Category Archives: Belgium

Royal Excel Mouscron

Royal Excel Mouscron v RSC Anderlecht, Jupiler Pro League

Stade Le Canonnier, Saturday 18th November

Provincial. Mouscron is provincial. If ever a word was weighed heavy with connotation, it’s provincial. The cafés were, provincial. The people looked, provincial. The shops, provincial. It’s a word that people from the ‘big smoke’ use to describe smaller towns and their inhabitants, with sneering superiority.  Well, I like provincial. Provincial is not homogenised. Provincial is unique. Provincial is what prevents proper football leagues becoming like the MLS or, if UEFA or Sky get their own way, the Champions League. Provincial is Kilmarnock, Darlington, Eindhoven or Duisburg.

The Moat of Mouscron

Mouscron, however, is very provincial. As I slalomed between the potholes, drunkards and banjoists, I found a parking space just visible through the smog of coal and chip-frying oil, not far from the Grand Place. The depression was tangible and the centre seemed like a giant electromagnet, attracting  weeping iron clouds from afar.  However, such environments are often fertile ground for passionate football fans.

The Hotel de Ville is a fine building and is completely surrounded by a moat of death to catch any stray child cyclists or elderly residents of unsteady footing. Instead of filling it with crocodiles however, the municipal minds have gone for the puddles, cabling and sand approach, coupled with the forlorn illusion of running water and electricity.

Mario and Luigi’s lovechild

The glowing filament of a nearby bulb, incandescent, attracted me like a violet glow to a bug in a hotel kitchen, and I ended up in a bar that had that alluring musk of fresh Stella and damp dog, and parted with 1.80€ for my only drink of the day.

It took around 15 minutes to speedwalk through the perpetually condensing air towards the stadium.  My print-at-home ticket in hand, getting soggier by the second, the turnstiles were negotiated with the dexterity of R2-D2. I then advanced to the humanoid at the other end, whose “patting down” was a tad too lingering and caring for my comfort: any less brusque and he’d have slipped me the finger.

I have detected Strontium 2+ ions I believe.
Il faut clapper les gars.
nettement cool

The stadium has an organic feel to it and clearly is modernised (or not) when any moderate success comes to town. This hand-to-mouth existence is honest and is the model UEFA wants the little guys to adopt: prudent, cautious and remembering your place.  Mouscron have flirted with European competitions in the past but their caste is very much in the lower echelons of the Pro League.  Nevertheless, there is something trustworthy and community-centred about the feel of the place, which is exactly what a provincial club should be.

Dampness engulfing, I dashed for cover under the Main Stand and saw that the beer purchasing system was a card-charging caper; scourge of the groundhopper.  Proceeding directly to the other end of the stand, past the club shop and various beer filling points (quite plentiful and frequent for a stadium of this size), I found a burger van. Scouring the graffitied menu for my delight, I decided upon the Braadworst. That was, until I saw them. If this sausage didn’t have cancer, it was surely carcinogenic. The hotplate wasn’t up high enough and a watery foam from the frozen meat was suffocating the sausage, poaching it until it looked like liquified liver cirrhosis.  All things considered, I had a spongy burger instead. Yum.

The ‘kop’ behind the goals has a few toilets and a beer stand and the die-hards were dusting down their club flags from a recess therein.  I figured, as the enemy in the midst and not wearing club colours, that anonymity would be maintained by hiding up near the back.  The view is decent enough, and the nets through which I would view parts of the game were needed to shield Boeckx from assorted missiles in the second half.

Donald Trump, obviously.

The pre-match procedure was, well, provincial. The club mascots (there seemed to be two) looked like a couple of hardy souls who had cobbled together something from the dressing-up box: Mario and Luigi tributes evidently. Then there was the man introduced as “President of ze United States, Donal Tramp”.  My squint and raised eyebrow were in overdrive, matched in intensity only by my confusion.  The MCs were trying their best to get the fans involved, but the majority who had taken their places were apathetic towards the rallying cry: more “peace be with you” than “death to the infidels”.

Once the teams came out, the visiting fans were still not allowed to take their places. This has become a recurring theme in matches I’ve seen recently and, frankly, it’s a really poor show from the police. Fans pay a lot of money to follow their team and the least that the police could do, given the money brought in to the local economy, is to ensure that they are allowed in on time. Both PSG and Anderlecht have suffered this fate in the past few weeks thanks to this inconsiderate heavy-handedness.

When the match kicked-off, a couple of nice little red flares were set off to my right and the Megaphone Man and his barmy army of around 40 were in full song.  The Mouscronnois are not huge singers, and the edginess I had expected was somewhat spherical.  The  atmosphere was, nevertheless, entertaining and family friendly but the majority of the noise came from the visiting fans (once they were allowed in).

In a match which was dominated possession-wise by Anderlecht, it was correct that they led 1-0 at half-time through a Massimo Bruno sclaff.  Mouscron were resilient on the pitch however, and a deflected shot gave them a (perhaps) deserved equaliser early in the second half.  Anderlecht’s amorphous setup and cautious passing meant that, for all their dominance, they didn’t look like scoring, a few Logan Bailly saves notwithstanding.  When it looked like the match may fade out into a draw, a fabulous one-two between Onyekuru and Hanni played in the former for an excellent finish. It was the undoubted highlight of the match and the latest instalment of the topsy-turvy thriller that is The Onyekuru Paradox.

Le Canonnier

As the final whistle blew, the Mouscron fans could applaud (and some did) their team who gave their all but were simply beaten by a collection of better players.  As the locals went home to kick the ferret and drink some hydrocarbons, I scuttled along towards my car – the drenched rat in the away end – hoping that my internal  sat nav wouldn’t guide me into some barely-illuminated ditch.

The Scenery

One heart-warming feature of the journey can be found on the road between Gent and Waregem en route to Mouscron: that of a giant sculpture(?) of a naked middle-aged man, complete with overhanging belly and gravity-enslaved scrotum.  Provincial Belgium at its finest.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ***
  • Stadium character: ****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ***
  • Hospitality: ****
  • Ease of access: ***
  • Things to do around the stadium: **
  • Overall: ***

Verdict: Provincial football doesn’t get much more authentic.



Weiler leaves Anderlecht

Another weekend, another stodgy Anderlecht performance against weaker opposition.  This has become a thing. Yet, optimistically, I stood in line outside the stadium this morning to get my tickets for the Champions League matches against Celtic, Bayern Munich and Paris St Qatar.  As I left the ticket office (bag slightly heavier, wallet much lighter), I had a perhaps unjustifiably hopeful spring in my step.

However, I had barely walked a hundred metres when the news had broken online: René Weiler had left Anderlecht by mutual consent.  At first, I felt slightly deflated and, to be honest, a little shocked.  Anderlecht have had a habit of hanging on to managers much longer than they should have in recent years, priding themselves on continuity and development.  And here they were, sacking their Championship-winning manager six weeks into the season, a week before a huge Champions League tie against Celtic.

I’m still not sure how I feel. Weiler’s Anderlecht won the title last year a little by default, getting it together when in mattered and in the absence of a genuine challenger.  Nevertheless, after two barren years, he had achieved his objectives and got the the last eight of the Europa League, where Manchester United needed extra time to get through.  Surely he has bought himself some leverage, some time?

Well, yes and no. For Celtic fans reading this ahead of next week’s match, I have two words that will rationalise today’s move: “Ronny” and “Deila”.  Deila won the league with Celtic playing a rather blocky, sometimes unnecessarily defensive system and generally underwhelming their fans.  Weiler’s Anderlecht won the league via drilled performances and relied heavily on the goals of Tielemans (now at Monaco and hugely missed) and Teodorczyk, who can’t hit a barn door at the moment.  The fluidity and attractive football the fans crave was ditched for a pragmatic, results-first approach.

However, when results do not go to plan, as has been the case recently, turgid victories become disheartening defeats and, as Weiler found out much to his annoyance, the criticism is fierce.  In recent weeks, Weiler’s normal “safe and boring” press conferences have become a thing of the past with Mourinho-esque huffs being thrown if he doesn’t like a question and  responses were becoming abrupt or corrosive.

This deterioration also found its way onto the pitch with key players such as Dendoncker, Obradovic, Kums and Teodorczyk underperforming. The slope became slippier when key players were being played out of position and systems changed from match to match, none of which were characteristics of Weiler’s successes.

Against Lokeren last weekend, 4-2-3-1 became an amorphous game of shooty-in after an hour.  Against Bayern, the now infamous back 5 with Sven Kums at “libero” was an ill-fated and bizarrely timed experiment.  Away to Kortrijk this weekend, it was 4-4-2 with two big centre forwards and two out of form wingers, and it was ugly, ugly stuff.

After the match on Saturday, Weiler did a post-match interview flanked by the Chairman and the Sporting Director, and was then televised (without sound) giving them some kind of debrief in the Kortrijk canteen.  It was either an overt show of support or, as we have now discovered, the behaviour of a group of people who expected to part ways.

I still feel disappointed for Weiler: I trusted him and his methods but the team have had an awful start to the season and the past week has been PR suicide and there were few glimmers of sunlight on the horizon.  So, in spite of last year’s successes, the sacking was justified.  I’m sure he won’t be out of work for long and that he’ll do a decent job wherever he goes next, provided he remembers that journalists are only doing their jobs.

So what’s next for Anderlecht? Many fans would be happy to see Nicolas Frutos, current youth team boss, be given the top job. He has the previous playing pedigree at the club but his lack of top-level experience as a coach could count against him, as well as his role under Weiler – will a clean break be for the best.? The club have some talented young players out on loan, as well as the gifted but unhappy-looking Stanciu.

Whoever does take over has a cup game, a league game and the most important game of the Group Stage of the Champions League for Anderlecht coming up in the next week, so they’ll have to get to work quickly.  They’ll inherit a group of players who, for all their shortcomings in recent weeks, have worked tirelessly for Weiler – even against Lokeren, the players were certainly fighting for their coach.  The time has come for them to stand and be counted; to act like Champions and to regroup quickly, uniting behind the new coach and restoring faith amongst the Anderlecht fans.  Three wins in the next week would go a long way to doing just that.




RSC Anderlecht

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(  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.

Getting There

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.

The Match

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