Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Royal Olympic Club Charleroi Marchienne – WS Woluwe (25-11-2006)

Even before I left for Liverpool, my mate J.B. and I had decided to go for a real groundhop the next Saturday. We would go to the second team of Charleroi, the biggest city of Wallonie. Royal Olympic Club Charleroi Marchienne (or ROCCM) is one of these Belgian teams that have fallen on hard times. In the 1950s le ROCCM was a key player in the Belgian First Division, even clinching the title in 19??, but since than all has gone wrong. Now they play in the Derde Klasse B (Third Class B), in the shadow of local rivals Sporting Chareleroi, who are a solid team in (the lower part of) the First Division.

The afternoon started with a nice drink in Leuven with my Japanese groundhop-friend A.H., who couldn’t make it that night (and will regret it forever), and a too late departure. J.B. had scouted a truly authentic frietkot (imperfectly translatable as snack bar) on the way from Leuven to Charleroi, admittedly with some detour, and even though we were already somewhat late, we had to stop at Frituur Sabrina for a test – worth a visit! However, this all meant that we arrived very late in Charleroi, where we than got lost, and finally got to the Stade de “La Neuville”.

More than 25 minutes late, we found the gates to the stadium closed, but fortunately a nice steward opened it and let us in (for free!). We walked on the stand behind the goal and directly felt at home. This is how football should be!

We noticed that ROCCM was already 1-0 up, not surprising given that they are second in the league and WS (= White Star!) Woluwe ‘only’ 4th – in other words, we were witness of a true Meisterschaftsspiel in the Belgian Third Division B. Rather than watching the game, we just looked around, admiring the spirit of a truly local team. We were surprised to see many supporters with ROCCM scarves. We also spotted the mascot of the home team, a dog.

At half time we circled the ground. This must be one of the few stadiums I have visited were you could indeed circle the whole ground, i.e. get onto every stand of the stadium. This led to some fantastic sights, such as this wall at the back of the stadium

And this authentic sign to the main tribune

Walking back through the cantina, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said something in French. I was so perplexed that I didn’t understand. Than he asked me again, “didn’t I see you yesterday at the lecture in Brussels?”. And, indeed, it turned out that a colleague from a French speaking university in Brussels had sat behind me at an academic lecture the day before, was a lifelong fan of ROCCM and recognized me. And this unbelievable coincidence got an even more positive result, as he happily gave me his ticket as a souvenir, as J.B. and I had gotten in for free. Merci beaucoup! After that I visited the tiny fan shop, more a kind of kiosk, and bought a great banner (with the head of the dog – see also the car).

After the half time we returned to our favorite stand and watched a very entertaining game. The pace was quite fast and the combinations not bad. There were not many clear chances, but the game was very enjoyable. After an hour or so the home team got to 2-0, after a nice half-volley, and seemed to have the game in the pocket. But a quarter hour before the end of the game one of the strikers of Woluwe made a beautiful dribble and was semi-fouled in the box: penalty and 2-1. This made the end of the game tense and exciting, even if in the end ROCCM won 2-1 (deservedly so).

Extremely happy J.B. and I returned to our car. This was exactly what we had hoped for. The true spirit of football, without the commercial interests and comfort zones of the big teams and stadiums. In many ways comparable to Royale Union Sint-Gilloise, the first groundhop the two of us did. After the disappointment of Anfield Road, the Stade de “La Neuville” more than made up for it. Groundhopping at its best!

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