Berchem Sport have a great deal of history having been formed on April 22nd 1908 as a football extension of the local athletics club. They were awarded the matricule number (the treasured Belgian FA logging number) of 28. In 1931 they gained royal ascent renaming themselves Royal Berchem Sport, this became the Dutch version, Koninklijke, in 1967. While never crowned Belgian champions they were pretty big cheeses notably in the 1940’s when they were First Division runners up three seasons running between 1948 and 1950. On each occasion they finished behind RSC Anderlecht.
Berchem’s stadium is truly magnificent, the main stand has over 2,600 seats and is smartly set off by yellow wooden crenolations bearing the club name. The covered terrace opposite is a real gem as well drawing comparisons to many such structures in England during the 1970’s. Both ends are curved uncovered terracing basking in warm sunshine today. Overall the ground is now licensed to hold 13,607 spectators.
Originally built between 1928 and 1931 by architects Frans Peeters and Egide Van der Paal the inauguration game took place on August 29th 1929 when Berchem lost 3-2 to the Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven. Built to a controlled budget but maximising capacity the only acquiescence to ornamentation was the faux Roman style triumphal arch bearing the club name in Art Deco style script. The only modernisation to the ground has come in the form of plastic seating in the main stand and a glazed clubroom underneath the main stand that affords a great view of the pitch. The pitch is surrounded by a long disused athletics track.
Originally the Berchem Stadion the Ludo Coeckstadion is named after Berchem’s most famous footballing son who started his career with Berchem before a glittering career with Anderlecht, Internazionale and Ascoli. He had returned to Belgium to play for Racing White Daring of Molenbeek when tragically his career was cut short at its peak when he died from injuries sustained in a car crash. He was just 30 years old.
Coeck had won 46 caps for Belgium as that wonderful side of the early 1980’s managed by the legendary Guy Thys. I remember clearly his long range goal that defeated a plucky El Salvador side who had shipped ten goals in the previous game against Hungary. It must of been a good Belgian side as the names still roll of the tongue for me, Pfaff, Gerets, Millecamps, Renquin, Meeuws, Vercauteren, Van Moer, Van der Elst, Coeck, Vandenbergh and Ceulemans. Ah yes Jan Ceulemans, a Club Brugge legend, a tall, blond attacking midfielder who scored 23 times for his country. It seems somehow entirely appropriate that he is managing today’s visitors, Royal Cappellen, at the stadium named in memory of his long time international cohort.
Berchem need to win today in the final league game of the season to guarantee they don’t slip into the Provincial Leagues. The home side is backed by a sizeable and noisy home crowd, the majority bedecked in yellow and gathered under the cavernous covered terrace named “The Spion Kop”. However its Cappellen that march into a comfortable lead at half time thanks to goals from Mathyssen and Vanderheyden. The Berchem manager must have earned his corn at the break as the introduction of Martin and Kocakl transforms the hosts. Immediately after the restart Da Silva reduces the arrears and just before the hour mark Kurtulus concedes a blatant penalty which is cooly converted by Boujouh. Berchem make their boisterous fans sweat and the winning goal comes just six minutes from time. This is a contentious moment as Niels Martin’s goal bound effort appears to have been clawed off the line by the Cappellen goalkeeper Brughmans. A brusque wave of the linesman’s flag, however, indicates he is happy the whole of the ball crossed the line and Martin sprints over to the Spion Kop to celebrate with delirious Berchem fans. It has been a very tight division and this win could even perversely see Berchem invited to take part in the promotion play-offs such is the peculiarity of the Belgian licensing system.
So yet another superb Belgian ground, it really is a feast of country for a stadium connessieur. One word of warning though, I noticed collection boxes around the ground labelled “new stadium fund”. Surely they couldn’t?
Sunday May 4th 2014 – Belgian Third Division (Group B)
K. Berchem Sport (0) 3 (Da Silva 46, Boujouh pen 59, Martin 84)
Royal Cappellen (2) 2 (Mathyssen 19, Vanderheyden 39)
Att: c.1000 (at Ludo Coeckstadion)
25. Bjorn Sengier, 2. Mike De Koninck, 3. Michael Dierickx (c), 4. Matti Van Minnebruggen, 6. Dickson Agyeman, 7. Bruno Da Silva, 11. Brahim Boujouh, 14. Tim Verstraeten, 17. Stef Van den Heuvel, 20. Thomas Stevens, 24. Sjors Paridaans.
Subs: 9. Niels Martin (for 14,46 mins), 15. Murat Kocakl (for 2,46 mins), 21. Jelle Merckx, 32. Benjamin De Wilde.
1. Bernd Brughmans (c), 3. Senne Vanderheyden, 9. Dirk Mathyssen, 10. Youssef Boulaoali Didouh, 11. Jorge Waeghe, 14. Jasper Vermeerbergen, 15. Wesley Guens, 18. Erding Kurtulus, 19. Jimmy Fockaert, 21. Moses Adems, 22. Nick Van Asch.
Subs: 6. Spencer Verbiest (for 14,79 mins), 7. Maxim Van Hoydonck (for 21,46 mins), 20. Predrag Ristovic, 24. Ben Van den Brandt (for 19,74 mins).