Belgium

Capital: Brussels
Population: 10.2 million
Currency: Euro
Official Language: Flemish (North and West of country), Frence (South and East)
Borders: Netherlands (North/East), Germany (East), Luxembourg (South/East), France (South and West)
GNP per Capita: $26,730 (10th in world)
Main Airport: Zaventem International – Brussels

Located between Germany, France and the Netherlands, Belgium has a small coastline on the North Sea.  The south of the country is heavily wooded and suffured extensive damage in the two World Wars.  The climate is mild, although fog does often creep in from the North Sea in the summer.

For more details on the locations of the teams in the top leagues in Belgium, go toFootiemap.com to see their excellent Belgium football club page.

For an up to date list of fixtures, click here.

The Jupiler League
Each of the 16 competitors in the Jupiler League plays each of its 17 opponents twice. The championship thus comprises 34 matchdays of 9 matches each, generally played between August and May. A win earns three points since the 1995-96 season.
Left: Liege’s Dufrasne Stadium

At the end of the season, the lowest-placed team is relegated to the second division and is replaced by the winner of that division. Since the 2005-06 season, the 17th-placed team qualifies for the second division final round along with 3 teams from second division. The winner of the final round qualifies for or stays in the first division.

Currently, the Belgian champion qualifies for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, while the runner-up must play in the third preliminary round. The third-placed team qualifies for the last preliminary round of the UEFA Cup.

Right – Genk’s new Fenix Stadium

If the cup winner is one of the three top championship clubs, the loser of the cup enters UEFA Cup. If the Cup finalist has already qualified, the fourth-placed team of the championship would replace it.

Matches are usually played on Saturday at 20.00 or Sunday at 15.00 depending on the venues. Some matchdays are played on Wednesday, however. Furthermore, in recent years, televised games are played either on Friday or during the weekend at different times (e.g. Saturday at 18.00 or Sunday at 13.00 or 20.00). The main reason is the new law that forbids televised matches to be played at the same time than other Jupiler League matches (to avoid stadium emptying for those matches).

Each team playing the Jupiler League (and second division) must have been granted the Belgian Football Association license guaranteeing the club has no excessive debts, has a secure stadium, etc.
Left: Mouscon’s Stadium

This was introduced in season 2001-02 to decrease the number of teams in the division. Originally, clubs that could not get the license were supposed to be replaced (and sent to the third division). However, it is still not effective as, for example, K.S.K. Beveren finished 18th in 2001-2002 but were saved as K.S.C. Eendracht Aalst (17th) and R.W.D. Molenbeek (10th) were refused their license.  Champions in the past ten years have been:-

1999-00 RSC Anderlecht
2000-01 RSC Anderlecht
2001-02 KRC Genk
2002-03 Club Brugge KV
2003-04 RSC Anderlecht
2004-05 Club Brugge KV
2005-06 RSC Anderlecht
2006-07 RSC Anderlecht
2007-08 R Standard de Liège
2008-09 R Standard de Liège

For this season, the 16 participating clubs are the following:

R.S.C. Anderlecht – Brussels (See below for section on Brussels)
Cercle Brugge K.S.V. – Bruges (See belowfor section on Bruges)
R. Charleroi S.C. – Charleroi
Club Brugge K.V. – Bruges (See belowfor section on Bruges)
K.R.C. Genk – Genk
K.A.A. Gent – Gent
K.F.C. Germinal Beerschot – Antwerp
K V Kortrijk – Kortrijk – Last seasons champions in the 2nd division
K.S.C. Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen – Lokeren
Y.R. K.V. Mechelen – Mechelen
R.E. Mouscron – Mouscron
K.S.V. Roeselare – Roeselare
R. Standard de Liège – Liège
Sint Truidense – Sint-Truiden
K.V.C. Westerlo – Westerlo
S.V. Zulte-Waregem – Waregem

Standard Liege won the title again after finishing level on points with Anderlecht and invoking the need for a Play Off for the first time since 1986.  Standard came out on top 2-1 on aggregate.  Genk won the cup by beating Mechelen and join Club Brugge and Gent in the Europa League.

FOOTBALL IN BRUGGES

Brugges – The Jan Breydel Stadium – Capacity: 29,042 All Seater

About The Jan Breydel Stadium
The Jan Breydel is named after one of the regions most famous martyrs – and a hero of the Battle of the Golden Spurs.  It was opened in 1975 as the Olympic Stadium, despite the fact that the city has never hosted the Olympics. The stadium was redeveloped in the late 1990’s after the stadium was chosen for one of the Euro 2000 venues.

The stadium hosted a number of key games in the tournament, including the dramatic group decider between Yugoslavia and Spain, France versus Denmark and the quarter final between Spain and France.  The stadium today consists of four separate stands that have a small lower tier/paddock, and fences around the pitch.  The view from the upper tiers is quite good, and is certainly favourable for the neutral fans.

Who plays there?
The stadium is home to the two professional clubs in the city – Club and Cercle Brugge.  Whilst the former are certainly the more successful of the two teams, Cercle actually won the Belgian First Division before their rivals in 1911.

Cercle Brugge – http://www.cerclebrugge.be have certainly had a more turbulent recent history, bouncing between the top two divisions in the last decade before returning to the Jupiter League in 2003.  However, their achievements have been modest to say the least.  After their first Belgian title in 1911, they have won two subsequent titles in 1927, when they actually won the domestic double, and 1930.  They also won the 1985 Belgian Cup Final, which actually gave them their one and only chance to play in European competition.  In the subsequent European Cup Winners Cup campaign the team went out in the first round, losing on away goals to Dynamo Dresden.  The club have never been known for attracting the best players in Belgium, although they did have the services of Danish legend Morten Olsen for a number of seasons in the 1970’s.

Club Brugge – http://www.clubbrugge.be on the other hand are second only to Anderlecht in terms of domestic success in Belgium.  They have won the Jupiter League on thirteen occasions, although they only recorded one victory before 1973.  The club were originally formed in 1891 and played for many years in the amateur leagues, before turning professional at the start of the 20th Century.  They won their first title in 1920, but had to wait nearly fifty years for a second honour.  In the 1970’s, under the leadership of Ernst Happel the club won four successive league titles, one Belgian Cup and made appearances in the UEFA Cup final of 1976, and the European Cup final of 1978, losing to Liverpool on both occasions.

The club continued to enjoy success in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, providing competition to Anderlecht and their quest to be the best team in Belgium.  They won the title in 2003 and 2005 but have had to play second fiddle in the past two years to the likes of Genk, Anderlecht and Gent.  They did enjoy some success in the Belgian Cup in 2007 when they beat Standard Liege to take the trophy.

Their European pedigree is second to none in Belgium football, although since the change of format to the Champions League they have struggled to break out of the group stages, finishing 3rd in a weak group in 2003/04, and 3rd again in 2005/06 behind Juventus and Bayern Munich.  Some famous players who have worn the famous black and blue shirts include Jan Ceulemans, Jean Pierre Papin, and ex- West Ham midfielder Franky Van der Elst.

How to get there
The stadium is located to the west of the small city centre, close to the E403 motorway.  It is walk able from the city centre – simply follow Gistelse Steenweg westbound out of the city gates.  To get to the relevant gate from the Markt, follow Sint-Jakobsstraat northwards, and then turn left into Noordzandstraat.  Allow yourself 25 minutes to walk from the city centre.  If you want to use public transport then catch bus line 5 or 15 which runs from the railway station to the road to the north of the stadium.

For more details, go to Footiemap.com to see their Brugge map page.

Getting a ticket
If you are in town and want to watch a game you’d certainly have more luck in getting a ticket for a Cercle match where the average attendance is just under 6,000.  Last season Club Brugge were the best supported club in Belgium, piping Anderlecht and Standard Liege with an average attendance of 25,329.

Tickets for both clubs start from €13 for a place in the Noord or Sud paddock areas behind the goals, to €30 for a seat in the main stand upper tier.  Tickets can be purchased via email at kaartenverkoop@clubbrugge.be or by phone at +32 50 40 21 35 for Club Brugge, and +32 50 34 32 45 for Cercle Brugge.

Getting around
Brugge is a very small city, and apart from a short bus ride from the central station into the city, you can cover most of the main attractions, bars and restaurants on foot.  If you do need to catch a bus anywhere then a €1 ticket is valid for an hour.

Nearest Airport – Brussels Zaventeem (BRU)
Website:                  http://www.brusselsairport.be
Telephone:              +32 2 720 02 79

Bruges does not have its own airport, although a few years ago Ostend airport some 10 miles away had daily flights from London Stansted with Ryanair.  Therefore, the easiest way to reach the city is to fly into Brussels Zaventeem airport, which is located around an hour away.  The airport is located north west of the capital city and Brugge is a simple train ride away – with a change required at Brussels Nord.  Total journey time is around 90 minutes.  The airport is served on a daily basis by BMI from East Midlands and London Heathrow, BA from London Heathrow, Brussels Airlines from London Gatwick, Manchester and Newcastle, Eastern Airways from Cardiff, Durham Valley and Southampton, Flybefrom Manchester and VLM Airlines from London City.  Brussels Nord is also accessible by the frequent Eurostar services from London Waterloo.

The other option from the UK is by ferry into Zeebrugge or Ostend and then a short bus or train ride into Brugge.  Both ports are within 20 miles of the city.

Thanks to http://www.colours-of-football.com for allowing us to use their graphics.

FOOTBALL IN BRUSSELS

Brussels – Constant Vanden Stock Stadium – Capacity: 28,000 (21,000 Seats)

About the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium
The current stadium of Belgium’s most famous club side could soon be no more.  Anderlecht’s home since 1917 is tentatively being scheduled for demolition, and a new 40,000 seater stadium built in its place which will be named after the major club sponsor Fortis.  However, there will be significant local opposition to the move, especially from the fans who have grown to love the closeness of the stands to the pitch, and the enclosed atmosphere created by the low roof.  The stadium initially started out as a single wooden stand, built in the Astrid Park area of the city.  It was originally named after the club’s first real investor – Émile Versé, and it was his money that allowed the stadium to be slowly built over the next few decades.

As the club became more of a force in European football during the 1970’s, a complete redevelopment of the stadium began, funded by Club President Constant Vanden Stock.  The new stadium opened in 1983, and has remained the same, apart from a few alterations, up until the present day.  The club were bitterly disappointed in the late 1990’s not to be part of the Euro 2000 championships as the organising committee felt it would be unfair to have two stadiums in Brussels being used (the Koning Boudewijn Stadion being the chosen one).

The stadium is very similar in design to a number of British stadiums, with four stands that wrap around to form a complete arena.  Each stand has two tiers, separated by a row of executive boxes.  Behind each goal there are standing places in the lower tiers, which are closed for European matches.  The stadium has been transformed into a multi-purpose venue with the opening of the Le Saint-Guidon restaurant, which is a Michelin Guide one star restaurant.

Who plays there? – RSCA Anderlecht –http://www.rsca.be
Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht (RSC) are the most successful club that Belgium has produced.  They have won 29 Championships, including the 2006/07 Jupiter League title, and 5 European trophies.  However, it took a number of years before the club actually won a trophy – their first major honour was the First Division title in 1947 – some forty years after they were originally formed.

Their real purple period came in the 1970’s when the club, inspired by such players as Francky Van Der Elst, Robbie Rensenbrink and Franky Vercauteren became one of the most feared in Europe.  The club reached three successive European Cup Winners Cup finals from 1976 to 1978, winning twice versus West Ham United and Austria Vienna, sandwiched between a 2-0 defeat to Hamburg in Amsterdam.  They also won the 1983 UEFA Cup Final by beating Benfica 2-1, although the following season they lost on penalties in the final to Tottenham Hotspurs.

In terms of domestic success, the club were the most dominant team in the Belgium league after the end of World War 2 when they won seven titles in ten years.  Despite their dominance in Europe during the 1970’s, they only actually won two domestic titles, although they were a permanent fixture in the Belgian Cup Final – winning it on five occasions.

The second rebirth of the club came under the leadership of Raymond Goethals when the team won the Jupiter League four times in six seasons in the early 1990’s.  Unfortunately the consistency couldn’t be maintained, and the latter part of the 1990’s were bleak for the club as Standard Liege and Club Brugge took the honours.  In the last few seasons the title has arrived on four more occasions, but due to the limitations of the finances in the Belgium leagues, as soon as a promising team is assembled, the bigger European clubs come and snap up the young Belgian talent.

In 2006/07, a promising squad was put together by former club legend Franky Vercauteren.  Despite a stiff challenge from Genk up until the last few weeks of the season, the title returned to Brussels thanks to a team of real United Nations – including a Swede, an Egyptian, a Hungarian, a few Argentineans as well as some home grown talent such as captain Bart Goor.

Since their success in the UEFA Cup in the 1980’s, European football hasn’t been too kind to the club.  In the Champions League in 2000, they won the Group Stage pool, beating Manchester United and Dynamo Kiev.  In the next stages they were paired with Real Madrid and Lazio, finishing 3rd in the group.  Their last two Group stages ventures have proved disastrous – although the draws haven’t been kind.  In 2004 they were drawn with Valencia, Inter Milan and Werder Bremen.  The following season it was even worst as they lost their first five games in a group containing Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Betis.

Last season they qualified again into the group stages and found themselves in the weakest group in the competition, alongside AC Milan, Lille and AEK Athens.  Unfortunately four draws from their six games consigned them to last place in the group.  Therefore, it is with some trepidation that the club will approach the 2007 competition.

How to get there
From the city centre the easiest way to reach the stadium is my Metro in the direction of Erasmus on line 1b, alighting at Saint-Guidon.  From Gare Centrale it is 9 stops to the stadium – taking around 15 minutes.  If you are arriving by Eurostar, then you need to catch a train northwards four stops to De Brouckère where you can pick up the Line 1b.  A taxi from the Grand Place will cost around €15.

For a more detailed view, go to Footiemap.com to see their detailed map pages on Brussels.

Getting a ticket
Traditionally, Anderlecht have been one of the best supported teams in Belgium, fighting it out with Club Brugge for the title of the highest average attendance.  In the past few seasons they have averages just over 24,000, although for the games against Royal Antwerp and Club Brugge you can expect an almost full house.

Therefore, whilst games rarely sell out, it is prudent to try and secure a ticket in advance.  The club allow English-based supporters to reserve tickets in advance by emailing them atticketing@rsca.be or by calling the ticket office on +32 2 529 40 67.  A good seat for the neutral is in the upper tiers of the Tribune 2 and 4, behind the goals where you get a good view of the action both on and off the pitch.  In 2006/07 a seat here cost €18.  A seat in the main stand upper tier costs from €30.

Match ticket is €15. Take the metro to gare de l’ouest. It’s a 5 minute walk from there. Quite a few bars on the way there.  Great atmosphere and check out the band that plays there. Small club shop there.

Brussels – Koning Boudewijn Stadion –  Capacity: 50,100 All Seater

About the Koning Boudewijn Stadion
The Koning Boudewijn stadium may sound a mouthful, but since the decision to change its name from its traditional Heysel was a necessity after the stadium disaster here on the 29th May 1985.

On that fateful night the stadium was playing host to its seven European final, on this occasion between Liverpool and Juventus.  Prior to the match a disturbance in the crowd between the two sets of fans led to a wall collapsing, trapping and killing 39 people in the ensuring chaos.  Despite protestations, the game was played with Juventus winning 1-0.  Since then the stadium has been rebuilt and renamed, but still has not been sanctioned to hold major club finals since the 1996 Cup Winners Cup Final.

The stadium was originally named the Stade du Jubilé, and opened on the 23rd August 1930 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the country.  After the Second World War it took on the name Heysel, named after the area of the 1935 World Fair where the stadium was located.  It became a real favourite of UEFA for hosting major competitions, and held the European Cup finals in 1958 as Real Madrid beat AC Milan, 1966 when Real Madrid again captured the title beating Partizan Belgrade and again in 1974 when Bayern Munich beat Atletico de Madrid in a replay.  It also hosted the European Cup Winners Cup Finals in 1964, and its most famous night in 1976 when home town club Anderlecht beat West Ham United 4-2.  Four years later Arsenal lost here on penalties to Valencia.  Once the stadium was renamed it also hosted the 1996 final between Rapid Vienna and Paris St Germain.

The stadium today has been completely rebuilt from the dark days of 1985.  The athletics track is still in existence, but each of the stands has been rebuilt.  On three sides they merge together into an Oval, with a large lower tier, and a small upper tier almost hanging down from the roof.  On the final side a single two tier stand sits on its own.  Views are ok, although the presence of the athletics track does hinder the view from the lower tiers.

The stadium was one of the host venues in Euro 2000 and staged games in the group stages (the most memorable being Turkey’s defeat of Belgium that eliminated them), as well as the semi-final between Portugal and France.

Who plays there?
The stadium was traditionally the home of the national team although between 1985 and 1995 when the stadium was closed for redevelopment they played mainly at Anderlecht’s Constant Vanden Stock Stadion.  However, on re-opening the team returned and played here until a disagreement arose in 2006 due to perceived safety issues.  The games were again switched to the home of Anderlecht across the city, as well as the 2006 Belgian Cup Final.  In November 2006 an agreement was again reached, and normal service was returned to the stadium, with the first match being played here being the 3-0 win against Azerbaijan.  The 2007 Cup final was also played here as Clubbe Brugge beat Liege 1-0.

How to get there
The stadium is located in the north west of the city centre, close to the Atomium and Europark area.  The easiest way to reach it by public transport is to catch the metro line 1A in the direct of Heysel.  You can then either alight at Roi Baudoin or Heysel for the stadium.  Journey time is around 15 minutes from the Grand Place area of the city.

For a more detailed view, go to Footiemap.com to see their detailed map pages on Brussels.

Getting a ticket
Tickets for the national team are sold via the Belgium FA website at http://www.footbel.be.  For most internationals, tickets can be booked in advanced and picked up on the day of the game – normally they will not sell tickets on the day of the game.  The best tickets for the neutrals are in the Lower Tribune 3 – which runs down the side of the pitch, and avoids the sunshine that sets in the early evening games.  Ticket prices vary according to the opposition.  For Belgian Cup Final tickets, contact the participating clubs direct for availability.  The Stadium also offers guided tours plus a visit to the museum from €6 for Adults on Wednesdays to Saturdays from 10.30am.  For more information call +32 2 474 39 40.

Getting around
If you are in the city for a couple of days then it is worth investing in a Brussels Card which offers free public transport for 72 hours as well as free entry to nearly all of the main attractions in the city centre.  The card is available from the Tourist Information centre in Grand Place, hotels and the metro stations and costs €30.  The city has a network of buses, trams and metro, and tickets are interchangeable.  They start from €1.50 for a single journey, and €4 for a day pass.

Nearest Airport – Brussels Zaventeem (BRU)
Telephone:              +32 2 720 02 79
Website:                  http://www.brusselsairport.be

The easiest way to reach Brussels from London and the south east is via Eurostar from London Waterloo (St Pancreas International from November 2007), where trains run every two hours and take around 2 ½ hours to reach Brussels Midi station.  Fares vary depending on time of year, but as a tip when you go onto the site to book a ticket, put down your country or origin as somewhere else than the UK and you will be quoted a much lower price.

If you want to fly then Brussels Zaventeem airport is served on a daily basis by BMI from East Midlands and London Heathrow, BA from London Heathrow, Brussels Airlines from London Gatwick, Manchester and Newcastle, Eastern Airways from Cardiff, Durham Valley and Southampton, Flybe from Manchester and VLM Airlines from London City.  A regular train runs from the airport to both Brussels Nord and Midi.

Alternative Airport – Charleroi Airport (CRL)
Telephone:              +32 71 251 211
Website:                  http://www.charleroi-airport.com

Known to Ryanair as Brussels South, this small airport gained media attention a few years ago when it was subject to a European Commission ruling that the subsidies paid by the local government to Ryanair were considered an unfair advantage.  However, the airline still flies here daily from Liverpool and Glasgow, with the London Stansted route re-opened in June 2007.  To reach Brussels city centre, catch one of the number 68 buses that run every 30 minutes to Charleroi South station where you can then catch a train into Brussels.  The fare is €10.50 each way.

Thanks to http://www.colours-of-football.com for allowing us to use their graphics.

Our latest trip – KVV Coxyde 1 FC Tournai 2 – December 2011

Whilst Edinburgh were welcoming two new Panda’s, we travelled to Coxyde, literally the closest Belgium town to England with a semi-professional football team (34 miles from Calais since you ask) where the locals had been waiting all week for the appearance of their new animal, a Seal.  So we sent Danny Last along to find the fellow via numerous duty free shops, Belgian chippies and of course with a number of Jupilers inside him. Find out what happened below…

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