When I was ten, lots of things were orange. You know, Fanta, Tangy Tom crisps. Those little penny bubble gums that you got in a paper bag that lost their flavour after two chews. My uncle’s Datsun. Irn Bru. The little hard bits in Wham bars that got stuck in my teeth and made my Mum send me to the dentist who had a Bobby Charlton haircut that fell off his head and down my throat when he was hunting for cavities. Tigger.
That Holland kit is also, obviously, incredibly orange, but I’d be lying if I said I loved it in 1988. Sure, it had an impact, but when you’re 10 you wear football kits because you support the team. Football wasn’t cool and football shirts were worn to play football in. I was more concerned with the brown Doc Martens I had outgrown, the little green bomber jacket with the zip on the sleeve and the orange lining that I wore deep into summer, and the Gallini tracksuit that made the bigger kids adopt me in school until Noddy turned up in a pale blue Le Shark polo the next day and I was demoted.
Of course, I’ve fallen in love with it since. Look at it. Fucking. Look. At. It. The collar alone would cause grown men across the world to passively-aggressively queue for hours alongside all those anaemic hypebeast children if it formed part of the latest PALACE x adidas drop. Then there’s the chevron that frames the torso made up of all those lovely panes, hundreds of shades of orange and white forming arrows that shimmer and appear to be powering up to explode like on some long forgotten video game. And, of course, there’s the lion. The Dutch Lion is better than all the lions on any kit ever and I know that might be heresy in the Golden Jubilee year of Alf Ramsey’s gurning frenzy, but it’s just true. I’ll fight you. I shouldn’t need to mention the trefoil. Or the 10 on the shorts. We’ve been there.
I loved this shirt in 1988 because of Ruud Gullit. I know Marco van Basten scored most of the goals and Ronald Koeman strode around like a ruddy-faced King full of mead and meat, but Ruud Gullit was unquestionably The Man.
For a start, see his goal in the final. Usually, when there is no pace on the ball, headers just look a bit silly. Not for Ruud Gullit and his glorious moustache. Running onto the looped cross and throwing every bit of his upper body forward to head-butt one past Rinat Dasayev, dreadlocks exploding on the moment of impact like fireworks.
It wasn’t just the goal, though. I mean, just look at him. Football players in the 1980s did not look like Ruud Gullit. Men in the small town in Shropshire where I grew up did not look like Ruud Gullit. The men I knew all had feather cuts and perms or sidies shaved above their ears. Men with names like Tut and Goose and Tic Tac. Men with spider web tattoos and skintight blue jeans and adidas Samba who sung and still sing Sweet Caroline at the Sunday Night Karaoke. Men who once you got past the veneer were snide, miserable bullies where it was all fine until they glassed some poor cunt in the pub.
Not big urbane Ruud, though. This was man who had marked his Ballon d’Or win by dedicating it to the still imprisoned Nelson Mandela and played in a reggae band. Ruud in his delightful black and white Lottos and his socks pulled high over shinpadless calves. Ruud, the best player in the world, who could batter whole midfields out of the game and finish them off with a scything outside of the boot pass for Marco to score. Not my Ruud.
I could go on about Ruud at Milan, winning the lot as the fulcrum of Arrigo Saatchi’s proto-gegenpress madness; Ruud and his Dutch mates and Barsei and Maldini basically setting the template for the football we see Simeone, Klopp, and Pep aping and tweaking week in, week out. We don’t need to talk about Football Italia anymore.
Eight and a half years after Ruud’s insane header, I found myself at Villa Park on Boxing Day, 1996. I was now 18 and had spent the first Christmas of my actual adult life incredibly drunk and up to all sorts. My uncle with the Datsun had invited me to go and watch Villa vs. Chelsea and I was so very ill from pay packet shenanigans that my throat was permanently closed. I couldn’t even stomach a turkey buttie and I harboured a large disliking for both Chelsea and Villa. Besides, they were just two clubs with inferior lions on their badge.
I went, though. I went to Villa Park and sat in the Holte End and got screamed at by Villa fans because of Ruud. In the 70th minute, a Villa player whose name nobody can remember cleared a ball with his left foot and it swirled in the winter air. Ruud stepped out from the sweeper position where he’d had a cigar on all night, and cushioned this little first-time pass. It travelled no more than ten yards, but it was so perfect in timing and execution and sheer knowledge of what needed to happen on the pitch that all the Chelsea midfielder had to do was open his body and launch it forward to Zola who scored his second of the night. I clapped and the Holte End bellowed at me. I didn’t care. It was just so fucking Ruud.
All those orange things from when I was a kid are all still orange. They just don’t matter in my life anymore. The only orange things that I have to deal with are an overpriced can of San Pellegrino, some butternut squash soup, and loads of massive Vitamin C tablets to stop me dying. Ruud still matters, though. Ruud and his tremendous Match of the Day arrogance - even with his not-quite-as-good haircut - will always matter.