Sometimes, the best things in life happen to those who experience disappointment, but have a back up plan in reserve. We headed off early on a Sunday morning towards the Eurotunnel Terminal in search of Belgian football. We’d decided on Olympic Charleroi V RFC Liege at the iconic Stade de la Neuville in the fairly grotty town of Charleroi. Much to look forward to. The stadium is an old fashioned gem and Liege were planning to take quite a few away from home for what is now a 4th Division D clash (There are 4 Belgian 4th Divisions). RFC Liege of course are the club who refused a certain Jean Marc Bosman a move to Dunkerque. They are also a club who enjoyed 67 seasons in the Belgian first division with 5 Championship wins, plently of european football and who won the Belgian Cup in 1990 before succumbing to bankrupty, merger and obscurity.
After a healthy fry up in the Eurotunnel Terminal (which isn’t that bad) and a slight delay on the trains ate into our reserve time a little bit more than I would’ve liked but it wasn’t disastrous. The souless bit between Calais and Dunkerque looked even more bleak than normal in the snowy conditions. At Dunkerque we turned off at Grande Synthe for the road to Lille. The roads were clear but everything else was coated in white. I got flashed by a speed camera on the Lille ring road (nothing through the post yet) before changing on the Route Degradée towards Tournai and Mons. Still the surroundings were caked in white icing but the roads remained clear. It wasn’t until we hit La Louvière when the snow began to fall again and when we turned off for Charleroi it turned into a full blown blizzard. We all looked at each other. Not a chance that the game would be on.
My ancient TomTom disgraced itself again as it did back in 2008 when I nipped into to see the other stadium in Charleroi. It doesn’t like it when you travel on elevated roads over other roads. But we found the Stade de la Neuville by good fortune and decent guesswork. We parked near the ground but were then told by a friendly face from the Police that, fairly unsurprisingly, the match was called off but only about 2 minutes before we got there. The sinking feeling kicked in. We got chatting to an old couple who couldn’t believe we were mad enough to make a special trip to see their team.
So to the backup plan. Racing Waregem was too far but Union St Gilloise in the southern Brussels suburb of Forest was more than do-able. We made it there in good time but the parking was a bit tight. Some un charitable Juliet Bravo type told me that I couldn’t park where I’d earmarked. So I jammed it in Parisian style around the corner and we marched up the hill to the Stade Joseph Marien where Royale Union St Gilloise have played since 1920.
It’s one of those special stadiums. It only has 2 sides. One decent all seater stand and one massive terrace which because of the amount of snow and ice was shut for the match. Our 8 Euro tribune tickets only got us standing accommodation in front of the main stand and we were plonked behind a tall metal fence. USG scored almost immediately on the snow covered pitch. It’s quite a rare sight in these days of health and safety to watch 22 footballers boot a pink ball around a white pitch. Although as Pikey pointed out early in the second half that the ball was more Cerise than Pink. We stood corrected.
The club bar, like most Belgian lower division clubs, is a centrepiece affair. The one at USG had the stylish edition at half time of a Dalmatian dog complete with a yellow and blue USG scarf. It’s a proud little club that believe it or not has actually won 11 Belgian Championships and finished runner up 8 times including a 60 game consecutive winning streak between 1933 and 1935. But these achievements happened before the second world war and in 1963 USG were relegated from the first division and I don’t think they’ve ever been back. I’m not sure that they ever will to be honest.
Diegem Sport equalised in an increasingly cold second half. We warmed up with an extra beer and a Boudin Noir baguette. Black pudding in a French stick to you non Rick Stein believers. Quite simply put, it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten at a football match. We purchased a USG scarf which has the club song printed on the back. An excellent scarf with a Lenor soft feel to it.
The match finished 1-1. We left the ground just before 1700 and were back in Ealing at 2030, heure locale. It always pays to have a back up plan.