RSC Anderlecht v KAA Gent
9th August 2015
Hasi is trying to accommodate all of his central midfielders in his new, narrow, computer game style formation. However, a car with three wheels doesn’t need another exhaust pipe.
If you can imagine teaching a class of 25 students and your child is one of them. You have to write an unbiased report, highlighting relevant strengths and areas for improvement. You know their adorable idiosyncracies as well as their obvious flaws and cannot be blinded by emotion. Reviewing Anderlecht v Gent at Stade Constant Vanden Stock was always going to be a tricky one.
Today was the first time that I had gone to an Anderlecht game on my own. And in the unfamiliar environment of the South Stand upper tier. Tickets for Anderlecht games can be tricky to get hold of. They can be purchased online for some games i.e. domestic games not against Standard or Brugge if you have a Belgian identity card( http://www.rsca.be/en/fans-ticketing/tickets-seasontickets). There appears to be no other official way of getting your hands on a ticket other than emailing the ticket office. For higher profile matches, such as Champions/Europa League games or Brugge/Standard, people without season tickets have to go to the ground with their ID card and buy over the counter. It is a cumbersome process but is representative of Belgian “stamp and sign” bureaucracy. For this game, I went to the ticket office, in person 6 days beforehand. It’s about 45 minutes by tram and metro from my house.
Nevertheless, the club sell out most home matches and are unlikely to modernise before the relocation. The stadium itself has a capacity between 21000 and 28000 depending on your source, which is too small for a club like Anderlecht to progress with the supporter base that they have.
The stadium is located in the commune of Anderlecht in Parc Astrid. It is easy to reach by public transport by taking the Metro, line 5, to Saint Guidon/Sint Guido. This takes around 15-20 minutes from the city centre. Driving is a different challenge though. Parking space is insufficient and the commune are charging ridiculously high rates on matchdays for parking in the spaces that do exist. Some people park at nearby Westland Shopping Centre but this too has its limitations. A metro ticket is €2.10 for those without a Brussels ‘MOBIB’ card.
Brussels City Centre
As a visitor, Brussels is full of beauty and surprise juxtaposed with concrete post-WWII cuboids. There is a lot to see and do but points of interest are best stumbled upon serendipitously. The local government has decided to pedestrianise a street that is a bit of an eyesore in Boulevard Anspach. There are loads of bars and cafés all over the place – St Gery and the Saint Catherine area is generally popular with the local hipsters. Avoid those in and around the Grand Place (although this is worth seeing, especially around December) if you want something authentic. Brussels is a city of contradictions and, while it may not be Paris, I love it.
Stade Constant Vanden Stock
Once you walk out of the Metro, you can either turn left then left again and into a square of restaurants, bars and cafés. Alternatively, you can proceed down Rue de la Procession for about five minutes and around the stadium there are a plethora of bars and food vendors. My normal pre-match drink varies between either le Pavillon, la mi-temps and le but, with a Bratwurst from the Salmonella van. Most people drink outside on the street – it is civilised and you can watch he world go by and the atmosphere build up.
The beer (generally Jupiler) sold in these places is fine although I do suspect that anti-freeze is a key ingredient in December as it can be colder than cold.
The stadium was completely rebuilt in 1983 and has had a few minor tweaks since then such as rail seats (safe standing) in the lower tier behind each goal. There are two tiers all the way round with the best of the atmosphere to be found behind the goals in the North Stand (Mauves Army) and the South Stand (Purple Heart). The standing places (if you can get one) are always reasonably priced. West and East Stand tickets can be pricey deterring the more hardcore element.
There is a small ‘stripe’ of corporate seats all the way round between tiers ans a bizarre corner of perspex and corrugated iron between the North and West stands. The proximity to the pitch usually ensures a great atmosphere. There are refreshment stalls both outside in the concourse and inside the stadium, although the choice in the stadium is very limited. The toilets are always packed and, given their size, seems like a breezeblocked afterthought. The beer is allegedly Jupiler and the quality is … variable. 2 euros for 25cl, 4 uros for 50cl and a euro deposit for the cup. The club used to use toughened plastic glasses with pictures of the players on them but, sadly, these have been abandoned in favour of some generic catering company’s advert, meaning I always get my euro back now.
Anderlecht have been desperate to expand the stadium but the commune and some residents have complained about how large it would be meaning that the club’s income and growth is limited as long as they remain at Stade Constant Vanden Stock. Moving to the new stadium near Heysel (set to be ready for 2018) as prinicipal tenants is an opportunity that the club has to take. It is a decision that will decimate the economy in Anderlecht though, especially those bars and cafés whose survival is dependent on the football custom. Perhaps the commune will come to regret its shortsightedness.
There has been a buzz around Anderlecht with 4 signings in two weeks after the departures of Mbemba and Mitrovic to Newcastle. However, head coach Besnik Hasi didn’t start either Okaka or Ezekiel (Kara and Hassan not yet eligible) and persisted with the XI that won the first two games of the season. Gent were last season’s surprise champions so it was a tasty encounter to look forward to.
It would be an over-simplification to say that Gent as a whole are better than the sum of their parts whereas Anderlecht are not performing as they could and should. It does succintly describe where both clubs are at though.
Anderlecht started with intensity although they still lacked control and clarity of purpose. An Idrissa Sylla headed goal after ten minutes relaxed the fans and, for the next ten to fifteen minutes, Anderlecht could have scored a couple more, with Youri Tielemans (who has been fantastic recently) missing an easy chance. However, Gent improved as the half progressed, bringing out two amazing saves from Silvio Proto. Anderlecht had to do something different to regain the ascendency as both Suarez and Praet looked unfit and were ineffective. Both were a shadow of the player they can be.
Hasi is trying to accommodate all of his central midfielders in his new, narrow, computer game style formation. However, a car with three wheels doesn’t need another exhaust pipe. Sometimes individuals have to be sacrificed for the benefit and balance of the team. Hein Vanhaezebrouck – the Gent coach – clearly saw this at half-time and brought on Simon, a winger, to stretch the Anderlecht defence. His presence more than his performance created spaces in the Anderlecht defence and Depoitre’s goal was as deserved as it was accurate. Both Suarez and Praet were substituted for Okaka and Ezekiel but this seemed like a desperate tactic and still the play was too narrow. Anderlecht faded badly and, given the second half performance, will be glad of the point.
Besnik Hasi improved the team immeasurably 18 months ago when he replaced Van den Brom. They played with purpose and a plan and they looked fit. I do, however, have concerns about his tactical nous and wonder if he is the Tim Sherwood of the Belgian League. He has been very public about his determination to persist with a formation that isn’t working. Sylla has scored 3 goals in 3 games from crosses. However, crosses are more effective with width and overlaps. Defour, Tielemans and Gillet need to be less compact to give them space to play.
After the Match
All I can say is that I hope there is never a fire in this stadium. It takes longer to get from the upper level to the exit than it does to walk from the stadium to the Metro station. Stairways, like toilets, seem as though they were only considered at the last minute. Subsequent dispersal was, however, rather rapid. I generally go for a small beer for the road after the match and catch the highlights on TV in one of the surrounding bars. It beats waiting to get on the metro. However, today the bars were quiet due to the disappointing conclusion to the match.
I’ll miss this stadium when it goes, but go it must. I wonder if the commune of Anderlecht will charge customers of the German Supermarket that will replace Stade Constant Vanden Stock 10€ to park their cars? Thought not.
Overall Ratings: (out of 5)
- Quality of match: ***
- Stadium character: ****
- Stadium atmosphere: *****
- Hospitality: ***
- Ease of access: ****
- Things to do around the stadium: ****
- Overall: ***1/2