Anderlecht and who else? – football in Brussels

constant-vanden-stock-stadium_anderlecht-3Supper in the Grand Place, Brussels. The centre is covered in begonias, tourists gawp at the flowers, a band plays and over in the corner, youngsters are piling into a night club/bar called Good Kompany. Yes, it belongs to Vincent Kompany, Belgium’s captain and the Manchester City icon.

I pick up a newspaper, look at the back page and I see a huge photo of Thibaud Courtois, Chelsea’s goalkeeper. The news is full of the opening weekend of the Premier League…the English Premier League. Oh yes, there’s some information about Anderlecht and a report of last night’s Bruges derby. But the big news is all about Belgium’s exports.

In a nutshell, that sums of Belgian football. Once upon a time, Anderlecht, FC Bruges and Standard Liege were all feared as opponents. Now, Anderlecht are useful, but they get few favours in the UEFA Champions League. Although the Red Devils, Belgium’s national side, is highly rated, Belgian domestic football is considered to be among the top leagues and the country has to sell its best players abroad. It’s a fact of life, but they have exported some excellent talent in recent years.

In Brussels, Anderlecht have no local rivals. The capital city has become something of a footballing backwater, although there are still clubs with a proud history and a cult following.

In the summer, Brussels lost its second club, RWD or to call it by the name they were still trying to establish, FC Brussels. This was the bastard child of a number of mergers and marriages that didn’t quite work, although you will doubtless recognise one or two of its incarnations.

Capital City clubsRWD’s DNA was confusing. If we get all genealogical about it, the two clubs that started the process were Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles and White Star AC. The former was founded in 1894 and won six titles between 1897 and 1908. White Star was founded in 1909. Poor finances and disappointing attendances forced the two to merge in 1964 to form Royal Racing White.

In 1973, Racing White merged again, this time with Daring Brussels, who were, in 1895, the second team to be registered with the Belgian Football Association. They won five titles between 1912 and 1937. In 1973, Racing White and Daring merged to form RWD Molenbeek. Two years later, the new club won the Belgian title, but money was often a problem for RWDM and in 2002, they were made bankrupt.

During 2002-03, KFC Strombeek, from the province of Flemish Brabant, moved to RWDM’s Stade Edmond Machtens. Yet another metamorphosis took place, with Strombeek and what was left of RWDM forming FC Molenbeek Brussels Strombeek, or FC Brussels for short. Confused? So was the public! In June 2014, the club ceased activities.

So where does this leave Brussels football? Over in Woluwe-Saint Lambert, there’s Royal White Star Brussels who were founded in 1948. They play in front of only 500 people, but they are now Brussels’ second most senior club. In the third division, there’s Union St. Gilloise, a big name from the pre-WW2 days, but still soldiering on at their unique stadium.

Further down the ladder, FC Leopold play in the fourth level of the Belgian game and BX Brussels, another Kompany project, plays in the Provincial competition.

So what of the towering giant that presides over Belgian and Brussels football?  Anderlecht are in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, although last year, they lost five of their six groupgames. The past decade or so has seen them dominate domestic football, however, and they’ve won the past three Belgian championships. They’ve got a good pedigree, having won the European Cup Winners’ Cup twice (1975-76 and 1977-78) and UEFA Cup once in 1982-83. At one stage, they were one of top sides in Europe.

The question is, do Anderlecht have enough competition in their own land in order to compete on a continental stage? Last season, they actually finished third in the league campaign behind Standard Liege and Bruges, but in the complicated play-off system that prevails in Belgium, Anderlecht topped the six-team final play-off, finishing two points ahead of Liege.

Current coach, the Albanian Besnik Hasi, lets his emotions get the better of him sometimes. After the recent 1-0 win against Charleroi, Hasi stormed out of his dugout and in his temper, swung his foot at some footballs lying in the tunnel, only to slip and go flying. It was caught on camera!

Hasi has few complaints at the moment, though. Anderlecht have started the season well and with the Champions League on the horizon, it will surely be another good campaign for Belgium’s number one side. “In purple we trust,” as they say at the Stade Constant Vanden Stock.

As for Brussels, will they ever get another team in the top flight? There seems to be a big gap between the top division and the rest of the contenders in the home of the European Union. It doesn’t look like a gap that’s going to close in the near future.