, Brilliant Orange attempts to explain the major events of Dutch footballing history- probing into why the superb Holland team of the 1970s never won a World Cup, as well as detailing the origin of Ajax’s “Total Football.”
However, while Winner’s arguments about the constant presence of space manipulation in Dutch society are fascinating, the book really comes into its own during the discussion of Holland’s losing habit- why the series of fantastic teams produced by the Netherlands are incapable of winning international competitions on a regular basis.
To find the answer, Winner carefully analyzes Dutch society, explaining how things as simple as the presence of Calvinism in the Netherlands, can contribute to the downfall of a Dutch team.
In what is a scintillating final chapter, Winner delves into the issue of penalty shoot outs, i.e. why Holland always lose them. Featuring an interview with a penalty expert, Winner clearly explains the innate problems in the Dutch attitude which contribute to consistent spot kick disappointment.
The thoughtful and intelligent analysis used to seek the reason for Netherland’s losing habit is not atypical of the entire book. Using simple yet beautiful logic and deduction, Winner manages to arrive at conclusions about Dutch football which are both well conveyed and highly plausible. Even for those unaccustomed to talk of architecture, anarchy and canals in the context of football, Brilliant Orange is still a fascinating book, one which over the years has become an ever present in the football enthusiast’s typical library.
Before it’s publication in 2000, the World was waiting for a book like Brilliant Orange. Dutch football remains the most enigmatic species in the sporting universe, making a complete study of it all the more difficult.
A stimulating read, Brilliant Orange is a well researched, cleverly thought out book- rich in detail and imagery as well as humor and voice.