Buffalo Stance (KAA Gent)

I have to admit I am not the greatest fan of modern football arenas, while some have stunning architectural merit, Renzo Piano’s amazing San Nicola in Bari springs readily to mind, most are bland and featureless. So when KAA Gent took it upon themselves to drag Belgium stadia design into the new millennia one couldn’t help but be intrigued by their new home at the Ghelamco Arena. The 20,000 seater stadium opened earlier this season, becoming Belgium’s first total new build stadium since the Jan Breydelstadion was inaugurated way back in 1975.

Koninklijke Atletiek Associatie Gent (also often referred to as La Gantoise) are one of Belgium’s oldest clubs. Its veteran matricule number of 7 dates back to formation in 1864. The association also has a track and field team and a hockey side, although the football club came somewhat later in 1900. The club adopted the Flemish version of their name in 1971.

The club have the unusual nickname of the Buffalos which derives from an early twentieth century visit to the city of Wild West showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

The club has never won the Belgian title, being runners up on two occasions, the most recent being in 2009/10. The Buffalos have spent some periods in the second tier but their current spell in the Pro League has remained unbroken since 1989/90. Indeed in 1991/92 Gent enjoyed their best ever European run, reaching the quarter final of the UEFA Cup before falling to Ajax.

Until this season Gent had played at the Jules Ottenstadion in Gentbrugge since 1920. It was built in time for the Summer Olympics of 1920 and hosted the Italy v Egypt match. The old stadium has now been demolished and will be redeveloped for housing.

Gent first mooted a plan for a new stadium some ten years ago with it initially being ready for the 2007/08 season. However, a number of delays put the plans substantially in arrears. Finally the new arena was ready for occupancy for the start of this current season. Initially the new venue was called the Arteveldestadion before naming rights were sold to the constructor Ghelamco. It took some four years to get the venue into usable state, I won’t say complete as there is still work ongoing on a number of internal fixtures and fittings.

The stadium is handily located just off the E40 and E17 highways and is the first environmentally built stadium in BeNeLux. Most noticable is the floodlighting arrangement, drenchlights being integrally fitted underneath the roof to reduce light pollution. The exterior wall has a second layer to conserve energy, the roof is fitted with photovoltaic panelling to harvest energy whilst rain water is captured for use in the pitch irrigation system. All very impressive but what is it actually like for the spectator? Its a clean and shiny, and dare I say sterile, as you would expect from a modern day arena, however, there are some notable pluses. The leg room is substantial and the seats themselves are comfortable with some “give” in them. The sightlines all around the stadium are first class which goes some way to negating the wide access channel between the pitch and the stands.

Today’s game is a big one for Gent who have not won a League game since August. Their Wallonian guests Standard Liège top the table despite a few recent hiccups. The home side huff and puff but ultimately fail to score a goal, the game being won by a wonderful strike from the ever impressive youngster Michy Batshuayi. Standard can even afford the profligacy of a 28th minute penalty miss, Mpoku hitting the post having snatched the ball out of Batshuayi’s hands in order to take the kick. It is the third time I have seen Standard this season and not only have they won all three, Batshuayi has scored five times. He really is one to watch in the very near future.

In truth you do have to admire the Buffalos bold stance in moving Belgium stadiums into a new era, I for one hope the move pays off for them.

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Jupiler Pro League – Sunday November 3rd 2013 (Kick off: 14.30pm)

K.A.A. Gent (0) 0 Standard de Liège (0) 1 (Batshuayi 54)

Attendance: 19,149 (at the Ghelamco Arena)

Gent:

33. Sergio Padt; 4. Valery Nahayo; 19. Rafinha; 21. Nana Asare; 26. Christophe Lepoint; 10. Renato Neto; 24. Yaya Soumahoro; 39. Sloan Privat; 28. Nicklas Pedersen; 7. Yassine El Ghanassy; 9. Brecht Dejaegere.

Subs: 1. Franck Boeckx; 11. Hervé Kage (for 24,63 mins); 12. Jan Vandeputte; 16. Rodgers Kola (for 39,63 mins); 17. Hannes Van Der Bruggen (for 9,71 mins); 23. Ervin Zukanović; 31. Remi Mareval.

Standard

30. Yohann Thuram; 23. Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez; 4. Daniel Opare; 36. Dino Arslanagic; 21. William Vainqueur; 17. Yoni Buyeus; 25. Antonio Kanu; 40. Paul Mpoku; 39. Imoh Ezekiel; 23. Michy Batshuayi.

Subs: 6. Laurent Ciman; 7. Reza Ghoochannejhad; 8. Ronnie Stam (for 23,86 mins); 11. Frédéric Bulot (for 33,61 mins); 15. Julien De Sart; 16. Anthony Moris; 75. Alpaslan Ozturk (for 4,83 mins).

Red Card: Nahayo (Gent)

Yellow Cards: Nahayo, Neto (Gent); Arslangic, Vanqueur, Batshuayi, Ozturk (all Standard).

Gallery

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The Coast Boys (KV Oostende)

Oostende on the Belgian coast has always held an interest for me, due mainly to its famous seafront building called the Kursaal. So inspired by a stay in Oostende the Tollhurst family returned to Southend and built their own Kursaal at Marine Park which remains operational to this day. The football ground built in its substantial acreage would be home to my beloved Southend United between 1919 and 1934.

So a trip to the Albertpark Stadion was always on my wish list and what finer occasion than when the “Kustboys” welcomed runway leaders Standard Liège to West Flanders.

Koninklijke Voetbal Oostende were formed in 1904 and are registered on the Belgian matricule system as number 31. They were originally called V.G. Oostende but were soon superseded in status by upstarts A.S. Oostende, formed seven years later. The two clubs battled on until 1981 when a mutually beneficial merger saw the formation of the current K.V. Oostende club. Confusingly since the merger a new V.G. Oostende club have been formed and currently play in the fifth tier West Flanders Provincial League. They currently groundshare with K.V. at the Albertpark Stadion after having their historic Armenonville Stadion declared unsafe. The Albertpark Stadion itself was opened in 1934 and is reminiscent of Oxford United’s old Manor Ground with a hotchpotch of stands on either side. One stand appears to be of a temporary nature, no doubt installed to increase capacity to the minimum requirement of 8,000 (with 5,000 seats) for top flight football.

K.V. won the Belgian Second Division by a comfortable ten points last season which has resulted in their first spell in the top flight since the 2004/05 campaign. Sadly for the Coast Boys the new season has got off to a bad start and after six rounds of matches they prop up the Pro League table with just two points, their inferior goal difference placing them beneath fellow slow starters Mons. Conversely today’s opponents have got off to a flyer with maximum points from six games and without a single goal conceded. Indeed, they looked a good outfit when I saw them earlier in the season at KV Mechelen.

Oostende have bolstered their ranks in recent weeks with several loan signings including Frenchman Franck Berrier who had a great campaign at Zulte-Waregem last season. Anderlecht have also sent the Brazilian Fernando Canesin and Jordan Lukaku, younger brother of national team striker Romelu, on loan to Oostende. Even with their augmented roster this was going to be a tough challenge for the Kustboys. Football being the great purveyor of unpredictability that it is saw the Albertpark Stadion burst into delirium after 13 minutes when Laurent Depoitre pierced the Liège defence for the first time this season.

However, Standard soon exerted their authority on proceedings by scoring three times in a 15 minute spell before half time. Firstly Imoh Ezekiel levelled the score before a brace from the prodigiously talented 19 year old Michy Batshuayi, saw the visitors lead 3-1 at the break.

Just be for the hour mark the impressive Batshuayi completed his hat-trick in fine style. Two minutes later though Denis Dessaer headed a corner in at the far post having found himself totally unmarked. The volume was cranked up at the Albertpark Stadion but in truth the home side didn’t really look like they believed they could score a third time. They didn’t, and Standard saw out the 90 minutes with consummate ease.

The Albertpark Stadion is a good stadium to visit, compact and homely and awash with the home side’s vibrant colours of red, yellow and green.

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Jupiler Pro League – 15/09/2013

KV Oostende (1) 2 (Depoitre 13, Dessaer 60)

Standard Liège (3) 4 (Ezekiel 24, Batshuayi 31,39,58)

Attendance: 7,000 (at Albertpark Stadion)

KV:

31. Céderic Berthelin; 2. Xavier Luissint (c); 13. Frédéric Brillant; 6. Baptiste Schmisser; 24. Jimmy Hempte; 22. Jonathan Wilmet; 7. Sebastien Siani; 19. Denis Dessaer; 25. Fernando Canesin; 27. Franck Berrier; 9. Laurent Depoitre.

Subs: 1. Nicaise Kudimbana; 3. Niels De Schutter; 26. Jordan Lukaku (for 25, 74 mins); 16. Yohan Brouckaert (for 19, 65 mins); 11. Thomas Foket; 21. Gertjan Martens (for 6, 42 mins); 14. Tom Van Imschoot.

Standard:

1. Eiji Kawashima; 4. Daniel Opare; 37. Jelle Van Damme (c); 6. Laurent Ciman; 11. Frederic Bulot; 21. William Vainqueur; 25. Antonio Kanu Perriera; 44. Ibrahima Cisse; 63; Geoffrey Mujangi-Bia; 39. Imoh Ezekiel; 23. Michy Batshuayi.

Subs: 28. Guillaume Hubert; 10. Igor De Camargo (for 23, 81 mins); 15. Julien De Sart; 33. Medhi Carcela; 36. Dino Arslanagić; 40. Ebunge Paul Mpoku (for 11, 70 mins); 75. Alpaslan Ozturk (for 21, 66 mins)

Yellow Cards: Depoitre (Oostende); Kanu, Ezekiel, Ozturk (Standard)

Gallery

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Beyond The Barracks (KV Mechelen)

After a short ride from the wondrous time had at Lyra, we found ourselves in good time for the evening kick-off at K.V.Mechelen. To our delight both the Belgian Cup and the first round of Jupiler Pro League fixtures had thrown up several options for a double and K.V. more than fitted the bill.

Tickets ordered in advance online were collected effortlessly from the super efficient kiosk. To give the hosts their full name for once, Yellow Red Koninklijke Voetbalclub Mechelen, would explain the vibrant coloured queues waiting for the gates to swing open at 7pm. Formed in 1904 a mere couple of months after city neighbours Racing Mechelen, KV have a proud history and rejoice in the low matricule number of 25. Today’s opposition, Standard de Liège, however, are older still and own matricule 16.

The clubs home ground has the dreaded sponsored name of Argosstadion after Argos Oil paid for the naming rights. Its traditional name is Achter de Kazerne, which literally translated as “behind the barracks”, the ground having once been adjacent to a large but now demolished army base. The club has played at Achter since 1911 when the then president Francis Dessain purchased the vacant land from the Chevalier Marin brewery. The club were originally called FC Malinois and the supporters are often still referred to as “Malinwa”. The ground itself is quite magnificent. The main grandstand has wooden seating and an unusual slated roof, opposite is a really traditional covered terrace, a large percentage of the 10,402 crowd will gather here. The fans that stand on this side of the ground generate a really first class atmosphere of singing, colour and noise. Behind the far goal is an unusual twin tier stand with benched seating in the top tier and terracing underneath. The other end looks formidable from the outside, tall and cavernous but in truth the twin tier of glazed corporate seating, more than half empty for this opening match of the season, is a tad underwhelming once inside. Aside from that minor quibble a stunning set of traditional floodlight pylons complete a really great ground that is draped liberally in the club’s colours of “Geel en Rood”. One does wonder whether the redevelopment of the huge covered terrace and the twin tier stand behind the goal at the end of this season will have a deleterious affect on the feel of the stadium. The club does need to progress so lets hope the plans are sympathetic and in keeping with the great history of this venue.

A brass band and anthem singing turn the volume up prior to the kick-off and expectation is high for the start of the new season. The home side toil manfully in the heat but seem to lack quality in the forward department. The visitors show their title credentials with two identical breakaway goals in the second half. In both cases a forward springs the offside trap from a counter attack and slots past the home custodian. On the quality of play alone they are worthy winners.

Belgian football has some really historic old fashioned football grounds indeed the recently opened Ghelamco Arena in Gent is the first totally new stadium in the country in 38 years. Both K.V. Mechelen and Lyra TSV were an absolute pleasure to visit and some more trips to this welcoming corner of Europe will certainly be pushed up the agenda.

Jupiler Pro League – 29/07/2013

K.V. Mechelen (0) 0

Standard de Liège (0) 2 (Majangibia 57,Batshuayi 84)

Attendance: 10,402

KV:

1. Wouter Biebauw; 4. Seth De Witte; 6. Sheldon Bateau; 10. Abdul-Yakuni Iddi; 13. Wannes Van Tricht; 14. Benjamin Mokulu; 15. Thomas Enevoldsen; 19. Maxime Biset; 21. Anthony Van Loo; 26. Antonio Ghomsi; 29. Alessandro Cordaro.

Subs:

28. Tome Pacovski; 3. Seweryn Michalski; 8. Jerry Vandam; 9. Mads Junker; 11. Mats Rits; 16. Victor Prodell (for 10, 67 mins); 18. David Destorme (for 13, 46 mins); 20. Joachim Van Damme (for 14, 78 mins).

Standard:

1. Elji Kawashima; 4. Daniel Opare; 6. Laurent Ciman; 17. Yoni Buyens; 23. Michy Batshuayi; 25. Antonio Periera Dos Santos; 37. Jelle Van Damme; 39. Imoh Ezekiel; 40. Paul Jose Mpoku Ebunge; 44. Ibrahima Cisse; 63. Geoffrey Mujangibia.

Subs:

16, Anthony Morris; 2. Alessandro Iandoli (for 40, 69 mins); 7. Raza Ghoochannejahad; 10. Igor De Camargo (for 39, 78 mins); 11. Frederic Bulot (for 63, 65 mins); 36. Dino Arslanagic; 75. Alpaslan Ozturk.

Yellow Cards:

De Witte, Ghomsi (both KV); Van Damme, Opare and Kawashima (all Standard)

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