Tuesday, March 25, 2008

FCV Dender EH-Club Brugge KV (22-03-2008)

An Easter break without a groundhop, that would be wrong, so I decided two days before to find a club that I hadn’t visited before, but that would be accessible by public transport. Given that only the two top divisions in Belgium played, and I have seen the vast majority of teams, this was not easy. One of the few options was FCV Dender EH, but they were playing their big game against Club Brugge, so I was expecting it to be sold out weeks in advance. Not so! There were still a couple of tickets available online, uncovered standing behind the goal, so I paid the 15 euro each, and ordered two tickets: one for P.S. and one for me.

After an easy train ride of some 1 hour and 15 minutes, transferring at Brussels, P.S. and I arrived in Denderleeuw, East Flanders. We had a quick snack, which turned out to be a mistake, and walked to the stadium – an easy 10 minute walk, as the lights are clearly visible and quite a lot of locals are walking to the stadium too. Well before kick-off we arrived, though it would take some time and effort to find out where exactly we had to change our Internet voucher for a real ticket (“at the small garden hut around the corner of the entrance”). We joined the hundreds other fans in front of the tiny entrance to the Florent Beeckmanstadion.

The Football Club Verbroedering Dender Eendracht Hekelgem is a typical example of the all too common Belgian merger club. FCV Dender EV is a merger (in 2004) of Verbroedering Denderhoutem and FC Denderleeuw EH, itself a merger of FC Denderleeuw and Eendracht Hekelgem (2001). In 2006 the new FCV Dender EH became champions in the Derde Klasse (Third Division), and the next year they did the same in the Tweede Klasse (Second Division). This first season in the Eerste Klasse (First Division) they are fighting relegation. They were at the bottom of the table during the whole first half of the season, but have since started a modest rise (under new coach Johan Boskamp).

Around and inside of the stadium it was absolutely clear: this was the big game of the season. Club Brugge is the big team in the area and the one to beat. The stadium was sold out and had a great local atmosphere. Interestingly, although the stadium announcer spoke of 6.800 spectators, which is also the official maximum, the official club website reports 7.000. Whatever the exact number, at least 1.000 were Club Brugge fans, who were not only in the whole stand behind one goal, but also dispersed throughout the other three sides of the pitch.

The Away Fans

The atmosphere was both familiar and euphoric: everyone seemed to know the people around them, be they home or away supporters, and they were ready to have the evening of their life. Even the fact that we were experiencing the coldest night of the year (so far) couldn’t temper the enthusiasm. So, bundled up we saw what would turn out to be a mediocre but very exciting game of football. From the beginning FC Dender played at least as attacking as Club Brugge, who were kind of fighting for their last chance at the title. The first chances were all for the hosts, even though they didn’t really test the Club goalie.

After some 15 minutes the visitors took over the initiative and started to create more chances. They hit a defender with a header and shot at the fists of the Dender goalie. However, in the 30th minute FC Dender had a beautiful attack, created mostly by the agile striker Munyaneza (referred to by the locals as ‘Mayonnaise’). After a lucky chance for Brugge, in the 38th minute, it would be the hosts who had the last big chance, in the 40th minute, forcing the Brugge goalie to make a great safe. Half time score: 0-0.

During half time we went into the big and buzzing canteen, where everyone was taking shelter for the freezing wind, and to my great surprise I found a well-stocked fan shop, which even sold (not particularly beautiful) pennants. Ignoring the broad choice of snacks outside, which included pitas, we took our place behind the goal to enjoy a second half of David against Goliath. Both teams were still roughly equal, although you could see the tiredness arising among several Dender players. Not surprisingly, it was Brugge who would create most of the chances, though very few the result of good play or truly challenging the Dender goalie.

As players became more and more tired, particularly those of Dender, the spaces became bigger and some chances clearer. In the 73rd minute the hosts had a nice long attack, but failed to finish, while 5 minutes later Munyaneza went alone at the Brugge goalie and failed. The home fans started to think that there might be even more in this game than a draw and in the 75th their dreams came true: after a good attack, Sanchez shoots from just outside of the penalty box, fast and low, in the corner: 1-0 and the people go crazy around us (including us).

The Fan

The last fifteen minutes must have been the longest the FC Dender fans ever saw. In the 84th minute a Dender defender rescues at the goal line. The home fans become euphoric, and even take the three minutes extra time lightly. In fact, in the last minute of the game a Dender striker again goes alone at the Brugge goalie, but his lob is too low. Not much later the referee blows his final whistle and everyone turns their cell phone to the scoreboard: “this is historic”, says a young Dender fan next to me. And he was right!

Tingling from coldness and satisfaction P.S. and I walked back to the stadium. We were even so early that we could take a train back earlier, returning to Antwerp before midnight. We were in full agreement on the evening: this is what groundhopping is all about!

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