A number of football related reasons meant that a car load of well travelled English groundhoppers descended on Dover ferry port from all points north and west in the middle of the night. After a decent breakfast in the well preserved border town of Veurne it was time to eat up the road miles to the town of Lier in province of Antwerpen.
Pulling up to the Lyra Stadion in Mechelnsesteenweg, welcoming the visitor is a homely ticket kiosk which sits somewhat awkwardly next to a petrol station. Once the gates had creaked open well ahead of the 4pm kick-off, we eagerly entered for some pre-match photos. All of us had done our research prior to the weekend and were aware that a super ground lay beyond the gates, but it was to far exceed our expectations. The Lyra Stadion is one of those great, historic grounds seemingly hewn rather than built and gloriously faded with a patina that can only come from antiquity, grandeur and history.
The stadium had opened in 1912, some three years after the club’s formation and replaced their original ground in Antwerpsesteenweg. The stunning main stand which runs down the entire length of one side was erected in 1912 and subsequently extended which means this edifice is in fact the oldest football stand in all of Belgium. Only a wooden stand at a hockey ground in Uccle prevents this vintage edifice from being the oldest in use sporting structure in the land. Aside from the sumptuous and cavernous grandstand the rakish terracing behind the goal catches the eye, replete with classically styled concrete crush barriers. In times gone by the club competed in the upper echelons of Belgian football and five figure crowds were not unusual at the Lyra Stadion. Today they find themselves in the more sedate surroundings of the Promotion League Group C. Indeed the club find themselves at something of a crossroads with plans to move away from this historic old ground in the offing. The side opposite the grandstand originally had shallow terracing but this has now been flattened and the land awaits the construction of a police building. The end of this new season will see Lyra TSV vacate their spiritual home and groundshare for at least two years while a replacement stadium is built elsewhere in Lier.
Of course, the Belgians are renowned for their recording of sporting history and as a result have a unique numbering system for the lineage of its football clubs. The matricule system is fantastic for historians and the honour of a “low” matricule is something to be fiercely proud of. The oldest Belgian club, Royal Antwerp, have matricule number 1 and every club formed subsequently is recorded in descending number. The original Lyra club had been established in 1891 with the football section being inaugurated in 1909, giving them a matricule of 52. However a 1972 merger with Lierse Sportkring meant the surrendering of their cherished low number and a reassignment to matricule number 7,776. Today’s guests, SK Rapid Leest, are two levels below Lyra and compete in the sixth tier. They have matricule number 3,737.
Everybody at the Lyra club are extremely welcoming and bend over backwards to accommodate their unexpected English guests. The combatants enter the field of play to a rousing blast of the club anthem “Lyralied”, an essential purchase on a tasty slab of retro 7″ vinyl from behind the bar. On the field the home side exert their two division advantage and without too much bother coast into a two goal lead. If the visitors had a little more self belief in the final third then Lyra could have had more of a contest on their hands. Instead an injury time penalty is all the visitors have to show for their toils. In front of 192 people Lyra progress to a second round tie away to Sint-Lennarts.
As the countdown begins for this stunning old ground, aside from a hearty recommendation from four experienced groundhoppers, it is probably best to let the pictures beguile you into visiting.
Belgian Cofidis Cup First Round (28/07/2013)
K.Lyra TSV (1)2 (Waumann 27, Jacobs 65) SK Rapid Leest (0)1 (Rucquoy pen 90)
Attendance: 192 (at the Lyra Stadion)
1. Joghem Tanghe; 2. Arno Van Hove; 4. Tom Blamnaerts; 6. Elio Balbi; 10. Given Jacobs; 11. Levi Waumann; 12. Gaeten Lambreghts; 15. Wouter Vos, 17. Glenn Jansenns; 19. Kurt Ory (c); 21. Tim Verrerck.
33. Thomas Vos (not used); 3. Jordy Van Collie (for 15, 86 mins); 8. Olivier Trouillard (for 17, 77 mins); 9. Zigi Arras (for 21, 64 mins).
33. Niel De Dooy; 2. Joeri Van Bossuyt; 3. Bart Van Campenhout; 4. Ken Beyens; 5. Sammy Abdellaa; 7. Pietr Verbruggen (c); 12. Zakaria Daali; 13. Glenn Rucquoy; 15. Phillipe Vanmullen; 16. Simon Verbruggen; 17. Koery Broothaers.
8. Tom Vandenbranden (for 4, 84 mins); 9. Hakim Boussehaba (for 3, 83 mins); 11. Yonas Haesearts (16, 66 mins); 87. Glenn Linsen (not used).
Van Bossuyt, Vanmullen and Broothaers (all Leest).