Laying down the flag early doors
Match 99 was a let down. AFC Wimbledon V Torquay. A really poor performance by Torquay in a shit stadium just about fit for the conference against a shit team supported by a bunch of phoney bastards/media darlings. God knows what’s happened to their atmosphere. It used to be quite vibrant with lots of flags hung up at the back of the main terrace. Now there are only two and one of them heralded the “Kent Wombles”. Perhaps they should move to Kent?
The most photogenic Berchem supporter roars her team on to glory
The daft thing is it could’ve been Match 100. A miscalculation a few weeks earlier saw me go to nearby Hanwell Town and it took a nasty dose of food poisoning (Anchovy Bruschetta from the work canteen) to limit my choices the week before the AFC Norbiton V Torquay clash. I toyed with the idea of the Galatasaray v Fenerbace but discounted it on the grounds that an obvious Englishman on his first visit to Turkey let alone the Intercontinental Istanbul derby might stick out like a sore thumb. I did want mountains as a backdrop for the 100th match so I narrowed it down to Lecco Calcio 1912 (who play in the Italian 4th Division) or FC Vaduz ,who although from Liechtenstein, play in the Swiss 2nd Division. I think in actual fact their Rheinpark Stadion is just the width of a river from the Swiss border. Nearer than Brazzaville is to Kinshasa. But Ryanair was bloody expensive to Bergamo and getting to Vaduz was going to be just as expensive.
So I finally decided to make the 100th game KFC Katelijne V Berchem Sport in one of the Belgian 4th divisions (there are four of them). If you’ve read the blog before you’ll remember the trip I made to see Berchem play Lyra a few months ago. Well since they won 1-0 that day they’d consolidated their position at the top of the table and just needed a win at Katelijne to clinch the 4th Division B title and get promotion to one of the Belgian 3rd Divisions (of which there are two!). Gloryhunting Belgian 4th Division style at it’s most extreme. Perfect for the 100th match as it had a nice tinge of “Against Modern Football” about it.
Early Berchem pressure. Baldy keeper makes a good claim
I enlisted the company of my long suffering Torquay United supporting mate JB who had also been on the December Dutch/German weekender with me. So I picked him from his Crouch End/Hornsey batchelor pad and we went full steam ahead in the Mazda with the annoying flashing DPF light to the Eurotunnel terminal at Cheriton. We had a decent but expensive fry up with thick cut Black Pudding as an optional extra. I trust nobody who doesn’t enjoy black pudding. Those who don’t I like to put into a mental basket along with people who wear glasses with reactolight lenses. At best they look plain shifty, at worst they hang around local schools playing pocket snooker.
So into the tunnel we went. JB’s first time. An impromptu Smiths sing-a-long developed. A first for the tunnel I’ll wager. A bit shameless seeing as we are both hopeless heterosexuals.
A little while later and we emerge from the tunnel. A quick hop across the top edge of northern France and then into Belgium at a reduced place due to joint roadworks on the border. Past Bruges, straight on at Gent, left side of the Brussels ring road, turn left just before the Airport at Zaventem and then come off at Mechelen-Noord. I was tempted to pop into Mechelen and show JB the main stand at Racing Mechelen but I’ll save that one up for another day.
The two very tall men and a dodgy bloke in a raincoat
We rocked up in Katelijne two hours before the game started. It’s a nice little town with a fair bit of brass. Another town which thanks to EU road funding has rendered my TomTom useless and added to my list of places where it’s about as much use as Harry Redknapp talking to the taxman about poetry.
After 5 or 10 minutes of driving around we decided to park up and the ever thirsty JB suggested we’d have a beer. We found a lovely little bar. The guy running it asked us what we were doing in Katelijne and he raised a couple of eyebrows when we said “the football”. They served us lovely cheap beer and even put on the Man United V Everton game for us to watch on the big screen.
We left the bar and headed to the ground after getting lost (my fault). The stadium is a small one. The Complex Vossvelden isn’t really a complex. It’s a tiny ground with a Scout’s hut next door and a car park. I would imagine that they would usually get 50-100 supporters at home. Berchem brought 750-800 and there was a couple of English interlopers. JB went to get beers, stifling an incredulous chuckle or two at the scale of it all.
We got a tasty sausage and bap combination for a reasonable three euros. All hell broke loose when the big man helped himself to the old dear’s mustard though. Big self service jets of sauce but pointed away from the customer.
Footballmobilty. Specially adapted for grass, mud and hard standing.
Anyway the game kicked in in heavy rain, then it brightened up, then we had a little hail, then driving wind, a bit more sunshine and then more rain. Not great photographic conditions. The guy standing next to us asked us what we were doing in Belgium watching this game. When I told him it was my 100th game his friend smiled and said “Ah, you’re the one”. You see, whore-ing yourself on social media sites can make you famous! He then excused us saying “I’ll be back in a minute, I need to pee”. And pee he did. He took a few steps back, turned around and let nature have it. Old school. Reminded me off the old Popside at Plainmoor with a mad scramble down a grass bank to piss against the side of a brick wall.
Berchem pour forward in the second half
During a nervy first half, in which Berchem looked the better side, I managed to meet a bit of a Belgian photography legend. You can check out his work his here at http://www.groundhopping.be . Voetbal is van ons. Tegen het moderne voetbal!
So 0-0 at half time. We sheltered from yet another New Zealand style downpour after a period of bright sunshine. We took our places for the second half with two of the tallest men I’ve ever seen and the bloke showing off the off-road capabilities of his Shopmobility scooter and of course about 10 blokes having a slash into a ditch.
Another metre and I can take a tumble
Then Berchem scored. The tension disappeared, the football got better and Katelijne were finished. Berchem added a second and then a third. The Championship was theirs. The final whistle sparked a pitch invasion and a couple of smoke bombs as supporters and their unbelievable supporters celebrated madly. 3rd division for them next season.
Hopefully he’ll never find an excuse to support Anderlecht or Germinal Beerschot
It might not have been the 100th match I’d planned in my head but a 500 mile round trip to watch Belgian 4th Division football ended up being the perfect choice.
We are Berchoem! We’re top of the league! Kampioen!