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Arsenal and Berchem, two different worlds and yet so similar

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By Walter Broeckx

I must warn you when you start reading that this starts a bit far away from the Emirates but we will end up there by the end.

I think I have mentioned before but I do follow my own local team in Flanders.  And in that article I reported that my local team “Berchem” had won the first of a midseason league table. In the lower leagues in Belgium they make up a separate league table after every 10 games and the team who is first in that table gets the right to enter the play offs at the end of the season to win promotion to a higher league.

My local team, Berchem, won the first mid-season league table after 10 games. And in the second period of 10 games…they also were on top. And last week they could win the title in an away game and they won  the game with a 0-3 score.

It was of course the start of wild celebrations. I couldn’t make it to the game as I had to do my own game but I went to our old stadium to see the players arrive on top of the bus. And no it wasn’t an open bus, but they just had climbed upon the roof.

So being crowned champions already the week before  they still had to play 2 games. Last weekend we played our final home game. All was set for a massive celebration. Now you cannot compare this to crowds for Arsenal. But according to newspapers reports we got a crowd for that game something of around 3.000 supporters. For what was a game with no real meaning. The club had invited players from all the championship years from the past and they got honoured before the game, together with the current champions.

When the game started nobody expected a lot. No more pressure, all being done and settled. Only some pride to play for. And my boy, our Lions (the nickname of Berchem) produced one of the best performances I had ever seen. We blew the opposition away and won with 6-0. (Six – nil yeah). I recorded the last goal and the start of the celebrations and you can see it here.

After the match we celebrated the title in a tent that was build inside the stadium (for the first time I know the benefit of an athletic track around a football field). And in those celebrations I rediscovered a bit of why I love this little club from the suburbs of Antwerp and also why I love Arsenal.

My local club Berchem went bust almost 8 years ago. That season we won the title and would have gone up to the 2nd division of football in Belgium. Only one division lower than what was our home division for a very very long time. But our president, a guy with lots of money, was found doing some things outside  the law – you know how it is. And instead of going to the 2nd division we went bankrupt and went down the divisions back to the 4th division.

The survival of the club was not secure for many years as every week they found new dead bodies and debts we still had to pay for.

The current board could have stopped and called it a day. They didn’t and with what happened to us in the back of their heads they started building a new club, a new team. And this is a first link with Arsenal: they try to do it within their own means. If we can’t afford a player, we will not buy, we will not pay his wages. On a very small scale compared to Arsenal but this is the self sustaining model all over. And I am grateful for the board to keep on working in that way. They will not risk the future of the club to win a title or to win promotion. Believe me when you had to be afraid to see in the papers if you club would survive you never want such a thing again.

Now as football in the lower leagues in Belgium is very different from life at Arsenal, it is easy for us supporters of Berchem to speak with the players. They go to the same canteen after the game as the supporters  so you can talk with them and have a drink with them. I know one of the players personally as he is family to one of my daughters in law, so it is all very friendly and very much a family club.

And Berchem is a club with a real heart for people. A caring club, a warm club. We have this supporter named Rene. He is a person of around 60 with some kind of mental handicap. He is there for every game, home or away, I think he is there on every training session (they are open to the public) and he is shouting and supporting the team every second of the game.  At Berchem he is known as Reneke (a typical Antwerp habit of adding the “ke” behind someone’s name as a sign of sympathy in this case) “Gingerbread”.

Now if they say in Dutch that you have a “heart of gingerbread”  is meaning that you are a person with a heart of gold. So the name Reneke Gingerbread is saying that Rene has a heart of gold. He walks the streets almost every day to collect money for Berchem to build a new stadium. Our stadium is one of the biggest in the lower leagues but it is old. So Reneke Gingerbread is collecting money for the club. No one asks him to do it, he just does it with that big heart of his.

And at the end of the celebrations when the best player of the season award was given the president of Berchem sport (our local Hill-Wood) took the stage and the microphone and announced that Berchem would also give a special prize for the “best supporter of the season”. And he called for Rene Gingerbread to enter the stage to help him with this. And then he said that the local bakery that sponsors our club and the board had decided that Reneke Gingerbread was chosen as the “best supporter of the season”. Big cheers from all the other supporters and at first Reneke didn’t even get it that it was him who was chosen.

And then they offered him the trophy that went with this and they gave him a big cake in the shape of a stadium. The look on Reneke his face was something I cannot describe in words. Just let me say that is was so heart warming to see the joy of this person who hadn’t been treated nice in life in a way… For me this simply was the best part of the whole title celebration. How my local club was willing to give special attention to some more or less disabled person in those hours showed what a warm club I support over here.

Talking later that evening with some friends whom I know for more than 40 years going to our local club we agreed that our club is the most sympathetic club in the world. We have  known more misery than joy and when we have a moment to celebrate we party like its 1999. But we know that maybe in a few years time we will face new tough times. Because that is the way football goes. And certainly for our local club.

I then sat on my own in the stadium to find a bit of fresh air and to think some things over. My thoughts wandered from the old Berchem stadium to the Emirates. My thoughts wandered from my mates at Berchem with whom I have celebrated titles but also cried when we went down to the nice people I have learned to know in London. My thoughts wandered towards all those we had lost along that long time.

And I thought to myself that I am very lucky man. Not just for this title celebration that day. But because I have the luck to support two teams that are trying to do things in the right way. I have the luck to support two teams that are trying to be generous to people who don’t have all the possibilities healthy people have. I have the luck to have made friendships that seem to last forever with people from those clubs.

And this is in a way what football is all about for me. Okay I will take the title or cup when it comes along. But for me football and the two clubs I support is something more than the title or a cup. It is about how we should stand in life. Football should be about building not just a team, but maybe also a better world. A world where all of us can celebrate and enjoy the coming together at our games. A win is great, a loss is terrible but at the end of the day next week is another game. But when it comes to friendships and human relations this goes so much further than the latest result.

So I sat there  on my own in the stand, looking at those thousands of happy people celebrating our title and that old song entered my head and I still can’t get rid of it: “Ooooohh, what a lucky man I am.”

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The Untold Awards:

25 comments to Arsenal and Berchem, two different worlds and yet so similar

  • El Gringo

    Thanks for that, Walter! It’s a beautiful piece, and we’re lucky to have you writing.

  • Richard B

    Very worthwhile feelings Walter – and very well expressed.We’re proud to have you as a Gooner. Thanks.

  • Sav from Australia

    Very poignant piece.
    I salute you, sir.

  • ak47

    very touching. its a shame your typical glory hunter may never experience or understand this. ive said before football is just a microcosm of the world and support of a team not from your local i think gives a strong idea to the kind of person you are. until you open your mouth, say(AAA)hh.

  • bob

    Walterke,
    Such a heart, you and yours.
    For a better world, indeed.

  • well said walter. i have always said i would rather watch the beautiful game played beautifully, win, lose or draw, than snatch a trophy with a hastily-assembled band of mercenaries. chelsea, for instance, must now buy a new team as the old one is worn out. how good would they have been with our budget? how good would real madrid have been?

  • LRV

    Wow, walter! You leave me all misty eyed. What are you trying to do; make me shed a tear or two?

    It is great to support Arsenal. And I can immagine how great it must be to support your local team along side Arsenal; especially when, like Arsenal, they try to do things the right way.

    I just wish some people will realise that football support is more than just bragging rights.

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    Walter …a beautifully crafted article and one that brought tears to my eyes when you talked about Reneke. I just completed an article for LadyArse’s new website about fickle,faithless fanboys in football and your piece sums it up perfectly. We pay to watch Football, NOT to win…that is up to the team…if we don’t win just b y being there and supporting our team through thick and thin then we should take up another hobby! I want to become a supporter of Berchem as they seem a great little Club with wonderful supporters and a nice ground…how do I do that?
    Well done mate ….Goed uitgevoerde partner….I know its Dutch but pretty close to flemish right:)

  • Damien Luu

    What I have learnt since I became an Arsenal supporter (and not a booer) over one decade ago is that you have to be brave to live “the right way”. Just look at people at Arsenal, the players, the manager, the boards, the staff, everyone, how brave they are to keep their belief in our model, to keep fighting against the opponents, the refs, the media, the AAA, the whole corrupted and stupid football world. It is so easy to choose the Chelsea’s way or the Man C’s way, but they are brave enough to keep belief in our way – the only right way. For that I thank them, and for that I love them.

  • Matt Clarke

    Great stuff Walter – thank you.

    We hear a lot (on football blogs) about football being “a man’s game” (usually as some sort of complaint against AFC).

    However, your attitude towards football and life is that of a real man.

    Pleasure to read.

  • RedGooner

    Walter, Thats why I read Untold !!! Thanks 🙂

  • Arvind

    Indeed Walter. Take a trophy when it comes..if it comes..ever. If no, so be it. I’m proud and glad that I support our great club [Thanks DB10 : )]. Thank You for this article.

  • Rawiri

    Arsenal, more than a football club, its a way of life

  • Prasanna Veeraraghavan

    At a loss of words and can’t pen down anything over here. My heart goes to Mr. Reneke.

  • rantetta

    Yes Walter. It’s lovely to read a beautiful article and that’s certainly what this is.

    You show your humanity and love in many articles you write, whether intentionally or not. I love reading about/from supporters from London N5, but also from around the world. (This is The Arsenal, after all).

    That you took a little time to reflect, on your own, whilst the celebrations were going on – speaks volumes about you as a person. That you give us some history of your local club, and the way you write of their triumphs and consternations, shows that you’re a true football supporter, and reporter. (It’s like having proper journalism from a time long past – when [I think] “Human Interest” stories could be read regularly, as opposed to “Celeb-shite”).

    Hoorah for Rene Gingerbread. He, being disabled, perhaps ‘does’ and ‘feels’ what’s in his heart. This is something not all footy supporters can do easily as they juggle with their everyday lives, looking after family, jobs and various “problems”. So I’m very glad Rene got this award, and very glad you told us about him.

    I wonder, Walter, if you’d give us an update on the condition of your local people who were affected by the terrible bus accident a few months ago, please?

    @Bob
    Thanks for your mention – many pieces ago – where you suggested an extra category for awards. Frankly, I don’t feel worthy, but that’s due my own hang-ups. The important thing for me is that this site exists, and just happens to be “glorious” due to its ever widening brief. And you are one of those who have widened said brief, along with Walter, Anne, Phil, Dogface and so many others. (I dread to think who I’ve left out). And there are those who reply: Just look at the comments above this! Wonderful.

    Thanks, Untold.

  • mahafatz

    I don’t believe that any Arsenal fan has a problem with the imitating of Wenger by the Stoke crowd, or do Arsenal fans have a problem with BBC highlighting it. In fairness it was funny. What I and many people seem to have a problem with is Lineker’s beheaviour at the end of the programme. His voice was full of venom. He was disrespectful to Wenger and by extention to our Club. Regardless of my or anyone’s feelings towards Wenger that was wrong. It hasn’t happened with other managers. It didn’t happen wwith Ferguson and Mancini on Monday. RTE (Irish TV) done the same thing after we lost a Champions League game at Anfield in ’08. Liam Brady was a pundit and he lost it with the presenter. He refused to take part in the following day’s programme because of the direspect shown to Wenger and his (Brady’s) Club.
    I would like Wenger to step down as much as the next Gooner, but we cannot forget what he has done for Arsenal and for football. Arsene Wenger done more to transform football in England in the last 20 years than anyone else. The BBC and Sky have made a fortune marketing the game in that time. Would it have been as marketable as it has been without Foreign players and coaches.? Wenger and Henry or Big Sam and Lee Bowyer..?
    I want Wenger to go not because I hate him, but because his time has run it’s course and his continuing to be there is to the detriment of Arsenal. The longer he stays with the club in it’s current limbo the harder it will be to remember his achievements.
    On the Lineker issue I believe Arsene and Arsenal deserve better than that.

  • Adam

    http://www.radioandcoachjones.com/
    Reminds me of another heart wrenching story, This is the true human spirit. People may refer to many as special needs or handicap. But why is it that they show us how to live.

  • iniez

    Beautiful article Walter, simply beautiful. also very good to see Muamba in good health

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Thanks for this lovely article Walter – may your teams flourish evermore !Reminds me of an old saying ,” What comes from the heart goes straight to the (others) heart “.
    Thanks for the link Adam , I was moved when I saw the movie a few years ago and to see the website is a bonus.

  • Gf60

    Walterke
    That was very special. Thanks.

  • RobL

    Thanks Walter. Tony, any way of forcing people to read this and answer questions on it before being able to post for the first time 😉

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    mahafatz…you say you’d like AW to step down as much as the next Gooner, so that means you’d rather see him stay, since a recent set of surveys by various Arsenal blogs has clearly shown that more then 89% of the online Gooners want him to stay.
    your second statement is as silly: his time has run it’s course and his continuing to be there is to the detriment of Arsenal. Explain what is a detriment to Arsenal and why does he have a managerial expiry date in your feeble mind?

    Here is what AW means to Arsenal and why he must remain in charge:

    1)He has inestimable skill at picking sublime, affordable transfer targets, easily matching SAF and surpassing every other manager…..who could do that better than him right now and in the future?
    2)He is the master of developing new and youth players from fairly ordinary chaps into exceptional talents…who in England can do that better?
    3)He can operate under financial constraints that would stifle the best managers in the world…could SAF,Mourinho, Guardiola or God help us, old twitchy have done what AW has and continues to do with so few resources?
    4)He is a tactical and strategic genius and a class act…look at what other EPL managers are like or even top European ones…he wins hands down.
    5)He is loved and supported by all his players…those that don’t leave but those who leave often claim he is their best manager among many.
    6)The fact that he has been here for 900 games, 14 years and has remained faithful to his philosophy and mission says it all…unlike you who have maybe 40 hours of FIFA Football Manager ¨experience¨ and zero knowledge of management issues in the Game.
    7)Over the last 14 years the club has never been out of the top 4 nor the CL and made it to the Final once, has won three titles,3 cups and been voted the model financially managed Club by EUFA and FIFA plus is ranked 4th in the world rankings for financial status, all the while building the best stadium in the EPL and turning a profit every year. Explain how that is detrimental to the Club?

    You are just another AAA, Wenger-out aficionado eager to disguise your dislike of Wenger and his ways with stupid statements like the club being in ¨limbo¨ and you regretting the loss of his status in your esteem, all BS and unsubtle word games designed to diminish our respect for him…well it did diminish something…True Gooners’ interest in your viewpoint, which is spurious at best and seriously flawed at worst.

  • rantetta

    @Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    Beautifully Put.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Yes ! Nice swat back over the net Dom , I don’t think he’s going to return it !You’ve hit an ace off his serve !
    If his “in limbo” refers to regularly occupying one of the CL spots ,what do we call those poor teams who finish below us ?