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Lions, cheese hats and a double-decker bus - joining the Dutch fan parade

Thousands of Dutch fans on the parade through the streets of Hamburg

Ahead of me someone is dressed as a lion, to the right a woman is wearing a cheese wheel on her head, above me foam busts of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Dennis Bergkamp bop to the sound of the now popular football anthem Freed from Desire, as a sea of orange sways along to the beat.

The Netherlands fan parade at Euro 2024 - unaffected by an incident in central Hamburg which sparked a major police operation - is in full swing before their opening game against Poland.

Turning the streets of Hamburg orange

Netherlands fans walking through Hamburg
Netherlands fans have been walking to matches at major tournaments across the world for decades [BBC Sport]

Fans of every national team will argue they are the most passionate, but few are quite so colourful and loud as the Dutch.

They are always unmissable - thousands of supporters decked in bright orange, many in creative and often absurd outfits, taking over fan zones and city centres before their team plays.

Then, with hours to go before kick-off, they turn into a sea of orange, swaying to the sound of a techno beat on a march to the stadium, causing passers-by to stop in their tracks and take photos.

It is a scene that is always memorable, and something that the players also appreciate.

"The fans are massive," Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk told BBC Sport. "We don’t take that for granted - we need them to come with us.

"At the World Cup in Qatar there was not as many as we'd normally have and we really need them.

"We need unity within the whole country if we want to achieve something special."

From Sheffield to Sao Paulo on a double-decker bus

The double-decker bus that leads the Dutch fan parade
The orange double-decker bus was leading its 50th fan parade on Sunday [BBC Sport]

For the past two decades, the conductor of this colourful orchestra has been a bright orange English double-decker bus.

"It all started in typical fashion with two friends sitting and having a beer and we thought if we qualify for Euro 2004 in Portugal we should do something," Henk van Beek, a founding member of the association that started the Dutch Oranje Bus, told BBC Sport.

"That is when we came up with a bus with a bar inside and some music playing."

The Netherlands did indeed qualify and that dream came to fruition, with the bus making its way to Portugal.

It was during that tournament the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) suggested the idea of it leading the fan parade - and so began a tradition that is into its second decade.

The vehicle has travelled around the world - from Sheffield to Sao Paulo - and on Sunday led its 50th fan march from the centre of Hamburg to Volksparkstadion about five miles away for the Group D game against Poland.

The Dutch fans and the double-decker bus in Budapest in Hungary
The Netherlands fans and the double-decker bus in Budapest, Hungary [Getty Images]
The Netherlands' fans' double-decker bus in Qatar
It also made it over to Qatar for the last World Cup [Getty Images]

Leading a colourful convoy

Getting a double-decker bus across oceans for tournaments is, understandably, not without difficulty.

"Brazil for the 2014 World Cup was tough," adds Van Beek.

"There was a lot of paperwork and it had to go out early for tests to make sure it was roadworthy.

"For South Africa we had to pay $5,000, which we got back at the end when we left with the bus. It was like a deposit.

"Then there is the worry about it breaking down, which it has done in some places. It is 44 years old and almost everything inside has been replaced."

Getting to Hamburg was considerably easier.

Starting off in Hardenberg in the Netherlands, the bus and 75 other orange vehicles - including VW Beetles and campervans - drove the 190 miles to Hamburg in a colourful convoy.

Dutch fans travel to Germany in an orange convoy of vehicles
Netherlands fans travelling to Germany in an orange convoy [EPA]

By Friday night there were pockets of Netherlands supporters all around Hamburg, but on Sunday morning at 08:30 they gathered at the city's fan zone in their thousands.

There they danced along as Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren blasted out a catalogue of his greatest hits before they made their way to one of the main roads close by to prepare for their famed fan walk to the ground.

I joined them for this, walking alongside fans dressed as their favourite players, some wearing bright orange suits and top hats, others giant lion costumes and some carrying large stuffed lions on their shoulders.

Slowly, tens of thousands of supporters then started making their way through the streets of Hamburg, out of the city centre and towards Volksparkstadion.

Local families, perhaps popping out for a quiet Sunday morning breakfast, could not help but stop and stare, before smiling and taking photos of the joyous scene.

I walked alongside a Dutch lady wearing a cheese wheel as a hat. She has been pictured at tournaments featuring the Netherlands men's and women's teams for decades.

"I don't remember but it's a lot," she said when I asked how many of these fan parades she has participated in.

At the other end of the scale Danny was taking part in it for the first time.

"It is great," he said. "It shows unity. Even though it is really early it is already a great party."

No matter the tournament or where in the world it is, the Dutch are always guaranteed to get the party started.