Belgium’s footballers catch nationalists offside as team goes through to World Cup 2014

 

Brussels

The crowds packed the Grand Place in Brussels until the early hours of Saturday morning, cheering on their “Red Devils” who had beaten Croatia 2-1 to secure Belgium's place in next summer’s World Cup. Many beaming faces were painted black, yellow and red, the colours of the Belgian flag, which supporters waved euphorically throughout the Gothic square.

But one person who might not have found their mood lifted by the euphoria was Jan Peumans, president of the regional parliament in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium where a significant number of its 6.5m residents support a split with southern French-speaking Wallonia.

As Red Devil fever gripped the country and chatter began last month of a new national unity dubbed “Belgitude”, Mr Peumans sniffily told the weekly P-Magazine that you would not see him draping himself in a Belgian flag or donning a tricolour wig.

“Those lines painted on their cheeks? I do not care for the Belgian flag, it does not matter to me” he said, adding for good measure that “this 'Belgitude’ is outright laughable.”

An upsurge in nationalistic sentiment is not exactly what his party, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), needs ahead of elections in May. A poll in spring predicted that the separatist outfit could get a record 32.1 per cent of the vote, making them the biggest party in Belgium and possibility putting them in position to start the process of slow devolution which they advocate.

A new poll at the weekend, however, showed their support had slipped to 27.9 per cent. The pollsters did not attribute that fall specifically to the parallel rise of the Red Devils, but many Flemish nationalists are tiptoeing carefully around the subject. The Belgian team not only came top of their group with a string of strong performances, but have been tipped as a possible outside winner, with odds of around 20-1.

Bart De Wever, the N-VA leader, has been a little more conciliatory than Mr Peumans, telling Belgian television that he supported the national team because it contained Flemish players. But could he, the presenter urged, utter the words “I support Belgium”? He demurred.

And while Belgians are happy to get behind sporting heroes like the cyclist Eddy Merckx and tennis players Justine Nenin and Kim Clijsters, the two sides remain deeply dived both culturally and linguistically. The residents of Flanders and their 4.5m Francophone counterparts in Wallonia have a different education system, separate newspapers, and even a separate music chart.

“Where I think some are making a mistake is in imagining that the Red Devils are going to save Belgium,” Olivier Luminet, a psychology professor at the Université Catholique de Louvain, told the daily Le Soir. “Sports can have a strong unifying effect but it doesn’t last. The buzz in France after the 1998 World Cup increased Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin’s popularity by an unbelievable amount, but it only lasted a few weeks. It’s very fleeting.”

But on the Grand Place, the revellers just wanted the politicians to let them enjoy themselves for a while. “In the national team, we have players from different backgrounds or cultures,” one young fan, Emon, told Flanders News. “But at least they cooperate and play like a strong team. Our politicians could take a lesson from this.”

 

 

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?