Bicycles and the Hand of Clod in Amsterdam

crowd watching cup

Outside an Amsterdam sports pub during the 2010 World Cup

The “hand of Clod” would have meant little, if anything, to me if our son Travis and I had not been in a crowded, rowdy sports pub in Amsterdam watching the World Cup back in 2010.  We found ourselves in this pub because I had agreed to meet Travis for a week-long World-Cup-watching orgy in Amsterdam.  He finds that U.S. coverage of soccer does not pass muster compared to European soccer coverage and he was not interested in traveling to South Africa to see it in person.  The lure for me mostly was the opportunity to cycle in what I had heard was a bike-centric culture, although I was also stoked to have the opportunity to watch umpteen soccer matches.  So it was the best of two worlds.


Travis and I rented bikes,  probably weighing in at 50 pounds each, and set off  to do some sight seeing; timing our rides to arrive at bars in time to catch the next World Cup match.

“Bike-centric” turned out to be an understatement.  I have never seen so many bikes in my life.  Interestingly, out of the thousands of cyclists we saw on our rides, the precious few wearing helmets appeared to be tourists.  Cyclists had the right of way over other vehicles; the bike lanes even had their own system of traffic lights and signs.  It was pretty amazing for someone who is used to riding in gaudy lycra (and always with a helmet) on a 17 pound carbon-fiber road bike dodging potholes and aggressive pickup drivers.

But back to the point about the “hand of Clod.”  Our first sports bar stop was to catch the match between the U.S. and England, arriving just as the match was under way.  There were no seats left so we had to stand in the back.  I was sure that everyone in the bar watched us come in and just knew that we were American tourists intruding on their turf.

SportsBar Amsterdam

In the center of the bar was a large round table with a group of 10 to 12 very inebriated and boisterous young men who ostensibly were part of a wedding party.  As fate would have it, we were watching a match that would go down in the records as one of the most memorable of the tournament.  The match was memorable for two reasons.   First, the American team, which was a huge underdog,  managed to end the game in a draw with England, a huge overdog.  And second, the tying U.S. goal was the result of the English goalie miss-handling what should have been a routine save.

I need to add that the next day the British press was brutal.  The headlines shouted “HAND OF CLOD,” paraphrasing another remarkable soccer occasion when during the 1986 World Cup Venezuela’s Diego Maradona supposedly headed a ball into England’s goal – but directed it with his fist.  Maradona claimed it was “the hand of God” that aided in the goal.  Venezuela went on that year to win that world cup.

Born usa bruce

Back to the sports bar in Amsterdam:  as the match was nearing the end I had my eye on the exit, fearful that the crowd may turn ugly toward the American interlopers in the back of the bar.   However, at the final whistle the young men at the round table spontaneously jumped to their feet and began singing at the top of their lungs, “Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.” Evidently, even before Brexit, Netherland’s membership in the European Union did not demand loyalty to fellow member soccer teams (or pop singers for that matter).

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 9.36.25 PM

Spain’s Andres Iniesta scores the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final.

I don’t recall how many other soccer matches we watched, but at the end of the week I headed back home and Travis traveled on to Spain to continue watching the World Cup in bars and pubs there.  Ironically, while he was in Spain the Spanish national team defeated Netherlands for the championship.  I am just glad that we were not watching that match in some packed bar in Amsterdam.  The exit may not have been close enough.




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