The football fever that was absent in Zurich was well and truly present in Bern from the moment when I arrived at the train station of the Swiss capital.Before we even arrived in Bern, I was prepared for the crazy Dutch fans. Back in the summer of 1994, I was introduced to the Clockwork Orange in Orlando where tens of thousands invaded the land of Mickey Mouse to support their team during the World Cup. They were a joy to behold back then, all dressed in orange, wearing wooden clogs and incessantly singing and drinking.Within minutes of departing the train station in Bern, I could hear the Dutch fans singing in the distance. This was 11:45am local time and it still was 9 hours before the game against Italy was scheduled to begin!Walking through the cobbled streets of Bern, I began to see more and more Dutch fans walking through the streets. It wasn’t long before I realized that this sleepy town was beginning to be painted orange.Within 30 minutes, I ran into a cute Dutch girl from the eastern part of Holland. Wearing an orange apron and cowboy hat, she spoke fluent English and introduced us to her crazy band of friends. Two of them were Swiss, from Lucern, who had been adopted as Dutch fans and were completely clad in orange including one of them wearing an orange wig with ponytails. The ringleader in the cowboy hat was joined by her college friend who featured orange pantyhose and other Dutch paraphernalia. Then there was their male Dutch friend wearing an orange wig and hat.The group of Dutch fans invited us to join them in the Fan Zone. Walking up the hill in the direction of the Fan Zone area, the Dutch girls regaled us with their songs about Holland (including the infamous “Hup Holland Hup,” which is easy to learn and quite addictive). We also chatted about how unique Dutch culture is as well as the nightly porn channels on free basic TV in Holland.When we arrived at the Fan Zone, we knew we had arrived. The square, renamed Orange Square for the tournament, was filled with several thousand Dutch fans. It was an unbelievable sight. Thousands of Dutch fans, clad in bright orange, who were wearing the most creative costumes. There were men dressed in lion costumes, orange Elvis outfits, others who were cross dressers complete in Dutch maid costumes and much more.Without a doubt, football fever had arrived.The Orange Square was alive with the sounds of music pumping out of the speakers. The DJ onstage played Dutch favorites as well as classic sing-a-long tracks such as Delilah by Tom Jones and I’m So Excited by The Pointer Sisters. The growing number of Dutch fans sang along.With the sun beating down on an unusually hot day, the party atmosphere continued. The Dutch fans drank beer, sang songs and were having a communal experience with their Dutch brothers and sisters. One of the Dutch girls that I ran into earlier explained that Dutch people usually hate hanging out with each other on vacation, but when it comes to soccer matches, everyone comes together to celebrate.She also explained the Dutch tradition of the fans walking over to football stadiums. They all walk as one, thousands together and when they get to an intersection where the traffic lights are green, they all sit down together in the intersection and continue singing songs, to the displeasure of the motorists. When the light turns amber, they walk on to the next set of traffic lights and continue doing the same thing all the way to the ground.We decided to leave the Orange Square to explore the other areas of Bern and bid our farewells to our new friends. As we were walking out of the Fan Zone, we saw the streams of thousands of fans pouring into the zone. While the Fan Zone was open to all fans — whether they be Dutch, neutral or Italian fans — the Dutch had taken over. No Italian fans were among them. Not even one.Walking through the many cobbled streets of Bern, we could see by now that the entire city had been “painted” orange. Dutch fans were everywhere. On balconies, inside stores, walking through the streets in large processions, sitting in the parks and walking around the city as we were doing. There were literally tens of thousands of them throughout this tiny city (with a population of 127,000). The wonderful thing about the Dutch is that even though they love to party and drink, there’s little to no violence. Contrast that with the English yobs who frequent clubs and pubs every Saturday night in their home country where alcohol fuels violence.EPL Talk reader Oleg Zhovnir and I continued to explore the city, marveling at the increasing number of Netherland fans streaming into the city from the train station. Slowly, very slowly, Italian fans were beginning to sprinkle into the crowds but we only saw approximately 1,000 in the city. While Orange Square was teeming with Dutch fans, there were several other squares throughout the city in other Fan Zones. There was one that included more Italians than Dutch, but the Italians were silent, sitting down or juggling footballs with friends.Around 4pm, we decided to make the walk to the stadium 30 minutes from the city centre. The whole route was blocked off from traffic so we were able to walk with thousands of fans through the neighborhoods where the Swiss were selling food, drink and merchandise. Many of the Swiss were sitting outside watching the football carnival pass by their homes.Walking over the bridge from the old part of Bern into the newer part, we looked back and saw the beautiful views of the old city with its ancient buildings, tall church towers, the Stadthaus and the green mountains surrounding the city as well as the river snaking its way around the town. What a beautiful town to play a football match.After walking more than 30 minutes, we finally arrived at the Wankdorf Stadium. Here, we noticed that there were a lot more Italian fans. Rather than joining together in the city, they seemed to be arriving separately at the stadium. Again, they were pretty silent and were nothing like the partying Dutch we had saw earlier.When we walked inside the Wankdorf Stadium, there were a few thousand fans inside who had the same idea as us of watching the Romania against France match on the big screens. As the game progressed, the stadium began to fill. By the middle of the second half of the boring nil-nil match, the stadium was almost completely full.What surprised me though was how loud the Italian fans were. While the Dutch were still making their way to the stadium, the majority of Italian fans had already arrived and were standing at one end of the stadium. Here the Italians began to hoist their banners over the railings and began to make noise, a lot of noise. Opposite from the Italians were the unmistakeable sea of orange, but the Dutch were eerily silent.As the players, dressed in their suits, came on to the field, the Italian fans exploded, unfurling their flags, jumping up and down and singing songs and cheering. The sight was a beautiful one seeing the red, white and green colors mixed with the blue shirts in the stands.Getting closer to kickoff, it was obvious to see that there were a lot more Dutch fans in the stadium than Italians — probably twice as many. However, what shocked me was that the Italian fans for most of the match were louder than the Dutch. It almost seemed like the Dutch fans were nervous that their team would not meet their expectations. Or maybe they had partied too hard earlier in the day in the city center and had run out of energy. The Italian fans, who were silent in the city and outside the city center, sang and acted like world champions.When the Dutch scored the first and second goals, the stadium erupted with noise but soon after it quietened down. Again, it felt like the Dutch were nervous and uneasy, thinking that the Italians would find a way to come back and equalize in the game. It wasn’t until the second half that the Dutch began to get louder overtaking the noise that the Italians had made. And when the
third goal went in, the party atmosphere returned with the Dutch singing louder and more proudly than before, while the Italians became more silenced. Many of them, in my section, began walking out of the stadium in disgust when it was three nil to the Dutch.In the next few days, I’ll be sharing more of the experiences I had while in Switzerland. I’m now back in the States and recovering from all of the traveling. But before I go, I’d like to thank Castrol Oil for sponsoring EPL Talk and providing free tickets to the match in Switzerland. Learn more about Castrol’s excellent Euro 2008 statistics site at http:\/\/