Arrogantwerp (Royal Antwerp FC)

Royal Antwerp were formed as Antwerp Athletic Club in 1880 by English students living in the city. It is generally accepted that the club is the oldest in Belgium so when the Royal Belgian FA introduced its matricule system, the revered inventory of registration and hierarchy, Antwerp were awarded the coveted matricule No.1.

The club has won the Belgian Championship on four occasions but since their last relegation from the top flight in 2004 the club has experienced some particularly lean years. One of the last highlights for the Reds came in 1992/3 when they defeated Glenavon, Admira Wacker, Steaua Bucharest and Spartak Moscow on their way to the European Cup Winners Cup Final. They were defeated 3-1 in the final at Wembley by Parma but had the tournaments top scorer with 7 goals by Belgian International Alex Czerniatynski.

Those somewhat distant glory games were of course played in front of packed houses at the mythical Bosuilstadion, home to the club since 1923. Prior to this the Reds played at another substantial ground called the Stadion Broodstraat which had been opened in 1908 and was used as a primary football venue for the 1920 Summer Olympics held in the city.

The Bosuilstadion has held many famous matches including the 1964 Cup Winners Cup final between Sporting Club Portugal and MTK Budapest as well as numerous international matches for the Belgian national team. Markedly there has been no Belgian internationals played at the venue since 1988. The stadium is something of an oddity, the two ends are relatively modern with one being a glazed VIP stand, opened in 1991, for those with enough money to want to watch live football minus any semblance of the atmosphere. The structure has been branded “the fishbowl” for obvious reasons. The atmosphere at the Bosuilstadion is so legendary that it became widely known as the “Hell of Derne” such was the intimidating environment for visiting teams. At its peak the Bosuil (Dutch for “Tawny Owl”) could accommodate some 60,000 spectators.

The two sides of the stadium have ancient edifices, both in some considerable need of renovation. The poor state of repair meant that the stadium was not considered as a host venue for Euro 2000 although the new stand behind the goal is testament to failed plans for a total renovation in readiness for an application. In more recent years the two ancient stands have deteriorated further, signs have been put up that read “do not jump, danger of collapse”. It took an injury to a supporter in the vintage 1923 main stand to provoke some work to the interior of this old leviathan. This is now the most expensive area of the stadium in which to sit, VIP area excluded. The central seats for this game were €60 while modern plastic seats to either side can be yours for €25 a piece. Had I remained in my allocated seat both goals would have been totally obscured by a rail barrier from the old configuration of the stand. A small and unused terraced paddock area has been created underneath the seating but looks awkward and incongruous with the rest of the stand. Typically the renovations look like they have been done cheaply rather than investing properly for the future. The stand is still hampered by a leaking roof, temporary toilet facilities and a lack of lighting on the way out.

The majority of “the Great Old’s” season ticket holders are housed in the magnificent curved Tribune 2 opposite the main stand, replete with original bench seating. It too is in a pretty poor shape the top right hand corner is fenced off due to safety concerns. The noise from this tribune, however, is immense and a veritable sonic boom erupts when the players enter the field or Antwerp find the net.

They do that only once tonight against plucky visitors from West Flanders, KSV Roeselare. The goal came from the most impressive player on the pitch, the tricky little winger, Stallone Limbombe and it was enough to secure a first win of the new season for The Great Old.

So what to make of the Bosuilstadion? Old school stands, massive floodlights (albeit only 3 of them since one blew down in a storm), and terrific support tick many people’s boxes. However, expensive tickets, quite frankly dangerous infrastructure and a lack of direction of the future of the stadium must be a concern. The previous board of the club seemed content to plod knowing they could rely on the unswerving support of the fans yet offering them little in the way of creature comforts. Maybe it was the old board espousing the long held opinion that Antwerp natives are “superior” and often arrogant in demeanour, several locals at the game wore tee shirts with the phrase “Arrogantwerp” emblazoned on them. Clever use of language but the arrogance and presumptuousness of the old Antwerp board could have resulted in a serious stadium incident. Hopefully the more progressive board now in power will provide the magnificent fans of this club with the kind of future they absolutely deserve.

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Proximus League – 13/08/2016

Royal Antwerp 1 (Limbombe 59) SV Roeselare 0

Att: 11,118 (at Bosuilstadion)

Admission €25 Programme €2

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Antwerp ticket

 

 

Jumping Through Hoops (Shamrock Rovers FC)

The history of Shamrock Rovers is absolutely fascinating, a heady mix of on field success, the Hoops have won a record 17 League of Ireland titles, and boardroom politics and shenanigans. Even the clubs’ own formation date is disputed traditionally always quoted as 1901, recent study has unearthed unequivocal proof that Shamrock Rovers were playing matches as early as April 1899. What is not in dispute is how the clubs’ name was chosen. One of the first meetings held to discuss the formation of the new club was held in Shamrock Avenue and it was decided to call the new club by that national symbol rather than a particular locality.

The highs and lows of the Hoops can be mirrored by their struggles in finding a home ground to call their own. Initially the majority of games were played at Ringsend Park before the club spent the 1915/16 season at Shelbourne’s then home ground of Shelbourne Park Stadium, now exclusively a greyhound racing venue. Rovers then played at Windy Arbour near Dundrum before using a pitch on the Milltown Road which was in the heartland of their supporter base. Finally, in 1926 the club opened its brand new ground in Milltown situated in Dublin’s south side. The land was leased from the Jesuit Order and the ground was mainly built by the clubs’ supporters. In the 1930’s the Cunningham family bought Shamrock Rovers and the stadium was renamed Glenmalure Park after the ancestral home of the new owners.

Glenmalure Park was the base for huge success for the Rovers although some of their biggest European Cup matches, including their debut in the competition, against Manchester United, would be staged at Bohemians’ superb and commodious Dalymount Park. The Cunninghams completed the ground providing more terracing and a cover for the terrace opposite the main stand. The capacity now stood at some 20,000 but in 1968 the visit of Waterford to Glenmalure saw the all time record gate of 28,000 gather for a Rovers game.

The Cunningham Family sold Rovers to the Kilcoynes in 1972 and by 1987 the new owners had also purchased the land from the Jesuit Order. In the 15 years of Kilcoyne ownership Glenmalure had become run down due to a lack of maintenance and investment. The motive soon became clear when a plan was announced to sell Glenmalure and move Rovers across town to Tolka Park to groundshare with then occupants Home Farm.

The Rovers fans boycotted and picketed games at Tolka Park which ended up bankrupting the Kilcoynes. Rovers fans collected money to buy Glenmalure but when they could not match an offer from a property developer the stadiums fate was sealed. Glenmalure was knocked down in 1990 and eight years later the supporters trust erected a memorial at the site of the old stadium.

Memorial

In 1990 the now nomadic Rovers moved from Tolka Park to the magnificent arena of the Royal Dublin Society Showground in Ballsbridge, a venue first opened in 1881. Primarily of course it is an equine events venue but has also staged rock concerts, religious gatherings and since 2005 has been the home to Leinster rugby. The new grandstand was built in 2006 while the vintage and just stunning Anglesea Road stand with its glorious elevated terrace dates from 1927, although there are plans to replace this historic beauty.

The RDS Showground

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Shamrock Rovers left the RDS in 1996 and limped on playing “home” games at Shelbourne, St.Patricks Athletic and the Morton Stadium, an athletics venue in Santry with a long history of hosting League of Ireland matches. In March 2000 Taoiseach Bertie Ahern cut the first sod at Rovers’ new Tallaght Stadium but it would be nine years before the first match would be staged there.

Financial problems beseeched the project, planning permission expired and to cap it all in 2006 a local gaelic football club Thomas Davis GAA took legal action against the club and South Dublin County Council stating the new facility should have a pitch big enough to stage senior GAA matches. Thomas Davis eventually lost the case and the original football only plan proceeded. The club had hit the rocks though and were only saved by a consortium of 400 fans who took over the debts of the club ensuring its survival.

The Tallaght Stadium finally opened in March 2009 with a game against Sligo Rovers, ironically the same opponents for the last game at Glenmalure Park. In July of that year the club held a lucrative “Festival of Football” welcoming Newcastle United, Real Madrid and Hibernian to the new stadium. The fan run club has tried to be innovative as well, becoming the first club to run a “B” team in the First Division of the League of Ireland.

Tonight sees the first leg of a Europa League first qualifying round tie with little known Finnish opponents Rovaniemen Palloseura, better known as RoPS. They hail from close to the Arctic circle and Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus! Tonight however Shamrock are just awful and look like a team in pre-season rather than mid-season. RoPS win easily barely breaking sweat and on this evidence the second leg in the frozen north of Finland should be a mere formality.

Tallaght Stadium is not a particularly attractive venue, exposed and already weathered concrete and with two open ends, but considering the near fatal journey it took to get there at least it is finally a home for Ireland’s most successful club.

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Europa League 1st Qualifying Round (30/06/2016)

Shamrock Rovers 0
Rovaniemen Palloseura 2 (Lahdenmäki 26, Saksela 74)

Att: 1,908

Admission €15 Programme €4

Gallery

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Shamrock ticket

Underneath the Linden Trees (RRC Boitsfort)

The simply magnificent Stade des Trois Tilleuls is the largest club stadium in all of Belgium with a capacity of 40,000 yet currently plays host to modest sixth tier club Royal Racing Club Boitsfort of Division 2A of the Brabant Provincial League. Only the King Baudouin Stadium currently exceeds the capacity of the Trois Tilleuls although in its heyday the capacity was often put at an amazing 70,000!. The Three Limes Stadium (Drie Lindens in Flemish) was originally built in 1948 and lies in the Avenue des Nymphes in the quiet Brussels suburb of Watermael-Boitsfort.

The original occupants of the stadium were Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles who had just vacated their original home at the Stade du Vivier d’Oie, which still exists today as a hockey ground and was the venue for Belgium’s first international match against France in 1907.

Trois Tilleuls was built on an audacious and frankly preposterous scale with hopes at the time of being a regular host of international football. The stadium has a massive main stand and a huge sweeping terrace that wraps itself impressively around the rest of the site. The stadium was inaugurated in suitably laudable style with a match with the legendary “Il Grande” Torino side just months before the fateful Superga air crash that decimated the Italian giants.

RRC Bruxelles had only been at Trois Tilleuls for six years when they fell into dispute with the stadium’s owners and decamped to the Heysel Stadium. There they played in front of dire crowds and would subsequently merge with White Star Athletic Club in 1963 and ten years later with Daring Club de Bruxelles to form Racing White Daring of Molenbeek. Sadly the old RWDM club folded in 2002, although happily have reformed this season playing at the Edmond Machtens Stadium in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean. In 2010 Trois Tilleuls was listed as a building of national arcitectural importance which should dispell any doubts about its future.

In 1985 a new Racing Club Bruxelles was formed but subsequently merged with SK Watermael and later still with Boitsfort forming the club that presently plays at Trois Tilleuls. Today the stadium is in reasonable condition although graffiti proliferates and the terracing has been shorn of all its crush barriers. The main stand has eye catching metal guard rails although these have been blighted somewhat by the addition of orange plastic mesh to prevent anyone falling from what his quite some height.

Today’s game has a low key feel to it, a very modest crowd gathers in this vast ampitheatre basked in glorious autumnal sun. The hosts are always on top despite having their early penalty wiped out by a cracking header from the visiting captain. Machelen missed a penalty themselves before losing their discipline completely with numerous bookings and conceding a second penalty in injury time which gave the hosts a comfortable win.

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Sunday September 27th 2015 – Brabant Provincial League Division 2A

RRC Boitsfort (1) 3 (Groyne pen 4, O’Brien 49, Vandenplas pen 90)

KCS Machelen (1) 1 (Madawa 22)

Attendance: 67 (at Stade des Trois Tilleuls) Entry:  €5

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Boitsfort ticket

Yellow (Berchem Sport)

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?

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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)

Berchem:

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.

Cappellen:

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).

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Berchem Sport ticket