The need to watch a game at Racing Mechelen was not only due to their magnificent Oscar Vankesbeeckstadion but also for the fact that my beloved Southend United played a friendly at this very ground in 1953. Racing won the game by a score of 3-2. It is something of an ongoing research/travel piece visiting the still existent venues the club played a game at in their prodigious touring throughout the 1950’s and early 60’s.
In those days they were known by the French version of their name Racing Malines. Racing also visited Southend, at the Grainger Road Stadium, for a friendly in 1951 as part of the extensive Festival of Britain celebrations.
Racing were formed in 1904, just a few months before crosstown rivals KV Mechelen and were awarded the low matricule number of 24. They were always the senior of the two Mechelen clubs and in their heyday finished in third place in First Division for 1949/50 and 1950/51 and runners ups the very next season. Decline set in, however, and while Racing dropped down to the third tier, FC (now KV) Mechelen assumed the status of the city’s highest ranked club. Worse news still for Racing came in 2010 when they were relegated to the fourth tier for the first time in their history. Mercifully they were promoted back to Division Three after just one season.
The club had become very popular in its formative years as their original ground at Rodekruisplein was in the heart of the working class area around the river and associated industries. Racing then moved to the magnificent Oscar Vankesbeeckstadion which was originally opened in 1923. It commemorates a Flemish liberal politician who also had a six year tenure in charge of the Belgian FA. Van Kesbeeck was also elected the first chairman of Racing Mechelen back in 1905 when aged only 18.
The stadium has a generous capacity of 13,687 (1,900 seats) and is comfortably the largest in the Belgian third tier. Following bombing damage in the war which saw the original main stand destroyed, the stadium was substantially renovated and enlarged in 1947. The glorious main stand was modelled on the “English style” of elevated grandstand and remains a quite stunning edifice. The players tunnel is truly impressive and displays the clubs motto of “Where there’s a will, there is a way”. The Vankesbeeckstadion lies around a mile from arch rival KV’s Achter de Kazerne stadium and is just north of the city centre over the River Dijle.
The ground displays some cracking flags, many in the English language, and several celebrating the Mechelen skyline. The lofty grandstand affords tremendous views across the city, notably visible is the illuminated tower of St.Rumbold’s Cathedral.
This early evening kick off sees Racing as favourites for a win as they had amassed five victories in their opening eight League encounters. Visitors Gent-Zeehaven are in a mid-table position. A goalless first half saw few chances for either side but a more open second period promised some goals. Against the run of play it’s the visitors that take the lead when Munoz netted as Racing failed to clear their lines. The home side pressured for a equaliser while Gent-Zeehaven seemed content to time waste at every opportunity, notably when their goalkeeper limped off injured. It was a ploy that would backfire on them. Mechelen deservedly equalised six minutes from time with a great strike from Mathyssen. Criminally the home side let in an identical goal to go 1-2 down with visiting skipper Criel the beneficiary of some poor defending. However, it was Racing that had the last word, levelling through Hmouda deep in the substantial period of stoppage time.
A very entertaining match in a cracking football ground, just what Oscar Van Kesbeeck would have enjoyed.
Belgium Division 3 (Group A) – 28/09/2013
Racing Club Mechelen (0) 2 (Mathyssen 84, Hmouda 90)
RRC Gent-Zeehaven (0) 2 (Munoz 55, Criel 88)
Attendance: c.900 (at the Oscar Vankesbeeckenstadion)
19. Lars Knipping; 2. Tom Pietermaat; 4. Morad Gloub; 7. Modeste Gnakpa; 8. Achraf Essikal; 9. Dirk Mathyssen; 10. Kevin Spreutels (c); 11. Megan Laurent; 13. Rachid Hmouda; 15. Arne Naudts; 16. Seppe Brulmans.
Subs: 5. Bert Tuteleers (for 11,46 mins); 12. Jessy Salut (for 4,80 mins); 14. Dylan Carton; 17. Max Beeckmans.
12. Kersten Lauwerys; 3. Jan Criel (c); 4. Othman Felix Kieran; 5. Quenten Schollaert; 6. Mathieu Welvaert; 7. Kevin Franck; 9. Nicolas De Lange; 15. Brecht Van Cauwenberge; 17. Gus Vandekerckhove; 20. Antonio Herrera Munoz; 21. Mackim Joos.
Subs: 1. Nick Heyman (for 12,72 mins); 8. Imad Amazou (for 15,46 mins); 11. Fabio Lo Giudice; 13. Niels Elewaut (for 17,52 mins).
Yellow Cards: Mathyssen, Tuteleers (Racing); Felix Kieran, Van Cauwenberge and Joos (all Gent-Zeehaven),