Bright orange outfits, trumpets and men dressed as red indians – it can only mean one thing: the Dutch are in town. Nelson Mandela Square was bouncing to the tune of the Oranje army yesterday as Johannesburg readied itself for the final chapter of a memorable FIFA World Cup™, with the Netherlands ready to do battle with Spain in the ultimate football showpiece.
Links between South Africa and the Netherlands stretch back as far as 1652, when a trading post was created in Cape Town by the Dutch East India Company. This celebration, though, was about the present, and as the packed bars and restaurants lining the square soaked up a spot of European culture, there was only one historical fact on people's minds.
We're like the Brazilians and the Irish. All people in Holland work very hard but if they can make a party, they make a party.
"In 1974 we lost, and in 1978 we lost - and the football we played then was very good, it was excellent," said Dutch fan Marc Mulkuyse, dressed from head to toe in a red, white and blue furry suit, representing the colours of his national flag. "But now we will win, I'm sure."
The swarming weekend crowd were lapping up the free entertainment as excitement levels rose ahead of the Soccer City sign-off. "We arrived at 6am on Friday morning, and until now it has just been one party," added Mulkuyse, who hails from Haarlem just outside Amsterdam. "We're like the Brazilians and the Irish, you know. All people in Holland work very hard but if they can make a party, they make a party."
Indeed, Gert-Jan van Asseldonk and his 11 musical friends were doing just that. In matching fluorescent orange suits and shoes, they had fans from all over the world moving to the tunes of their 12-piece brass band, and camera crews from across the globe circling to capture an image that has become reassuringly familiar in the footballing world.
"We arrived this morning and we do it just for fun," said the tuba player. "We went to the game in Durban, when Holland played Japan a few weeks ago, and it was a big party, so we said then that when we reach the Final we will go back. So a few days ago we had a problem! But now we're here. And if there is music there is a party!"
Somewhat quieter, but equally as eager to make the most of today's historic occasion, were those Spain fans lucky enough to make it to Johannesburg. "We arrived yesterday,” said Spain fan Carlos, who will have to rein in the celebrations tonight should La Roja claim their first world title. "If Spain win, unfortunately we won’t be able to celebrate as much as we wish, as we have to go back to work, carrying everyone celebrating - we are Iberia cabin crew!"
If Spain win, unfortunately we won’t be able to celebrate as much as we wish, as we have to work, carrying everyone celebrating - we are Iberia cabin crew!
Dressed in the famous red jersey, Dieter, a proud Spain-supporting South African, was revelling in the party atmosphere that had infected his home city. "The atmosphere is just awesome with all the people from Holland here, and all the people from Spain just coming in," he enthused. "It is such an awesome experience. The Dutch just bring this awesome atmosphere to Mandela Square the day before the Final, so I can't imagine what the atmosphere will be like at Soccer City. It should be mind-blowing!"
All eyes switch from Nelson Mandela Square to the jewel in South Africa's footballing crown this evening, when either the Netherlands or Spain will create history by lifting the famous Trophy for the first time. So amid of a sea of orange, punctuated by flecks of red, could we really find a neutral to predict which team will emerge victorious from this eagerly-awaited game? Thankfully, we found Netherlands fan Harry: "The best," he said coolly. "And my compliments to South Africa. It's been great."