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Sunday 29th July 2013 ko 20.30

Belgian Pro-League

YELLOW RED KONINKLIJKE VOETBALCLUB MECHELEN 0

ROYAL STANDARD DE LIÈGE 2 (Mujangibia 56 Batshuayi 84)

Att 10,402

Entry €20 (terrace)

Programme FREE

Firstly, lets abbreviate those club names, its KV Mechelen versus Standard Liège. I’m all for getting things recorded correctly, but there is a limit!

Most cities in Flanders have a mock name for their inhabitants. Since 1687, they’ve been known as been known as Maneblussers , or moon extinguishers! It derives from the townsfolk’s attempts to fight a fire high up in the tower of the Church of Saint-Rumbold. Prior to the blaze, the gothic windows had shown the flaring of the moon between the clouds, hence the lunar reference! Incidentally, here has been some historical confusion between Saint Rumbold of Mechelen and the infant Saint Rumwold of Buckingham, who died in 662 AD at the age of 3 days. The latter has become referred to as Romwold, Rumwald, Runwald, Rumbald, or Rumbold, hence the confusion!

A running theme of this Belgian trip was that there was always time. Lier to Mechelen is only 15km and even though there was a road block necessitating a volte-face, we were still parked up at the Achter de Kazerne well over 2 hours before kick off. We were indebted to a motorcycle policeman who seeing that one of our number was a Blue Badge user, allowed us to park far closer to the ground than would normally be the case as non-season ticket holders. It made us ponder whether that the 18.00 kick off a few miles away in the Belgian Cup would have been possible! We’d given it serious consideration at Lyra earlier.

The location of Achter de Kazerne is both the pitfall and the beauty of the ground, as its perched in the middle of the suburbs, cheek by jowl with housing and the occasional small business. It’s a nightmare to Police, and with Standard Liège the visitors the game had been declared as a “Risk” game. That phrase should worry any hopper fancying taking in a Belgian top-flight game. It means there will be severe restrictions on who can buy tickets, and often there will be no online sales, or sales to foreigners. We’d had a kind offer from a Belgian-based hopper to buy us tickets, but online sales were permitted. There was, however a nasty moment when at the ticket office, our passports were examined and we were told to wait for a minute or so, before our tickets were handed over.

Achter de Kazerne means “Behind the Barracks,” although the army camp has long since gone. The ground is a wonderful hotchpotch of stands none of which fits in with the other. The main stand has a mixture of seats and benches and has a curious curve up to the roof. There’s a large covered terrace complete with loudspeakers, hoisted up the stanchions flag-pole style. To its right, behind the goal is a narrow-double decked affair, a temporary measure built in the 1980’s! Behind the other goal is an oddity, a huge building hosting the club offices and a triple-deck stand. The top two decks are behind glass, for the type of corporate client who desires the sanitized “Soccer Experience,” and these seats were the only part of the ground that wasn’t full! It seemed a shame not to see the capacity of 13,213 reached.

Like with the Lyra stadion earlier in the day, there are changes afoot. The large terrace and the double-deck stand aren’t long for this world, with a wrap around stand being planned. It will modernise the ground, and make it far easier for the ground to host European games, but something intangible will be lost, and will the atmosphere of the place survive?

There was plenty to view before the game, even if the programme lacked even the team line-ups. There was a brass band accompanied by the flags of each of the Mechelen supporters’ clubs. They made quite an impact, and put a flame under the atmosphere which was already simmering nicely.

The “Risk game” status of the fixture meant that there were a multiplicity of stewards, watching nervously. On entering each stand they checked each and every ticket, even if a spectator was simply returning with a beer, and plenty .25l beakers of Maes lager were being sold.

The game was as frantic as the atmosphere was hot. The two sides seemed to be playing faster than their capabilities and play frequently broke down. It could easily have finished 0-0 but the visitors scored two identical goals to win the game. In each case a breakaway beat the offside trap and faced a one-on-one with the keeper. In keeping with a top-flight game the respective forward scored both times.

It was a decent spectacle but it was 10.30pm at the final whistle, and the journey home awaited. We were held up by the Police as the car was parked in the Standard section, but that enabled an interesting conversation with a scout from Lokeren and his Chelsea fan grandson.

It was a minor delay, and 180 km later we took an altogether quieter ferry back to Dover than the one we’d taken over. From there our paths divided, and I gave Lee a lift to Oxford, before his onward drive to Warwickshire. As we pulled into my street at 5.30am Monday, he commented,

“Bloody hell, this was just a day trip!”

It was, we left at midnight, and returned 27 hours later. I could do nothing other than laugh, it was quite an adventure!