Every now and again it’s important that everyone samples a little bit of live Belgian football. It doesn’t matter what level you watch, from the 1st to the 4th divisions there are so many great grounds to visit. Belgian football seems to encapsulate everything good about English lower league football whilst keeping a very keen eye on the supporter biased setup and nature of German clubs.
The two footed Sacha Iakovenko gets ready to cross from the right. Very impressive that lad.
The game itself was the usual Belgian offering of effort, endeavour and attacking intent but ultimately let down by horrific defending, dodgy goalkeeping (the Cercle goalkeeper anyway) and a lack of quality in the final third. Leuven should have been 3 up after twenty minutes. But found themselves going in 1-1 at half time after failing asleep 30 seconds after taking the lead. Cercle Brugge looked a much better team in the second half and went 1-2 up after Leuven fell asleep again. Only to equalise through another header from a Sacha Iakovenko (a very good winger on loan from Anderlecht) cross and then they threw it away once more conceding a needless penalty. 2-3. A sending off for Cercle. A last minute corner fell to Leuven goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski who struck a Teddy Sheringham like shot from an improvised corner (or was is mishit?) only for a Cercle defender to block it with the keeper stranded. Still a good atmosphere . 7,338 turned up to watch the game in a stadium that holds 8,500. Not bad I reckon.
It’s more like a jolly pub atmosphere in Belgian football made more enjoyable by the Leuven PA belting out Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” every time they scored, which certainly cheered up my companion for the evening (A fervent female Blackburn Rovers fan who lives in Brussels). It doesn’t quite have the colour or passion of a KV Mechelen but it’s more intimate and cheery. From reading their Twitter feed OHL have now accumulated enough points to stay in the 1st Division. A good achievement.
After a night in the Leuven’s Etaps hotel, a classy kebab and the Football League Show on the Beeb, I drove the short distance to the town of Lier, which is famous for it’s beers (which Belgian town isn’t) and having the massive Van Hool coachbuilding plant on the outskirts of the town.
Lier is home to a couple of football clubs. Lierse SK play in the First division while K Lyra TSV play in the Belgian Promotion league. It was to Lyra I headed on an unsettled looking Sunday afternoon to watch them play another side I’ve seen recently, the nearby Berchem Sport who are from the Lier side of the Antwerp ring road. I parked up nearby for a spot of lunch in the fantastically named Lunch Garden which is a handy restaurant chain who do good plates of cheap food in both the french and flemish speaking parts of Belgium. Chicory wrapped in ham in cheese sauce with chips for 7 euros.
The Lyrastadion is one of the great stadiums in Belgian football. Not great because its brand new and has all the mod cons of a new stadium specifically designed for football but it has a great old stand, a steep terrace, a fine bar and atmosphere in abundance. There aren’t many stadiums where to get to the entrance you have to walk through a petrol station forecourt and to the uninitiated to then gain entrance to the terrace you have to walk through a bar. Which is possible in 30 minutes only after you’ve enjoyed a couple of Palms.
Berchem Sport have quite a following and they must have brought a good 300 fans with them, maybe more. A huge mix of fans. Young boys and girls, old salty sea dogs, middle aged mad looking women adorned in Berchem scarves and badges plus an English photographer (me).
The match was a scrappy sort of game. Plenty of endeavour but not much quality. Top of the table Berchem tried to control the game but were let down by their passing and struggling Lyra were let down by everything. I wandered around the ground from the Berchem to the Lyra side of the wonderful main stand. Rain, followed by sunshine, followed by dark imposing clouds which then led to a full hailstrom made for some interesting photographic spectacle. Berchem Sport took the lead in the “Streekderby” through a scrappy goal from defender Senne Willems.
Half time came and went slowly. The second half was more of the same. Lyra not playing well but Berchem making heavy weather of it all, although in all fairness Berchem started to get more joy down the left flank and were starting to create more chances. Then a late tackle, a lot of handbags and then a Berchem player steamed in and shoved a Lyra player over. Red card. Much gesticulation from both managers and benches, even from the substitutes wrapped in blankets.
The final whistle blew. Berchem fans celebrated with a distress flare, much singing and then anger as the Lyra chairman who was obviously a bit pissed up tried picking a fight with either the Berchem manager or one of the players. He was held back by another Berchem player who pleaded with him to calm down. When he did, players and supporters from Berchem celebrated together with the Captain leading the songs. It may only be Belgian Promotion Nationale 4th Division B but it’s heart warming to see how much people care for football at this level.
Ok. One more for luck.