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Sunday 12th October 2014 ko 10.00

Voetball Cafeploeg

FC SOBEMAI 1 (Dabart 60og)

WEST EIND & BOOGARDE KERMIS 3 (G-J Savat 39 44 van Waryenberge 60)

Att 42 at Stadion Edelharte de Lille, Maldegem

Entry FREE

Programme NO

I could tell you about how we got up at 5.30am to do this one, or about the fog on the motorway from Luxembourg, and even the guilt that three of us felt when we all fell asleep just after crossing into Belgium leaving an exhausted Lee to drive for 3 hours plus listening to us snoring!

We reached the East Flanders town of Maldegem, diverted to avoid a Sunday Flea Market, crossed the narrow gauge tracks then turned left into the Stadion Edelharte de Lille, just 7km south of the Dutch border. Our collective jaws dropped, leaving any other tale I could tell utterly redundant.

On one hand there isn’t much here, a former maintenance depot with a pitch probably too small for senior football, and no rope, rail or stand. Even the toilet didn’t flush, but everywhere you looked there was a gently decaying railway locomotive.

The club is named after the NV Sobemai engineering firm in the Bogardenstraat where the ground lies, and the competition is well, only barely competitive! Cafeploeg I took to mean “Coffee Football,”  the coffee you have to stave off a hangover on a Sunday morning, but one of my Flemish-speaking friends let me know that a better translation is “Pub team,” which seems more in keeping with Sunday football I’ve watched in England.

Games are leisurely, over 60 minutes and there is no league table; results may be compared by goal average as some teams play 30 games a season, others more, others less. There’s no affiliation to the Royal Belgian Football Federation either, but how did the club come to play at a place like this?

The club used to play at Akkersterrein in the town but when in 1973 that ground was no longer available the MD of Sobemai, Mr Edelharte de Lille suggested they play at a patch of ground behind the works. The railway paraphernalia were in situ, a relic of de Lille’s failed idea to build a theme park! And would you believe the loco just behind the near goal used to be the personal train of Hermann Goering? Even with the subsequent bankruptcy of the firm, and de Lille’s death in 2008, his family still own the ground and are happy for the club to play here at a nominal rent.

Life is never easy at the bottom of the footballing food chain and the club have had to cope with a major fire in 2003, and a subsequent burglary which saw the loss of much of their memorabilia. But the club soldiers on playing the likes of Walrus, Smashers, Pitbull, Borussia Vake, and today’s opposition whose name translates to West End and Boogarde Fairground!

There were no appointed officials, just a mutually agreed clubman for referee duties, and on one occasion when a team thought they’d been the beneficiary of a poor decision they simply returned the ball to the opposition! Sobemai expected their visitors to win, which they did although they did take a little time to get going. Perhaps the crate of Jupiler beer they consumed at half time did the trick, although I’m attributing Pieter Dabart’s own goal to the extra bottle!

I found Lee a coffee at half time and enjoyed the second half, the relaxed sporting nature of the game was exactly what the four of us needed as our European tour neared its end. For all of the miles and sleep deprivation FC Sobemai is a club I’ll never forget.

Update 25/1/15

So my visit to FC Sobemai looks to have been remarkably well timed. Sad to say, the railway engines are gradually being removed. I don’t speak any Flemish, but the article’s pictures tell the story, what a shame.