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.

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!

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