The last time Argentina and the Netherlands faced off in a match as important as Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal in São Paulo, it was a classic. That quarterfinal game at the 1998 World Cup produced one of the most magical moments in the tournament’s history, and perhaps the most memorable moment from that year’s Cup.
With the game tied at 1–1 and about to head into extra time, Netherlands striker Dennis Bergkamp scored in the 90th minute with one of the all-time best goals the tournament had ever seen. Dutch defender Frank de Boer blasted the ball 50 yards downfield, the Arsenal star brought it down with the most delicate of touches, swiveled around an Argentine defender, and fired it past the goalkeeper to give the Dutch the 2–1 victory.
It would seem nearly impossible for a live broadcaster’s commentary to match the pure drama of that moment, but that’s what happened when legendary Dutch commentator Jack van Gelder produced what to my mind is the greatest call in World Cup history.
Van Gelder’s cries of “DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP!” and the exhausted final shriek that followed became iconic in the Netherlands and soon spread to a certain type of soccer geek all over the world.* The clip of the call, which has more than 2 million YouTube views, is still popular in England, Germany, and the Netherlands 16 years later. “I got a lot of reaction afterward, but in the moment itself you’re not aware that it’s going to be a famous moment,” van Gelder tells me over the phone. “Afterwards I learned a lot of people were very obsessed about it, or told me it was their, how you say it, their ring tone on their phone.”
Van Gelder’s performance at this World Cup has not reached “DENNIS BERGKAMP!” levels of excitement yet, but back home it has still been admired. His call of the Netherlands’ 5–1 opening-round demolition of defending champions Spain has more than 550,000 YouTube views. His call of Robin van Persie’s dolphin header in that game is packed with Bergkamp-esque levels of emotion. The title of the YouTube clip is “Jack van Gelder wordt helemaal gek!!!” or “Jack van Gelder is crazy!!”
Van Gelder says he lost it after van Persie scored that amazing equalizer because of built-up tension surrounding fears of another bad defeat against a Spanish side that had beaten them in the last World Cup final. “It was a fantastic goal and tremendous tension,” he says. “I really had tears in my eyes. I can be very emotional, as you know.”
His leave-it-all-out-there style of commentary has inspired fans at home to try to get the radio commentator on to Holland’s official television broadcast as well. One fan started a Facebook page called “Laat Jack de finale doen,” or “Let Jack do the final,” to try to encourage the Dutch TV broadcaster to incorporate van Gelder’s commentary. The page has more than 84,000 likes.
“[He] is very much loved here in the Netherlands for his radio commentaries. So much so, in fact, that football viewers here in the Netherlands have asked the public broadcaster to include his radio commentary in the live feeds of the Dutch games on the broadcaster’s website,” Dutch fan Gerben Segboer tells me over email. “Many people prefer listening to his enthusiastic commentary while watching the game.”
While he has had his moments at this and other tournaments, the Bergkamp call remains the highlight of his career. In that call, van Gelder says he shouted Bergkamp’s name 13 times, ran out of breath, and let out a shriek of shock and delight. In the moment, he says, he was extra-elated, because an instant before De Boer’s pass he had predicted “I suddenly have the feeling we’re going to the semifinals.”
“It was just a feeling that I had somewhere. … This moment was coming so you explode,” he recalls. “I don’t know why I did it. I really don’t know. It was just, there.”
*Correction, July 9, 2014: This post originally misstated that Jack van Gelder cried, “BERGKAMP! BERGKAMP! BERGKAMP!” He cried, “DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP!”