Phillip II, Johan Cruyff and the World Cup final

At first sight, there is little geo-political needle in a Spain v Holland World Cup final. But listen to the Dutch national anthem on Sunday night, and you will realise that this is a grudge match dating back almost 500 years. The Dutch anthem is sometimes claimed to be the oldest in the world, and it is certainly the only one I know to contain sarcasm in its very first stanza.

On Sunday evening, the Dutch players will sing – “The King of Spain, I have always honoured.” If King Juan Carlos is in the stands, he will doubtless be chuffed to hear this. But, in fact, the men in Orange will simply be rehearsing the grievances that led the Netherlands to revolt against the rule of Phillip the Second of Spain in the mid-1500s. Once you get to the tenth stanza, you begin to see what the Dutch are driving at, as they sing: “That you are molested by the Spaniards/ O Noble Netherlands sweet/When I think of that/My Noble heart bleeds”. Unfortunately, the Dutch anthem is almost never sung in its entirety, because it is so damn long – so they won’t actually get to the tenth stanza. As for the Spanish anthem, it is one of the few wordless national hymns in the world – since the Francoist lyrics were dropped with the coming of democracy.

If one is looking for more contemporary reasons for the Spanish and the Dutch to get along badly, I guess you could look at Europe’s sovereign debt crisis – with the Dutch representing thrifty northern Europe, and the Spanish representing the spendthrift South.

In strictly footballing terms, however, this is a love match. Seven of the eleven Spanish starters are likely to play for Barcelona, a team that is deeply influenced by Dutch players and coaches. I once toured Barcelona football club and was told by their managing-director that they regarded themselves as having a special relationship with Holland. The patron saint of both the Dutch national side and FC Barcelona is Johan Cruyff – who captained the best ever Dutch team (the one that lost the World Cup final of 1974), and who both played for and managed Barcelona, with great success. Cruyff still has a special relationship with the city and and even gave his son a Catalan name, Jordi. Writing in his column for a Barcelona paper on Sunday’s final, Cruyff has diplomatically announced - “I am Dutch, but I support the football that Spain is playing.” Make of that, what you will.