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.

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.