Supporting one’s national team is important

For a summer that was not particularly blessed with good weather, the Dutch could hardly have wished for a more beautiful day for the festivities in Utrecht to celebrate the women’s national team victory in the European Football Championship. I had been lucky enough to snag two tickets to the semifinal match where the Leeuwinnen defeated the English 3 - 0 in front of a sold-out home crowd. Then, a week later, I joined countless fans and families dressed in orange along the canals to watch the winning team pass by on their victory parade.

Having grown up in the United States, a country where football is not particularly mainstream, each opportunity for me to watch a professional match is special, no matter the stakes. Even though I have been a lifelong football player and fan, I was not able to support or see my favorite teams and players as a child. Now at 22-years-old, and having been swept up in the crazy Dutch football culture, I now believe more than ever, in the notion that a national team has the power to bring people together.

This applies in the bad times, as well as the good ones. One week ago, the Dutch men’s national team was playing against Sweden in the last match to qualify for World Cup 2018. This was my third time in stadium to watch the Dutch men. Even though the Oranje needed a miracle to even give themselves a chance of making it ahead of the Swedes, the fans still came out and supported their countrymen. I can only imagine the pandemonium that would have ensued had they pulled off such a feat.

The misfortune of missing out on the World Cup is mutual between my two countries. For both it is a great shock and frustration and both teams are rightfully subject to scrutiny, but I have never heard of a European national team be mocked the way the US team has been. All criticisms of the Dutch men’s team have been in the interest of eventual improvement of the team. However, last week an American elected official publicly stated, “I was really disappointed the USA men’s team didn’t qualify for the World Cup. Then I remembered I couldn’t care less about soccer.”

This is exactly why I think supporting one’s national team is important, and why I admire the orange sea of Dutch fans that pack the trains going through Utrecht Centraal for every home game – as representatives of a country, the team has the intrinsic power to unite and draw interest from people who would otherwise not care. Particularly as radical movements twist and taint the image of patriotism, whether they be as whispers or as waves, the romantic in me sees football as a point of positive pride for a nation. In no way do I think football can fix anything political, but if the national team is one figure that everyone can support, some common ground cannot be bad.