Monday, December 31, 2007


THE GROUNDHOP YEAR 2007


On this last day of the year, it is time to make a short overview of the year 2007 in terms of my groundhops. Let me start with the obvious: 2007 has been a great year for groundhopping. Despite the fact that I decided to have fewer longer and more tiring groundhops, i.e. groundhop-weekends of 2000+ km, I visited 37 games in 11 countries.

Belgium (12)
Royal Capellen FC, RCS Charleroi, KMSK Deinze KAS Eupen, Royal Francs Borains, KFC Verbroedering Geel, VW Hamme, RRC Hamoir, KV Kortrijk, Royal FC La Calamine, KV Mechelen, Royal White Star Woluwe

Denmark (3)
Brøndby IF, Frem, HIK

England (1)
Arsenal FC

France (4)
US Boulogne Côte d’Opale, ESTAC Troyes, Valenciennes FC

Germany (3)
Rot-Weiss Ahlen, SV 07 Elversberg, VFL Borussia Mönchengladbach

Luxembourg (3)
FC Avenir Beggen, F91 Diddeleng, UN Käerjéng ’97

Netherlands (1)
FC Omniworld

Northern Ireland (2)
Crusaders FC, Glentoran FC

Poland (1)
KP Legia Warszawa

Sweden (5)
Bunkeflo IF, IFK Göteborg, IFK Malmö, Malmö FF, Trelleborgs FF

USA (2)
Atlanta Silverbacks, Charleston Battery

As I had already visited 5 of these teams and 10 of these countries before, this means 32 new teams and 1 new country/league (Northern Ireland), bringing the grand total at the end of 2007 at 288 teams in 36 countries.

The best groundhop of the year was without a doubt Frem-HIK, a game in the Danish 1. Division (Second Division). The weather was gorgeous, I was with my girlfriend, and the atmosphere was so relaxed. A dream! Moreover, Frem had some of the greatest fanwear I have seen anywhere.

The most impressive stadium was Arsenal’s new Emeralds Stadium. Although all these ultramodern new stadiums are not really my thing, if you are going to do it, do it like them! (Moreover, getting the right result for PSV made me enjoy it even more ;-).

The biggest disappointment was probably IFK Göteborg, a big name from the past which had been on my “to see” list for years. The stadium itself was empty of people and atmosphere.

The worst club was, without a shadow of a doubt, FC Omniworld, from Almere, the Netherlands. Truly everything about the club is wrong! The logo, the name, the outfit, the stadium…

Finally, the worst ticket goes out to Trelleborgs FF. Giving your football fan simply the ticket from the register is simply not done! What’s wrong with all these (Scandinavian) teams anyway, not giving out tickets on the day of the game?!

In short, 2007 was a great year for Grondhopper. I want to thank all my fellow-hoppers for their great company, particularly J.B. who has done most of these hops with me, and all the readers for, well, reading the reports. Do drop by again in 2008 and feel free to leave feedback! Next year I’m going for club 300 and it will be a special one!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

KMSK Deinze – ROC Charleroi (29-12-2007)




Just two days before the end of the year, JB and I decided to have our last groundhop of the year. Because of the problems in the Tweede Klasse (Second Division), with law suits and temporary suspension of games, there were some games played on the last Saturday of 2007. We decided to drive to Deinze, behind Ghent. Almost one hour before kick-off we parked our car directly in front of the Burgemeester Van De Wielestadion, and bought tickets for the covered standing section at 10 euro a piece.




The canteen of the Koninklijke Maatschappij Sportkring Deinze (Royal Society Sports Circle Deinze) gave us warm shelter until kick-off. Laying just above the pitch, we could see the stadium filling up with some 500 people, 35 of whom from Charleroi, roughly 125 km to the south-east (and across the language border). (With some sense of exaggeration, the newspaper reported 1,198 people the next day.)




Both teams are in the second part of the league, with the R. Olympic Club de Charleroi-Marchienne, promoted last year from the Third Division, a couple of places below the hosts.


video


The Burgemeester Van De Wielestadion doesn’t look like much if you take the different stands separately, but all together creates quite a nice atmosphere. On one of the long sides is a small standing section, on the other a modern but small seating section (including VIP sections and secretariat). Behind one goal is no stand, although you can stand on the grassy hill itself, and on the other is a small uncovered standing section, which is partly for the away supporters, and the canteen. Officially, the total capacity is 8.000, including 790 covered seating, 1300 covered standing, and the rest uncovered standing.




The game was much what one could expect of two weaker teams in the Belgian Second Division: slow, defensive, many bad passes and controls. In the 4th minute the hosts had their first shot at goal. Although Deinze was a bit stronger, it would be Charleroi that had the best chances, including a strong counter-attack in the 23rd minute. Still, after an unsuccessful attempt two minutes earlier, Deinze scored 1-0 through a great free kick from roughly 20 meters. Charleroi would have a chance to equalize, during a minute-long scrimmage in front of the Deinze goal, but failed. Thus, 1-0 was also the half time score.




During the half time I tested the snacks cart: the sausage was remarkably meaty, for a Belgian sports snack, but couldn’t compete with Thierry’s sausage in Hamoir. After that we took shelter for the cold in the other canteen, where we found some other away fans (which probably brings the total number at around 50). We then walked back to the covered standing section, where we took our place close to the ca. 20 ‘hardcore’ home supporters; the only ones singing in the stadium.




The second half was even poorer than the first. Deinze seemed unwilling to dictate the game, which gave moe space for Charleroi, which was largely unable. Because the visitors were attacking, the hosts would get more space for counters, which created some exciting moments in front of the goal. Unfortunately, however, the passing and positioning was very poor and few real chances were created.




Both teams had some three decent chances, of which Charleroi had the better ones, including a well played out combination with a horrible finish high over the goal in the 86th minute. But at that time most people in the stadium already knew that 1-0 would be the final score. Not because Deinze was so solid in defense, but because Charleroi never gave the impression that they were able to score.



Sympathetic to the cold supporters, who also had to face some snowy rain, the referee hardly counted any extra time and we were extra happy that our car was parked in front of the stadium. It surely was real winter-hop: cold, dark, and rough football. However, I could imagine the Burgemeester Van de Wielestadion to be quite a nice place in the summer. I’m not sure there will be more people, or atmosphere, however.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

RRC Hamoir – KV Turnhout (09-12-2007)





Slightly jetlagged I met J.B. at our usual place to head out to the tiny town of Hamoir (population 3.500) in the Liège province of Belgium. At the program was a game in the Derde Klasse A (Third Division A) between the proud league leader, from Flanders, KV Turnhout, and mid-table RRC Hamoir. After a two hour trip, in part the consequence of my jetlag (which made me an even worse map reader than usual), we parked our car next to the stadium.




Now, when I say stadium, I don’t really mean stadium. As far as I can google, the stadium doesn’t even have a name. The ground can hold only 1.500, while the tiny stand might hold 300 (if you really squeeze tightly together). Not that surprising, as RRC Hamoir entered the Fourth Division only in 2005, and was promoted to the Third Division A last season.




We bought tickets for 8 euro each and, the loyal reader will not be surprised, descended upon the snack booth. Now, I am not a fan of Belgian sausages, but this dude, by the name of Thierry, surprised me with a 10” thin sausage on a baguette with onions and samourai sauce. Divine! And that for only 3 euro. Worth the trip already!





JB had told me that it had been raining for days and we had actually been afraid that the game would be canceled because of a we pitch. However, in the morning I had checked teletext and saw that indeed most games had been canceled in Belgium, but not for the national leagues. However, that the pitch was muddy and heavy was clear from the Hamoir goalie, who looked like a happy piglet during the warming-up before the game.




In the canteen we heard more Flemish than French. It seems KV Turnhout has seriously increased its traveling support since they have made it to the top of the league. Of the roughly 300-500 people at the game, at least half of them had made the 150 km trip from Turnhout in the north of Flanders and they were as vocal as the home crowd. The tiny stand housed some 200 supporters, roughly 100 away supporters on one side and 100 home fans on the other. We were among the Walloons and thoroughly enjoyed their humor and happiness.


video


Games between Dutch- and French-speaking teams in Belgium always bring something extra, but in these chaotic times – that day Belgium was without a government for already six months as a consequence of conflicts between Dutch- and French-speakers – politics is everywhere, also on the stands. At various times there was some friendly chanting back and forth, such as “Flanders is coming” by the visitors, followed by “anti-Vlaams Blok” by the hosts.





From kick-off the game was entertaining, even if both teams played with many people behind the ball and at a fairly low pace. By far the best player on the pitch was the number 10 of KV Turnhout, Ben Van den Brandt, a young midfielder with (unfortunately) a bit of a lousy attitude. Overall the visitors were the better side, though creating few clear chances and depending quite heavily on Van den Brandt’s creativity. In the 40th minute a Hamoir defender stupidly fouled the poor Turnhout striker. The following free kick was well finished by the visitors, although the goal scorer was aided by terrible defending. 0-1 was also the half time score.




Even before the supporters had settled in for an exciting second half, the game seemed over. In the 48th minute Turnhout played a beautiful high lob over the Hamoir defense, which was coolly executed: 0-2. However, supported by their continuously happy and singing fans, Hamoir equalized two minutes later: a low free-kick disappeared into the goal without anyone noticing: 1-2 and the game was back on!




The game would now go back and forth, at times livened up by bizarre moments. For example, at one time the referee accidentally hit a player in the face, while at another time the goalie walks out of the penalty area with the ball in his hands, thinking he is awarded a free-kick there, but instead getting a free-kick for hand ball against him. But the game also had some real chances, including a disallowed goal for Turnhout (hands).




In the 65th minute Turnhout finally closed shop. Its striker, Ben M Bemba, who until than had been extremely poor and had only excelled in being offside, received a pass in the penalty box, controlled well, turned around beautifully, and put the ball dry and cool in the goal: 1-3. This didn’t seem to matter to most of the home supporters, who kept laughing, drinking, singing, and making fun of the Flamands.

[ No scoreboad, no final score ]

Enjoying the warmth of J.B’s car, we were in full agreement: this was one of the nicest groundhops we had made. An absolutely tiny stadium in a small village, but what enthusiasm and happiness. RRC Hamoir, definitely a big team in a tiny setting!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Groundhopday (11-11-2007)

Given that I have roamed most first and second division teams in a parameter of some 300 km around Antwerp, it becomes more and more difficult to find a groundhop that can combine two new scalps on one day. Moreover, now that the second divisions in Germany and the Netherlands no longer play their games on Saturday, I had to puzzle for a while to come up with a good double fixture.


SC Verl – Rot-Weiss Essen

At 10.00 JB picks me up at the usual place in Leuven and we get on the highway to Germany. We have a drive of 350 km ahead of us, but ViaMichelin has accounted 3.5 hours for it, and we actually hope to do it quicker given that most of it is on the Autobahn. Unfortunately, the German motorways are not only for their lack of a speed limit, but also for their quality of the roads, and that needs a lot of roadworks. And roadworks mean… Stau (traffic jams)! After four hours of horrible driving, a combination of traffic jams and heavy rain, it’s kick-off time in Verl, yet we are only just behind Dortmund, over 60 km from our destination. But then, after 10 minutes, we see an exit that lists a couple of small towns, including Ahlen, and I remember that there is another game in the Regionalliga Nord (Third Division North), namely


Rot-Weiss Ahlen – VFL Wolfsburg II




It takes us another 10 minutes to get to the town of Ahlen, but around 14.20, we parked our car at what seemed to be (close to) the back of the stadium. But even though we could see and even hear the stadium, it would take us another 10 minutes of walking through the rain to get to the one ticket office that is open.




And as we walk towards the main entrance of the Wersestadion, a strong feeling of disappointment comes over me… I have been here before! ☹ Until 2005, RW Ahlen was known as LR Ahlen, and as Leichtathletik Rasensport Ahlen I saw them play in the 2. Bundesliga three years ago. As there are three town named Ahlen in Germany, and I had forgotten which one I had visited, I had not noticed the disappearance of the LR Ahlen and (at the same time) the appearance of RW Ahlen. What a bummer!




Under the motto, better a non-counting game, in terms of groundhop points, than no game, we bought a ticket for the covered standing places for 7 euro, gave off our umbrellas (a disappointing rule for such a low-risk game), and… attacked the “Grill Station”. Satisfied more by the crispy fries than the fat sausage, we took a place on one of the uncovered stands behind the goal and checked out the ground. I estimate that some 1250 people had faced wind and rain to see their local team take on the second team of 1. Bundesliga team VFL Wolfsburg. A surprising 15 fans had actually traveled the 155 km to support the second team of their club. Respect for the oddly named Non Plus Ultra!




From the discussions and shouts from the home fans around us, mostly old men, we understood that the RW Ahlen was heavily disappointing its fans. The mid-table hosts were expected to trash the visitors, who are dead last in the Regionalliga Nord, but did no such thing. In fact, the visitors were the better team in most of the game.




While German football fans are not known for their critical and complaining nature, let alone compared to Dutch fans, the home supporters clearly had been punished too much this season. Amused J.B. and I enjoyed their complaints. It was roughly the only thing to do, as the game itself was very poor. Wolfsbuurg had a big chance in the 40th and last minute of the first half, the second one called for (and received) a great safe from the Ahlen goalie, while the hosts had one good chance, which was cleared from the goal line by a Wolfsburg defender. Half-time score: 0-0.



This is not Grondhopper!


During the break we taste the local version of the waffle – sorry, but they don’t beat the ones from Brussels or Liege, and buy a small pennant for 5.90 euro. We decide to watch the second half on the covered stand at the long side of the pitch, in between the more colorful supporters of the home team.




The second half starts with a Wolfsburg player walking unhindered over 20 meters and than shooting from a similar distance just wide. Around us, the (younger) home fans are as critical as the (older) fans were on the other stand. In fact, when the visitors score out of a counter-attack in the 51st minute, many home fans around us cheer and applaud. Cynicism has overtaken hope. According to the guy behind me, who tells his friends the only reason he still is in the stadium is the beer, it is all “Ultra-Scheisse” (ultra shit).




With rain and wind tormenting the players on the pitch, and them tormenting the home fans on the stands, the atmosphere is at times grim and abusive. Fans taunt their own players, who react frustrated to the fans. Ahlen does get a couple of chances, mainly because of lucky combinations or bizarre goalkeeping from Wolfsburg. Just as the people around us start to loose faith, Ahlen scores the equalizer after a lucky bounce: 1-1 and the youngest fans go wild.




The people around us are too upset to really celebrate. After all, 1-1 against the number last of the league is hardly a result. Even if the equalizer is scored minutes before the end and Wolfsburg was the better team. As the referee blows the final whistle, some of the people behind us actually apologize to us: it is not always so bad here, one says to me.

[ No Scoreboard, No Final Score ]

We run through the rain to the entrance, pick up our umbrellas, and walk the distance to our car. How nice and warm it feels in there. Having chosen Ahlen over Verl, we are now closer to our second game of the day. Moreover, having no problematic roadworks on our trip, we travel the 300 km to our next destination well within the 3 hours predicted by the route planner. In fact, we still have time for a light snack in the center of Geel, where we are confronted with the least friendly Flemish person ever.


KFC Verbroedering Geel – KSK Beveren




Few teams have such a funny name as Verbroedering Geel, which literally translated means Brotherhood Yellow. However, the Yellow is not a choice, but the name of the town, Geel, in the Kempen area of north Belgium. It is about 19.30 when we park in front of Stadion De Leunen and buy a ticket (standing) for 10 euro.




The weather has gotten even worse, and it rains cats and dogs for most of the game. Although we are a league higher than this afternoon, i.e. the Tweede Klasse (Second Division), the game is even poorer. Belgian football is not what it used to be. The two teams both have an odd recent history. Koninklijke Sportkring Beveren relegated last season from the Eerste Klasse (First Division), after some good results in preceding years (including Uefa Cup football in 2004-2005), and decided to let all its Ivory Coasts players go (it had at times played with only one non-Ivory Coast player). Verbroedering Geel promoted to the Second Division last summer, but almost didn’t get a license because of financial issues, which led to a bizarre legal case by another team, UR Namur, and the decision to play this season with 19 instead of 18 teams in the Belgian Second Division (which led to sharp criticism of FIFA).




Some 1000 people had worked themselves through the pounding wind and rain to see this game. Some 250 had traveled the 60 km from Beveren to support their team.




Before kick-off, the announcer said that Geel was waiting for its first home win, which says it all. Soon it became clear why. In the 10th minute the hosts had their first ‘attack’, a weak header straight at the goalie. After that, only Beveren showed something; after having an attack cut short because of offside, they set up another attack just at the border of offside and scored 0-1. After that the game went back and forth without any chances, not helped by the wind and rain. The last five minutes of the first half Geel got two chances, one because of strange goalkeeping, and Beveren got one, but it remained 0-1.


video


The second half started a bit as the first half had ended: in the first minute the Geel goalie came out too late, but the Beveren striker shot just wide. In the 66th minute a Beveren player dribbled around four defenders, but his weak shot was cleared from the goal line. It would take till the 78th minute for the hosts to get their first attack (which didn’t even lead to a real chance!).




The last fifteen minutes saw two more chances, one for each team. In the 82nd minute Beveren shot a free-kick just wide, and in the 86th minute Geel had its second good attack of the second half, but wait too long with a shot. Thus, final score 0-1.





Wet and cold we headed back to the car. After two relatively long drives of three hours of or more, it was nice too be back in Antwerp after a 30 minute drive.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Royal Capellen FC – RFC Union La Calamine (04-11-2007)


After some gloomy autumn days, Sunday was starting out pretty well. I had decided not to take on a big groundhop this weekend, but instead opted for a game in the direct environment of Antwerp. So, just before 13.00 I met with fellow-academic and fellow-blogger, P.S., to take bus 650 from Antwerp to Putte. After some 30 minutes we got out at Kapellen, where we walked a couple of minutes to Stadion Jos van Wellen.


There are few old school stadium like the one of the Royal Capellen Football Club left in Belgium, or in other countries for that matter. It is situated in a residential street and has a beautiful old entrance. Given the weather, we decided to get a ticket for the covered seating stand, the most expensive at a steep 15 euro. After all, we are talking here about a game in the Derde Klasse B (Third Division) in an old stadium. Moreover, the view from the stand left much to desire.



I guess some 150 people had come to the Stadion Jos van Wellen for this game between the number 3 and number 18 of the Derde Klasse B. This included some 10 people from La Calamine, or Kelmis, in the German-speaking part of Belgium, a trip of almost 100 km. Among the home supporters were a small hard core in red-yellow, the colors of RCFC.




Let me get straight to the point: the game was poor! Although it went back and forth, with play at both sides of the pitch, the game was dominated by weak passes and saw few decent chances. It was already the 20th minute when the visitors had their first decent attack, over right, leading to a header at the goal. Two minutes later the hosts had their first chance, which directly led to a penalty and the 1-0.




Two minutes later it appeared 2-0, but the header was from an offside position, so the goal was canceled. After that the game returned to its dismal level, and it would take until the last minute of the first half before there was anything noteworthy to report: a Capellen attack with an exceptional good end pass from the left, met by a decent header, unfortunately just over the goal. Half-time!




Half-time we spent eating a typical Belgian football snack, the fat and fairly tasteless braadworst (sausage), watching our “fans of the game” carry their horn ensemble to another spot, and visiting the cozy and warm canteen.




The second half was as poor as the first. I noted only a couple of half-chances, my irritation with the horn ensemble, and a huge mistake of the last defender of Kelmis, which leads to the 2-0 for Capellen in the 77th minute. After that, both teams had one chance, and the decent goalie of the visitors made a good safe in the dying minutes. Without him, the score could have been worse for the visitors, although I doubt Capellen has the potential to score much more. 2-0 final score.

[ no scoreboard, no final score ]

The best things of this trip were: the company, the quick trip (we virtually walked into the bus back to Antwerp, which meant we were home by 17.30), and the beautiful old entrance of the stadium.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Valenciennes FC – Paris Saint Germain (20-10-2007)



Because of the final of the World Cup Rugby, which would be played at 20.00 that evening (and in which the Springboks defeated the English J), all games in the French Ligue 1 (First Division) were played at 16.00 this Saturday. This provided J.B. and me with a golden opportunity to see two games on one day and still make a relatively short groundhop. Thus, around 13.30, we left Leuven to arrive at Valenciennes, just across the Belgian-French border, more than half an hour before kick-off.



As the online billeterie had shown that there were only few tickets left a couple of days before the match, J.B. had bought tickets online (at 30 euro per ticket, not really a steal). We parked the car around the corner of the Stade Nungesser, which wasn’t easy to find, and were pleasantly surprised by the lack of long lines in front of the reserved tickets office. In fact, it took us less than five minutes to get the tickets and enter the stadium (after a quite professional body-search by the security personnel). As J.B. was trying his luck with an attractive pollster, who asked whether we found the official parking lot of the stadium (not whether we liked it; in fact, we hadn’t even seen a sign towards it!), and I bought a small pennant for a mere 3.50 euro, we came to the first shock of the day: there were no, and I mean not a single, hot snacks in the whole stadium! Two thumbs down for Valenciennes!



With a drink and an empty stomach we climbed up the stairs of our (emergency) stand. Even the cool mascot (with whom I would later take a picture J), and the overly enthusiastic female announcer couldn’t compensate for the lack of food. Moreover, it was quite cold this afternoon, and our view was, despite the hefty price, not impressive at all.



VAFC, as Valenciennes FC is officially abbreviated, is building a new stadium, innovatively called Nungesser II, which will be more modern and bigger (23.000). As far as I understand, the new stadium will be in the heart of Valenciennes, rather than at the current spot, in a suburb of the city. I bet everyone is happy with that, as the original Stade Nungesser is one of the most horrible I have visited. It is amazing how far you are away from the pitch; a consequence of both its historical roles (it used to double as a cycling stadium) and the bizarre structure of the stands (at least the one we sat at). The stadium holds 16.500 people, with one small stand with only standing places, but despite the impression created online the days before, and the official figure of 15.037 on the VAFC website, the stadium was at best 75% full. This included a couple thousand away supporters, who had made the relatively short distance of ca. 200 km from the capital.



Despite several negatives – did I already mention that there were no hot snacks? – the atmosphere before the game was very good. For some reason, the locals treated this game as a top game, even if PSG has not won anything significant in years. On the various stands the home fans sang, showed their banners and wave their flags in support of their boys in red. I personally liked the small long stand the most (only standing); it still had an authentic hand-painted “welcome to the supporters” on one side.



Unfortunately, things didn’t improve after kick-off, and that’s an understatement. We didn’t expect much from Valenciennes, who only returned to the top flight of French football two years ago, and finished 17th last year, but were shocked to see how poor the PSG team is this season. Sure, they have been the French “sleeping giant” for decades, a bit similar to Hertha BSC in Germany or Manchester City in England, but the current team is at best a sleeping midget. It is full of big Africans, who bring little else to the game than an impressive physique. Still, the rest of the team doesn’t even have that.



VAFC had the first shot on goal, in the 2nd minute, while it took PSG 10 minutes for its first header over the goal. The highlight of the game, fortunately we didn’t know this at that time, was a well executed one-two pass by the home team, which didn’t lead to a goal though. After this ‘excitement’, very little noteworthy happened, except for a good shot by the visitors, in the 42nd minute, and a ditto safe by the home goalie. For the rest, we had to endure the worst songs ever, from the away fans, who in addition to the highly annoying “ici, c’est Paris”, had also masterminded the following song:

Allez Paris

Allez Paris

Allez Paris

Allez Paris et PSG

Half time was cold and frustrating, because of the (no) snack situation, so oddly enough we were happy when the second half started. The happiness soon disappeared, however, when it turned out to be a copy of the first half. I’m not even going to mention the “chances”, as most were nothing more than free-kicks or shots from afar. VAFC did hit the crossbar from a free-kick in the 80th minute though.



I guess the most exciting moment was in the 70th minute, when the coach of VAFC was sent to the stand for objecting too strongly to a dodgy free-kick. In addition, I did enjoy some actions of the skilled VAFC striker Steve Savidan (number 9), including a beautiful lob from some 25 meters in the 87th minute, but overall there was far too little for a game in the Ligue 1 (and for 30 euro!). Final score 0-0, which unfortunately I couldn’t get on camera because of the strange lightening of the scoreboard.



Cold and starved we ran out to storm the friture opposite to the stadium. Though it took a while for them to prepare the goodies, what else than an americain merguez, the portion was just what we needed, excessive, so we happily ate our fattie food in the car.


RRC Péruwelz-Standaard Wetteren (20-20-2007)

While disappointed by the game, we remained in decent spirits. After all, we still had a game to see. After getting lost in traffic, we finally made our way to Péruwelz, a Belgian town at 20 km from Valenciennes. We arrived early in the town, which turned out bigger than expected. Despite having some 30 minutes to find the Stade Péruwelz, it wasn’t till just before kick-off that we found it… closed!

The official website of the RRC Péruweltz had been down the weeks before, but I had checked the information from the semi-reliable Flemish website Voetbalkrant on the website of the opponent, Standaard Wetteren. Saturday 20 October at 20.00 would be the game in the Derde Divisie A (Third Division A) between these two teams. After having consulted various people, who all turned out French rather than local, we finally found someone pretending to be local, who led us even more astray. He claimed that RRC Péruweltz played its home games in the city of Tournai, 23 km to the east, as their own stadium was too small. Having little other options, we decided to drive there, got lost, and around 20.45 gave up. Later that night, at home, I checked again, still finding the same announcement on the Standaard Wetteren website (thank god they don’t have any traveling fans). The next afternoon RRC Péruwelz would beat Standaard Wetteren 2-0, without us present.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Royal FC Union La Camine – Royal FC de Liège (07-10-2007)


Although the groundhopweekend with my brother had been tiring, it had also awakened my hunger again. So, one week later the groundhopbug bit me again, and my friend J.B. and I were on our way to the German speaking part of Belgium, more particularly to the little town of Kelmis-La Calamine.


It was another bright and sunny day (roughly 18 degrees), which made us enjoy the scenic route even more. After a short drive of some 1.5 hours, we arrived in the town, and directly noticed the large number of cars with blue-red colors in them. It was clear, the away team of RFC de Liège would not be without its support. After a short walk we arrive at the Stade Prince Philippe, by now surrounded by away supporters. We line up for the ticket office and buy a ticket for 8 euro.


The Stade Prince Philippe is a posh name for one of the smallest stadiums I have ever visited. In fact, it was quite comparable to the Stade Hautcharage of the UN Käerjéng of last week. The main difference is that the canteen here is next to the covered stand, rather than above it (as at Käerjéng). Both inside and outside of the canteen it is full with red-blue supporters, as if it was their home game.


The atmosphere is very pleasant, people enjoy the trip and the sunny weather. The drinks are much more popular than the snacks – (German) sausages, fries, and cutlets – which is not just because of the weather (the snacks were quite disappointing).


We decide to walk to the other side of the pitch, so that we face the one stand of the stadium, which is completely taken over by the away supporters. I doubt the Stade Prince Philippe has ever had more atmosphere than on this day. I estimate that a good 500-600 people attended the game, of which only some 100 were home supporters! (The official website speaks of 1.200 spectators, but that seems a wild exaggeration).


On the program for this afternoon was a game between the number last, RFC Union La Calamine, and the number 1, RFC de Liège, of the Belgian Derde Divisie B (Third Division B). La Calamine has played below the national leagues until the mid-1990s, and got promoted to the Third Division in 2003. Its stadium reflects its long-term amateur status and can allegedly hold 4.000 people.


Already before kick-off the away supporters had created a real (if relaxed) football atmosphere with chants and songs. Some of the locals seemed quite amused by it, while a police force of ten kept an eye on the ‘ultras’ (even videoing them). The game started directly with some hard duels, as both teams had much to loose. To be fair, I couldn’t see the huge difference between the two clubs. Both teams were quite decent in terms of tactics and “functional technique” (dixit Johan Cruyff), but provided little if any good or intelligent pass. Consequently, chances were rather sporadic.


Indeed, it took until the 32nd minute for the first good attack. The visitors attacked, passed between a couple of players, pulled the ball back to a free player who finished it with a well-laced low shot in the corner: 0-1. The crowd celebrated it as a home goal, while the few actual home supporters seemed content that their boys had kept up so long. The rest of the first half was much the same, mediocre but committed struggle in midfield, with the only noteworthy offensive action a shot just wide of the La Calamine goal. Half-time score 0-1 and everyone seemed happy.


Having had my disappointing snack already during the game, I used the half-time to scout for “the fan(s)”, which were the two above, sporting a Che Guevara flag. ☺ The second half brought much more of the same. The hosts had two real chances, including one close header that was saved well, while the aspiring champions couldn’t create more than one (soft) chance.


Fortunately, the away fans kept singing and the sun kept shining, so J.B. and I kept enjoying our game. But although the level of play was higher than last Sunday at UN Käerjéng, it was still poor. I was particularly taken aback by the visitors, who are leading the division (La Camine still is without points after five games). Still, the away fans made clear that we should visit a home game of RFC de Liège soon.

[ no scoreboard, no final score pic ]

The final whistle was greeted by all in the stadium: the few neutrals (i.e. J.B., me and the police) because we were getting a bit bored by the play, the home fans, because their team hadn’t been slaughtered, and the away fans, because they don’t seem to expect much from their team. While walking back to the car, we heard the loyal fans celebrate their heroes for minutes.


I don’t think RFC Union La Calamine should be at the top of any groundhopper’s to-do list. I can only start to imagine how it is to watch a game there in normal Belgian weather conditions (i.e. wind and rain). But if you can visit them on a sunny day, by all means do. The scenic route to Kelmis-La Calamine alone will already be worth it!