Sunday, January 28, 2007

KV Mechelen – Oud Heverlee Leuven (20-1-2007)

I had my good English friend L.M. over for the weekend, and what better to do on a Saturday than combine a tourist trip with a groundhop. Given that he had visited various cities in
Flanders already, we decided to go to Mechelen, also because the local KV played that evening. The city was a bad choice, the game was not.

For those now in the know, KV Mechelen was a major force in Belgian, and even European, football in the 1980s. Most importantly, they beat ajax Amsterdam in the Cup of Cup Winners of 1988 – one of the reasons I support them J (I even forgive them for winning the Super Cup that same year against PSV) – as beautifully documented on this t-shirt (which I bought for a mere 10 euro at the Fan Shop).

Unfortunately, the 1990saw the decline of KV Mechelen and in 2002 the club could barely be saved from extinction by a demonstration (which I attended) and actions organized by Flemish tv personality Marc Uytterhoeven. They were relegated to the Third Division, where they played some world (well, Mechelen) famous city derbies against Racing Mechelen in front of a sell-out 14.000 crowd. Two years ago they were promoted to the Tweede Divisie (Second Division), where they are currently challenging for the title.

Just before 19.00 we arrived at the KV stadium, which despite its new name (Scarlet Stadium, named after the main sponsor) is still fondly known as Achter de kazerne (Behind the barracks). We bought tickets for Block E, standing places, at 10 euro a pop and made our way into the cantina, to warm ourselves up (it was starting to freeze after a mild day). As various other Belgian professional teams, even in the highest division, the KV stadium has a cantina that is reminiscent of those of the amateur teams of my youth. Place where the real fans can still be themselves and where you can feel the atmosphere of football.

We took our place on the stand half an hour before the game started, eating our obligatory stadium snacks (i.e. a hamburger for L.M. and a chiliburger for me), and watching the flag parade enter the pitch. Before each home game of KV, a group of some 25 people, mostly older men but also including a couple of women, come up to the pitch, following a small marching band, and stand in front of the stand with the hardcore supporters of Malinwa (Blocks H and I) to play and sing the club song. Beautiful!

The game started furiously: within 5 minutes it was 1-1. KV scored after a nice combination, but OHL directly afterwards punished a defensive mistake and it was equal again. After that the game calmed down, and KV started to dominate. At times they played excellent passing football, particularly between the three African players, yet it would take until the 33rd minute for KV to score the well deserved 2-1. The good game and result ensured the familiar good atmosphere Achter de Kazerne, even if ‘only’ 7.100 people had faced the cold to come to see the game (of who some 250 from Leuven).

After half time KV remained the better team, but the level of play decreased somewhat. Particularly the three Africans (Issame Charaï, Jean-Paul Kielo-Lezi, and Nana Asare), who had been providing most of the excitement of the first half, were starting to struggle and undermined some potential counter-attacks. This notwithstanding, Malinwa did manage to score one more time.

3-1 would also be the final score of this fine game. In the Monday’s papers everyone was highly appreciative of the play of Malinwa – and, it needs to be said, OHL also played very decent and positive. (Unfortunately, they lost yesterday 4-1 at Deinze, which means that they are again far away from winning the Second Division this season). Whomever considers to watch a game in Belgium should definitely come to KV Mechelen. Not only have they proven their spirit in 1988, Malinwa is also still one of the few (only) clubs in Belgian football that will always provide a real football atmosphere around its (home) games!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Royal Francs Borains – KSK Tongeren (14-01-2007)

Another year, another groundhop. Having returned from the US on Saturday afternoon, after a very tiring 20 hour door-to-door travel, I knew that the best way to ease back into home life is… going for a groundhop with my mate J.B. And so we did. As there was not much on the agenda for Sunday, and we were both not up for a long trip, we chose to stay in Belgium and pick a game in the Derde Klasse B (Third Division B). So, at 13.00 we met up in Leuven and made the comfortable one hour drive to Boussu in the Borinage, close to Mons.

Around 14.15, after a short detour in Boussu, we park our car next to the Stade Vedette – donating one euro in support of the youth program of the Royal Francs Borains. While J. chats with the funny parking attendant, I buy two tickets at 7 euro each, giving access to the whole ground, which counts two stands of unequal size on the long sides.

After a quick stop in the cozy cantina, reminding me off my youth days in the cantina of my (amateur) team V.V.O. in the Netherlands, we made our way to the small stand. The weather was absolutely perfect, some 13 degrees and sunny, and there was a fairly decent crowd of some 400 people (of whom at least 100 were from Tongeren). We took our place between the commentator of the local tv station and the hardcore of the RFB fans, a group of five 70+ fans-for-life.

The game itself was entertaining, but not of high quality. Both teams played fairly defensively and lacked much creativity or technique. The game was played at the edge, but seldom over it. Though there were some chances on both sides, they were few and far between. Fortunately, the weather was very pleasant, as were the atmosphere and company, so none was really bored.

At half time we went to the cantina under the main stand, where we found the same nice and relaxing atmosphere. The second half was much of the same, but with more yellow cards. In the end, the score was the same as at the beginning: 0-0.

True, not a very fiery start of a new groundhop year. But on the other hand, in many ways it was a game to cherish. I feel that 2007 is again going to be a good groundhop year.