Ahead of Netherlands' Euro 2024 semi-final clash with England, Dutch fans swept through the streets of Dortmund Wednesday led by an orange bus that has become a major attraction at the tournament.

The double-decker bus has played a central role in Dutch fan parades at major football tournaments for the past 20 years, and this year's Euros in Germany are no exception.

"This bus is the national hero. When I see the crowd, I get chills," said Esther Huijmans, sitting on a bench on the upper deck, as thousands of fans crowded around the vehicle.

She is among 34 Dutch volunteers who help run the "oranje bus" at tournaments.

"We never thought we'd be so successful this year," said the 48-year-old, who has been helping out on the vehicle for 10 years.

Beyond its bright orange colour, there does not seem to be anything special about the 40-year-old vehicle. But that does not stop fans from following it to the stadium at every match.

Images of the bus leading crowds of fans have gone viral online this year. It was a source of pride for fan Sebastian Vamrimkhuy, who was witnessing the event first-hand for the first time.

"I've got a patriotic feeling rising up inside me, it's not like me," said the 28-year-old with a laugh. 

Some of the more enthusiastic fans try to cling on to the bus.

"We also have to protect ourselves against so many people. Each of the volunteers has a role to play: some keep the fans away, others deal with the press," said Huijmans.

Another volunteer Jean-Pierre Piters also said the parades were not without stress.

"But we're like a family, it's all fun at the end of the day," added the 73-year-old pensioner.

Make us happy

The attention that the Dutch parades have garnered may have contributed to the fans' generally positive image at the Euros.

According to a survey by German newspaper Die Welt, 40 percent of Germans want the Dutch to win the tournament, well ahead of Spain and England, who are also still in the running. 

The story of the bus can be traced back to 2003, when a group of Dutch supporters decided to buy a second-hand bus, which had been on the road since 1980, to represent their team at Euro 2004.

After two decades of parades at tournaments, it has clocked more than 100,000 kilometres and has travelled the world, including to Brazil, South Africa and Qatar.

"These guys are there at every tournament... they make us happy," said Marco Hendriks, a 49-year-old physiotherapist, who had followed the bus in Dortmund.

The bus has been less active when it comes to competitions involving the women's team -- it has only been making an appearance at them since 2017.

Nevertheless, Huijmans sees clear progress. 

At Valenciennes in France during the 2019 Women's World Cup, "we set the place alight," she said. 

The passing years are starting to take their toll on the bus, however. It has undergone a lot of repairs and is becoming hard to drive, said Piters.

There is also a hint of irony that the bus is playing a central role in the Dutch fan parade ahead of their side's clash with the Three Lions -- the vehicle was built in England.