‘Silly’ Oranje bus becomes Euros symbol for Dutch fans in Germany

<span>The Oranje bus has spearheaded fan efforts in places as far afield as São Paulo, Sheffield, Kharkiv and Qatar.</span><span>Photograph: Luciano Lima/Uefa/Getty Images</span>
The Oranje bus has spearheaded fan efforts in places as far afield as São Paulo, Sheffield, Kharkiv and Qatar.Photograph: Luciano Lima/Uefa/Getty Images

German commuters on the A2 may have spotted a bright orange doubledecker bus heading north towards Dortmund on Tuesday afternoon.

Saving any breakdowns, and they do happen, admitted Harm Otten, 61, the 1980 rear-engined Bristol VRT will arrive in the west German city, along with an astonishing 75,000 Dutch fans in good time for England’s Euro 2024 semi-final tie with the Netherlands on Wednesday.

“We’ve become the symbol of our supporters”, says Otten, an HR manager at DHL, with obvious surprise. “It was just a silly idea 20 years ago.”

Related: Netherlands v England: tactical conundrums that will settle semi-final

Otten and friends bought the English doubledecker online in 2004 with the intention of using it to travel in style to Dutch games during that year’s Euros in Portugal.

It was the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) which suggested the idea of it leading the fan parade to the stadia at that tournament. So began a two-decade tradition during which the bus has spearheaded the Oranje army of Dutch support in São Paulo, Sheffield, Kharkiv and Qatar.

The tradition will continue on Wednesday at around 4pm local time (5pm BST) when the Dutch fans will begin a two-mile march from the designated fan zone on Dortmund’s Friedensplatz to the Westfalenstadion.

Performing on the parade will be Rob Kemps, 38, a comedian-cum-lead singer of Snollebollekes, whose 2015 party song, Links Rechts (Left Right), has been the theme tune of the nation’s tournament, and led many to conclude that it is the Dutch that have had the most fun in Euro 2024.

To Kemps’ command of “to the left, to the right, one more time”, the Dutch support delight in jumping in unison. Evidence of the song’s winning ways is that it has even captured the hearts of German fans, who have not previously had much time for their Dutch rivals, says Kemps.

He adds: “In 2017 the Dutch football team of women won the tournament, and they had a big party in the city of Utrecht with 30,000 people and that’s when it goes viral in Holland for the first time, and it was also on the news.

“So actually, in Holland, it was a big thing already, but now it’s going like viral in the world. You have always had a healthy rival between Holland and Germany, you know, like, what you guys have, I think with Scotland, but actually in the music that I make, we call it just party music, it’s the best thing to [get everyone] to come all together.”

The proximity of German city to the border with the Netherlands means the number of Dutch fans, of which as many as 60,000 will be without a match ticket, will vastly outstrip the 16,000 England fans in the stadium and the further 1,000 expected outside.

In the stands, the Dutch presence will be most obvious in the famous south terrace which is known as the “Yellow Wall” during Borussia Dortmund games but will become orange on Wednesday night.

The sheer scale of the Dutch support is a logistical problem, said Martin Sauer, the official responsible for organising the Euros in Dortmund, who spoke of concerns that the fan zones would not be able to accommodate all those coming over from the Netherlands.

It was not the possibility of “aggression” that was causing some anxiety, he added, but that “we have not an endless capacity for visitors on our public viewing sites”.

He says: “We have a capacity of nearly 50,000 which is really a big number for a city like Dortmund. This capacity is maybe not big enough, and so we got some problems with mobility and fans will have a chance to see the match in the city centre, in the bar or in the restaurant, but they will have to find it before and it’s maybe not easy half an hour before the game.

“The English fan association told us [on Monday] they only think there’s 1,000 fans without tickets, and the rest will stay in Düsseldorf. Maybe, we don’t know.

“We know the English fans usually don’t use public viewing in the fan zones and like more to use pubs and restaurants and that’s fine because we really stretched all the public viewing for the Dutch fans.

“It’s really good if all the English friends are in our pubs and restaurants, and all the Dutch friends are at the public viewing site. I think there will be a mix between but it’s the way it works.”

Neither England nor the Netherlands, who qualified from the group stage as one of the best performing third-placed teams, have dazzled throughout the tournament.

Esther Huijsmans, 48, from Rotterdam, who is one of 34 members of the Oranje bus association – 10 women and 24 men – who pay an annual fee for the privilege of a seat on the doubledecker, feels the result could go either way. “I think in the end it is about joy,” she says. “There are so many bad things in the world and people just want to have fun.”