… I just rolled over and went back to sleep. Somehow I couldn’t summon up the energy to leave my comfy little bed here.
And when I finally did wake up, I decided that I would have something of an informal day of rest and not do too much. That was the cue for coffee in bed and a James Bond film, together with a good book.
That took me through until lunchtime and then I nipped out to the local shops for the baguette and the bits and pieces that I shall need for the journey home next week. Hard to think that this is effectively my final shopping expedition in Brussels, although I’ve said things like that before.
This evening, I went out again. No football in the Netherlands border area this evening, and none in the German border area either. There was however a match at the Argosstadionachterdekaserne, the home of KV Mechelen, where the home team was to entertain Zulte-Waregem.
People, including Yours Truly, do say that Belgians have no sense of humour, but you would be forgiven for thinking differently when you see the sign over the entrance gate to the stadium. You can tell that KV Mechelen aren’t doing so well in the league at the moment.
But the stadium itself, which must qualify for having one of the longest names in mainstream football, wasn’t easy to find. It was hemmed in right in the middle of an area of what would be in the UK some kind of Victorian working-class terraced housing and it did remind me of going to a football match in the UK back in the good old days of when all stadia used to be like this.
There was however some easy – and free – parking on the old railway goods yard about 500 metres away, and there were even a couple of marshalls to help everyone. Long time since I’ve seen this kind of thing.
The next thing was something of a shock though – unlike at Breda in the Netherlands last week, the stadium doesn’t accept payments by card – it’s cash only. And I wish now that I had paid with a card at the supermarket this afternoon rather than with cash. The nearest cash point was 1500 metres away, so I was told, and me with a bad foot too after my exploits with the coffee table earlier in the week. I didn’t need any of this. Mind you it was a good job that I arrived early.
So having procured a ticket, at €16:00, it was into the ground. And this was a surprise as well. A First Division game in one of Europe’s leading national leagues and the stadium had probably over 50% of its capacity as standing. When was the last time that you ever heard of this?
And as for the stadium itself, you can tell that they’ve never heard of the Taylor Report in Belgium either because this place wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in England following the report on the condition of English football grounds after the fire at Bradford City. It really was like stepping back in time to the early 1970s in English football and you have no idea how comfortable it felt to be standing up on the terraces.
But I don’t care what anyone in authority has to say – the fans are totally correct in their opinion of all-seater stadia. With so many standees in the ground, the atmosphere really was electric for the entire 90 minutes and the Mechelen fans must be the noisiest that I have ever heard at a modern football match.
The Powers That Be want everyone to be seated at a football match as in a theatre or a cinema, and give polite applause whenever someone does anything merit-worthy and to keep quiet the rest of the game. That is total nonsense and is what has ruined the game as a spectator sport. Football is all about noise and atmosphere, 90 minutes of bedlam on the terraces, and you can’t do that sitting down. And it’s not just about the merit-worthy actions either. When Zulte-Waregem’s n°3 went down rather too easily and for far too long right under the referee’s nose and on the “popular side” after a challenge early in the game, the Mechelen fans were on his back for the rest of the match with whistles, jeers and abuse to such an extent that his captain swapped him over to the other, more sedate side of the field.
THAT is what real football is about.
People might think that that is being grossly unfair to the footballers concerned. Four or five years ago I remember Craig Bellamy being quite upset about the abuse that he was receiving from the crowd. Firstly, I don’t ever recall him complaining or being upset when the fans of his team were dishing it out to an opposing footballer, and secondly, I will gladly go and stand out in the middle of a football pitch for a whole 90 minutes and let 30,000 people hurl as much abuse as they like about me and my family for only 25% of the money that he is on.
As for the football however, we had a torrential rainstorm and a 2-2 draw, the result being a fair reflection of the balance of the play. And the best player on the field was the Zulte-Waregem centre-forward who scored both his team’s goals. A different class of player than the others on the field.
I’d seen a Turkish Fritkot on my way into town and so I stopped off there and, sure enough, they conjured up a plate of falafel and fritjes. I enjoyed them too, especially as I felt that I had earned them. I’ll miss all of that when I leave. But I’ll have to come back ina couple of weeks though – there’s a book sale in the car park and I must add to my collection a copy of “Honkie and Ponkie On The Moon”.
I’m depressed though about how much Vlaams I’ve forgotten, I really am. I must do something about this.