FAN'S EYE VIEW No 195 Belgian football

We're accustomed to it all by now. After all, the question is always the same: "Why Belgian football?" Which is usually said in varying tones of stunned bewilderment, hostile contempt or amused tolerance.

Admitting to an active interest in any aspect of the Benelux countries is, of course, strictly uncool. The obvious reply to such a question is "Why the hell not?" Belgium is unassuming, accessible and underrated, and what's more tempting than this? Antwerp, Belgium's third city, is home to a bar which sells no less than 800 different beers, all of which are eminently acceptable to those fine folk at Camra.

Both of us stumbled upon the joys of Belgian footie during the early 80s in the heady days of Pfaff, Gerets and Ceulemans, an era where overgrown facial hair, dropped shoulders and socks rolled around the ankles were the familiar sight. The Belgian national side established itself, in our eyes, as embodying the best aspects of British and Continental football: an intriguing mixture of skill and physical prowess coupled with an endearing defensive ineptness - attributes that have been the hallmark of Les Diables Rouges ever since.

Performances of the highest calibre lurk long in the memory: who could forget those bleary-eyed long-nighters of Mexico '86, especially Belgium's monumental clash with the USSR in Leon, where Guy Thys's heroes triumphed 4-3 after extra time, despite Igor Belanov's sublime hat-trick.

Club football was a natural progression, introducing us to the likes of Club Bruges and Standard Liege. Then on to Anderlecht, who lost to Spurs in the 1983-84 Uefa Cup final despite being the holders, before we plummeted into the realms of obscurity where the deciphering of club names made frequent bed-time reading. Little did we know that we were developing early signs of Belgomania - an intimate knowledge of just why Waterschei and Winterslag combined and the exact biological breakdown of RWD Molenbeek, while attempting to explain why a mocked-by-many country the size of Belgium can boast such an inventive collection of club names in its footballing empire. Take a bow Erp Kwerps, Boom and Old Steamer Zeebrugge. Sad, but true.

Then, in 1988, there was KV Mechelen. A team that nobody outside of Belgium had heard of had gone and won themselves a major European trophy. We marvelled at the sight of Piet den Boer and the magical Israeli Eli Ohana, as Aad de Mos's valiant Cup-Winners' Cup-winning heroes defeated the mighty Ajax of Amsterdam at Strasbourg's Stade de la Meinau. And how could we ever forget the beard of the chairman, John Cordier?

Venturing on to Belgium's eclectic bunch of stadiums, such as De Bosuil, home to Royal Antwerp, the oldest club in Continental Europe with similarly aged facilities. Where else would you expect to find a large monolith containing 800 business seats rising behind a goal , emanating all the atmosphere of a concrete block? All the more bizarre when you consider several other parts of the ground are cordoned off. Charleroi's Mambour verges on the contemporary, with its pioneering use of neon advertising, while Mechelen's old-fashioned Achter de Kazerne continues to enchant us with its chocolate-box mixture of terracing and seats.

Then there are the delightful pre-match lunches at stadium-bordering restaurants of pink decor where well-to-do Belgians contemplate the proceedings over generous servings of oyster clams and accompanying shots of Duvel. The genial atmosphere is continued inside the ground where trayloads of Stella are often passed from front to back of overpopulated terraces throughout the duration of the match.

Belgian football has proven to be a hotbed of style indifference, with Cercle Bruge's yearly stroll down the catwalk providing annual embarrassment. Excessive experimentation with the colour green has often resulted in outlandish designs more reminiscent of army camouflage uniform. Unknowingly, AA Ghent's 85-86 jerseys even resembled Tesco carrier bags. But if we discard Mechelen's current offering that doubles as a test transmission card (like their performances), we can thank Royal Antwerp for resurrecting style consciousness with their recent Ajax-influenced classic.

If all else fails why not indulge yourself in an entirely acceptable blood sport: that of hating Anderlecht, who are the Manchester United of the Belgian end of the Low Countries. As Waregem and Cercle fans, we congratulate ourselves on the fact that our clubs are unlikely ever to be in a position to buy their way to success, unlike Les Mauves. Then again our clubs are unlikely to win anything in the foreseeable future.

But that won't stop us. Other fans may struggle to comprehend, but the lure of the world's finest chocolate is difficult to resist. And we haven't even mentioned the surreal underwear museum. Convinced? Then why not let a little piece of Belgium into your life. After all, everything is beautiful... in its own way.

l Diable Rouge - The Belgian football fanzine, PO Box 10141, London N14 6SY

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam