By Walter Broeckx
By being an Arsenal supporter I get to visit a variety of places. Of course I come to London to see us play. Or I come to London to play in the Emirates myself. Or I go to places like Liège to see us play in the Champions League. I was also thinking of going to Cologne to see us play in the pre season as it is not that far from where I live.
So just recently being a gooner brought me to Stabroek. Now you might well say Stawho? And yes Stabroek is not the centre of the world. Not the centre of Europe. Not the centre of Belgium. Not even the centre of Antwerp. No it is just a little town next to the port of Antwerp. So what on earth has a gooner to find there on a Friday evening?
As you may know I am a member of the Arsenal Benelux Supporters club. And I don’t want to sound pretentious (but Tony is always saying I am too modest, so I will lay the details on the line) but I am one of the oldest (in years) and one of the most busy what with writing for the website, match reports and the Arsenal Benelux magazine. So yes I do keep myself busy with this.
So when our supporters club got an invitation to come to Stabroek to represent Arsenal Benelux our president wanted to come and asked me to join him. And what a special evening it was. It was an evening where Stabroek offered a special prize for their most famous citizen: Thomas Vermaelen.
We got the invitation from the parents of Thomas Vermaelen and I would like to thank them once again for having thought of us. Don’t know if they read this but: really I appreciated it!
As I have written before on this website before Thomas Vermaelen is the Ambassador of the “Damiaanactie” (only in Flemish and French I am afraid) one of the biggest charity organisations in Belgium. It is named after Father Damiaan who went to Molokai (Hawaii – USA) to help the people in their struggle to survive leprosy. In the mean time the Damiaanactie has not only an eye for people who suffer from leprosy but also fights tuberculosis. And Vermaelen is acting as their ambassador and tries to help the Damiaanactie in raising funds.
And his community Stabroek wanted to celebrate not only this but also the fact that their “little boy” has become a great player of the mighty Arsenal. From the stories I heard there is not a living soul that supports Man United or Chelsea still alive in Stabroek. And if they can find any they will use them as the goose when the goose riders go out on the streets again.
(This last is a joke of course. They will not tear his head off while still alive. They will anesthetise him before doing this. Okay this is another joke, they will just throw them in the Schelde. Is it really written The Sheldt in English?)
(Hi – this is Tony – I didn’t get the goose bit, but I am told there is a marvel comic that deals with goose riders. But I do know my European rivers. In English the river is The Scheldt, and curiously in French the Escaut, and it dribbles along through the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The name in English comes from the Old English word for “shallow.” Now back to Walter).
Seriously, the community has organised a Thomas in Action day with all kind of activities in co-operation with the Damiaanactie to raise funds. And to give it a bit of an extra push they wanted to use this occasion to give Thomas Vermaelen a special prize known in this part of the world as “De Gulden Garve”. Never mind the name just it is something special for the community. And we were there as Arsenal Benelux but of course Untold Arsenal travelled along with me.
And after all the official moments, with Thomas having to attend a press conference, and then some waiting, we finally had out meet and greet with Thomas Vermaelen. And yes your writer has had the pleasure of talking with him. And he is just a typical Flemish boy. Very modest (we really can’t help it Tony) and I think that for him all those official awards and standing in the spotlight was not really necessary. But he did it with a smile on his face.
Always friendly, talking to all the people who wanted to talk with him. Even a former world champion in cycling and winner of the Tour de France was there. And then the people from his home town. And then people like us from Arsenal Benelux. He signed my Arsenal shirt and now that is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. How stupid for a grown up man like me, but what the heck I really keep it with me as long as I live and my brain is working in a normal way. He also signed the shirt of my son.
We talked a bit about how he was doing (which was fine) and some questions about whether he wanted to have some kind of ceremonial function in our Benelux supporters club (which he had no problem with). And of course I tried to get some answers to questions that burn on all Gooners’ lips. But Thomas knew that I am writing stuff on the internet (his mother knows this and has mentioned it when we have met) and he’s not so silly as to mention anything that would get onto Untold. So he said he knew nothing and had heard nothing. A very diplomatic answer.
We took some pictures for my own use and for the Arsenal Benelux site and who knows if Tony wants it I will put a picture in this article of me standing next to Vermaelen. (Yes please Walter – put it in another article). But I couldn’t get him that far to give me some more information about things that could happen this summer.
But however there could have been one slip of the tongue. But not the tongue of Vermaelen. No at the end of the show they showed a little film where old teammates and trainers said a few friendly and good words about Vermaelen. And one of them was Danny Blind (former Ajax captain an trainer of Vermaelen at Ajax) who said that he was sure that after this bad year now the best was yet to come for Vermaelen.
And another person was Jan Vertonghen. The current Ajax captain who by the way scored a wonderful goal on training a few days ago, just check this link http://www.voetbalkrant.com/nl/nieuws/lees/2011-05-14/wereldgoal-jan-vertonghen
And he said something that made my eyebrows raise. Because after praising Vermaelen and the good old days of them together at Ajax he said and I translate it from Flemish: “Looking forward to playing back together again”. Now this could just point at the fact of playing together for the Belgium national team. But maybe, just maybe there was something more in this message. Maybe he was talking about playing together in club football? Well who knows what will happen. But if Vertonghen hinted at playing together at Arsenal I heard his message from his own mouth on a summer evening day in Stabroek. Stabroek of all places…. The home town of the Verminator!
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