May 23, 2011 1 Comment
Lee Hurrell decided to avoid ‘Survival Sunday’ and opted for a crucial game in Belgium’s 2nd tier playoffs. He reports on the history of Waasland-Beveren and the thrilling game itself
On Sunday 22nd May, I found myself at a Belgian 2nd Division game. After seeing a tweet from John Chapman, aka @BelgoFoot, about a good result for Waasland-Beveren in the 2nd Division playoffs, I mentioned that it’s good to see Beveren on the up again. John informed me that it wasn’t the same club as before, but the result of two clubs merging. I, like a lot of football fans, had heard of K.S.K. Beveren from the days of their linkup with Arsenal, but that was about the extent of my knowledge of them.
History of the club
After researching the new club, I found out that they are the result of a merger between K.V. Red Star Waasland (formerly K.V. Red Star Haasdonk) and K.S.K. Beveren. The club has retained the history of Red Star but plays out of K.S.K. Beveren’s former home, the Freethiel Stadion.
K.S.K. Beveren were well known producing some of Belgium’s best keepers, such as Jean-Marie Pfaff (64 caps, also over 150 appearances for Bayern Munich), Filip De Wilde (33 caps) and Geert De Vlieger (43 caps).
The previously mentioned linkup with Arsenal, that started in 2001, is what brought them to the attention of the wider footballing world and also ended up bringing about the club’s downfall. Well, to say the Arsenal link brought about the club’s downfall is only telling part of the story though, it’s more to do with the tie-in that Beveren had with the ASEC Mimosas academy in the Ivory Coast.
The ASEC Mimosas academy was ran by Jean-Marc Guillou, a former French international who once managed Cannes with Arsene Wenger as his assistant. Guillou’s academy educated and trained young Ivorian’s before placing some of them at Beveren. This was due to the relaxed Belgian work-permit regulations that would allow players to gain an EU passport after only 2 years residency, thus making them more attractive buys for bigger clubs.
Arsenal’s involvement in this was to cherry-pick the best Ivorian talent from Beveren (they took Emmanuel Eboue, but turned Yaya Toure away after a trial period) and also send their own young prospects out on loan to Belgium to gain first-team experience. The likes of goalkeeper Graham Stack, Steve Sidwell, John Halls, Liam Chilvers and Igors Stepanovs made the move although most of those players didn’t even end up playing a game. Stack and Stepanovs both made over 20 appearances each. Stack’s spell included him becoming a cult-hero after punching a pitch-invading fan from local rivals Royal Antwerp.
Some of the Ivory Coast’s biggest names cut their teeth at Beveren and their 2010 World Cup squad included 6 former Beveren players; Yaya Toure, Gervinho, Emmanuel Eboue, Romaric, Arthur Boka and Boubacar Barry (best known for being Tupac Shakur’s doppleganger).
The Ivorian influence was heavy on the team and drew criticism from senior figures in the game, including Michel Platini, who in 2004 said the following:
“What about those clubs that buy their players abroad. Is it okay that there are a dozen Africans playing for Beveren in Belgium? I mean, why do they still call themselves “Beveren”? Why do they still play in Belgium? The European clubs who open training centres in Africa do it to further their own interests, not to help with the development of African football.
“It should be Africans themselves who take charge of their own development by investing the money they receive from Fifa for example. Otherwise, who’s going to train up the kids in Europe? Why should a young kid in Beveren bother working hard at his football if he has no chance of pulling on his local club shirt?”
FIFA ended up investigating the details behind the Arsenal-Beveren link in 2006, as it transpired that Beveren had been paid £1m by Arsenal as a “loan” via a third party company. The murky details can be read-up on in more detail but Arsenal weren’t found guilty of any wrongdoing in the end.
Shortly before the investigation, Guillou was given the boot, the Arsenal and Ivorian ties were cut and Beveren tried to restore a bit more of a local identity back into the club. In 2007 they finished bottom of the Jupiler League and were relegated to the 2nd Division, where they stayed before announcing towards the end of the 2009/2010 season that they would not be applying for a new professional license and would be dropping to the 3rd division. Then came the merger with Red Star and a place back in the 2nd Division.
The game itself
The match had a lot riding on it, as Mons currently sat 3 points ahead of Waasland-Beveren in the 2nd Division Playoffs with 2 games remaining. A Mons win would see them confirm promotion to the Jupiler League, whilst a W-B win would level things up going into the last game.
I arrived at the Freethiel Stadion and took my seat in the new main stand. The stand is completed as far as seating goes, but the concourse wasn’t lit and the refreshment stands weren’t ready (my half-time involved a walk outside to the carpark to a burger van!). Behind the goal to my right was where the bulk of W-B’s vocal support were situated, with 1/3 of the stand segregated off to house Mons’ boisterous away support. To my left was a decaying terraced end that appeared to be condemned, but it did contain the scoreboard and various fan-banners.
Mons came out of the traps looking brighter, their purposeful passing and pressing penning W-B back in their own half and forcing them into hurried, aimless clearances. The Mons pressure paid off almost instantly as a corner evaded everyone in the box apart from Jérémy Perbet, who nodded in from close range at the back post. Mons continued to keep the hosts under pressure following the goal and right-winger Tim Matthys’ skill and direct running caused panic in the W-B defence whenever he got the ball.
W-B started to play a bit as the half wore on. Jean-Paul Kielo Lezi on the left was the main outlet, but he always wanted to try one trick or turn too many and the attacks fizzled out.
The 2nd half came to life when W-B made it 1-1. A great free-kick from a wide position was headed in by former Germinal Beerschot and Cercle Brugge man Kristof Snelders. The game then went back and forth until Jarju scored a deserved goal. The ball was played into his feet in the box before he showed great composure to side-step a defender and place the ball beyond Michael Clepkens in the W-B goal.
The Mons fans were in great voice and their manager, Dennis Van Wijk was out on the touchline, kicking every ball with his team as they looked to close out the game and seal promotion. Police had formed a barrier infront of the Mons fans to prevent any pitch invasion as the game headed towards the final minute. W-B then won a throw deep in Mons territory and goalkeeper Michael Clepkens made a mad dash for the box. The throw found him at the near post and his header seemed to take Cédric Berthelin by surprise as he could only parry the ball into the roof of the net! The W-B fans celebrated, looking at each other with a mix of delirium and bemusement. A draw would have meant that W-B would have a chance on the last day, but only a slim one.
Having just been punished for a concentration lapse, Mons were then to be caught out once more. A freekick was given away on the edge of the box. The stadium held its breath as Rachid Bourabia lined up his shot. The ball took a big deflection, wrong-footing Berthelin and flew into the net, the stadium erupted. The full-time whistle followed shortly and Clepkens was buried under a man-pile for his heroics.
“We’ve got the whole world in our hands, we’ve got the best damn team in the land” blared over the tannoy as the home fans soaked up an incredible victory with the elated players.
The win left W-B and Mons both on 10 points at the top of the playoffs, with Lommel breathing down their necks with 9. Poor Eupen sit rock bottom, with their Jupiler League adventure lasting only 1 season. Should W-B and Mons both win their final games, they will play a decider on neutral ground. Mons host Lommel on Thursday night whilst W-B travel East to Eupen.
Mons appear to be best equipped to compete if they are promoted. They were the better team from an ability point of view, Matthys and Jarju really impressed. W-B have quite a few players with limited technical skill but had that all important never-say-die attitude and heart, which ultimately won them this game.
Waasland-Beveren are clearly a club going through a rebuilding process. Before all the late drama in the game, their fans were pretty quiet. This may be mostly due to the fact that their support is made up of Red Star supporters but mainly former fans of K.S.K. Beveren. There were plenty of K.S.K. shirts and scarves on display in the crowd. The new main stand was also full of families and hopefully the youngsters will have been hooked by the amazing spectable, giving W-B a new generation of fans for the future.
Through the wonders of medium-wave radio I was able to pick up “Survival Sunday” upon leaving Beveren on the drive home and whilst drama ensued in the Premier League. It didn’t come close to what I’d just witnessed.