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By Walter Broeckx
It was the year 1970. As a 9 year old boy my father took me and my brother to the football stadium.
A lively and vibrating “Rooi Stadium” was there to see our local (then second division) club play the semi final of the Belgium cup. 16.000, a full house, created an unseen atmosphere in the stadium. Our local second division team drew 1-1 against Daring. They lost in the replay.
That day I fell in love with football and my local team Berchem Sport. But loving a football team is a one way love. Your beloved team is an unfaithful lover. As they tend to lose games and hurt your feelings. But once a supporter, you stick with your love no matter what happens.
Apart from my love for Arsenal which came later (I was 17 at the time) I first became a supporter of Berchem Sport a team from Antwerp.
And now, back in the present day, as I currently have an inflammation in my knee (over trained…) I can’t do my own games for the moment. And so last weekend I went together with my brother Eric to see our local team Berchem Sport. They won 4-1 and are top of their league and we are almost half way through the championship. So dreams of climbing up in the ranks are back in the most friendly club of the city of Antwerp.
It is a remarkable club; in fact as we are a bit like Fulham: we have won nothing at the highest level. We were 3 times in a row runners up in the league (once with as many points as the champions Anderlecht) and 2 cup semi finals. But for the rest of the time we just went up and down from first division to second and back and then the most painful drop to what you could call the conference level some 10 years ago. So being top of the league has restored some pride to the local supporters of the smallest big club in Antwerp.
Our old stadium dates from 1930 and is still looking a bit as it was in those early years. And we also have a special stand. I think most football grounds in the world have a sitting area and a standing area. And you could also mention if they are covered or not.
In Dutch they have the names “zittribune” (stand with seats) and “staantribune” (stand where you just stand on your feet – the terraces). But yesterday I have seen that in our old nostalgic stadium we must have something that is some kind of world exclusive. Because we also have a “fiets tribune”. (fiets=bike in English) And this is a stand where mostly older people take their bike in the stadium and park it at the top of the “staantribune” and then stand in front of their bikes to watch the game. And some even sit on their bikes while watching. Oh there is room enough these days to do such a thing. The 16.000 crowds of 1970 have gone.
Another special thing about my local team is the fact that we were the first team in Belgium at the end of the sixties and early seventies to have something like an organised “spionkop”. I think I have seen somewhere that what Liverpool call their Kop-end was first used by Woolwich Arsenal at the Manor Ground, but I’m not going to walk this path as I don’t know enough about those little things from our history. But we had our own flag and this is still to be seen in each game and carried with a lot of pride by Jef (you cannot find a more typical Flemish name). This spionkop is still there and this Jef who is now 74 years old and one of the founding father of this spionkop all those years ago and he is still the one that starts the signing and shouting. A remarkable guy in fact.
In Belgium terms we have a lot of supporters for a (current) 4th division team. Around 750-1000 for a home game. And almost all our away games our travelling supporters outnumber the home fans. The other teams love us just for the fact that we bring people and of course money to their clubs. In fact we still feel that we are a first division team that just is playing their games in the lower leagues.
Another special event is the winning ceremony after each game. After the game the players applaud the fans and then start walking over to the spionkop area of the stand.
The players form a semi-circle in front of the spionkop on the old Athletic track. The captain then receives the flag from Jef and holds it low to the ground and then a silence enters this normally loud end of the stand. And then he starts his yell that goes like this : “zigge zagge zigge zagge barechoem”. First whispering it and then the players join him and he uses the flag to indicate how loud we should shout. The higher the flag, the louder the shout until the flag is completely erected and all the players and supporters in the stand who have gathered in front of the players jump up and down shouting as loud as can be. (zigge zagge is just meaningless but barechoem is the way the name Berchem is pronounced in the local dialect)
It is a great moment of togetherness for the players and the supporters. And I think very unique in the world also. If you follow this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzJxTtiU5r8 or this link http://www.youtube.com/user/stamnummer28 you can see images of our team who won a periodic title a few weeks ago and where you can see a little part of the ceremony. In the 4th division in Belgium you have a mini league within the league and the team that has the most points in 10 games has the right to play the play offs at the end of the season to go up together with the overall champion. We won the first title and if you take a look at the (sorry in Dutch) website http://www.berchem-sport.com/index.html you can see that we are still top of the league for the moment. (Look for Klassement)
Our nickname is “de leeuwen” (Lions). A bit of a hint at the fact that our club was founded by Flemish people and using the official Flemish colours and flag with a lion on it as a non official flag. And the fact that we think we always fight like lions on the pitch. The slogan of our club that is used to describe us is “the most sympathetic club in the city” and I could be biased but we sure are the nicest of them all. The other two big clubs in Antwerp (Antwerp and Beerschot) have a reputation of hooligans and fighting and riots. As we have never had any kind of troubles with our fans apart from shouting abuse against the ref. Oh and isn’t this something we all do at times and when he fully deserves it?
And after some experiences with presidents who turned out to be not what they said they were we went bankrupt in 2004. And this after winning the league title in the third division with a team that could challenge for the title in the second division without any problem. But the bills didn’t get paid any more, the players left, and the dream of us going back to the top disappeared. Since then the club and their presidents (we change them like every few years) have vowed to keep us financially on the right track. I really hope they do. The people who saved our club in 2004 deserve all the credit but for the fans it was a very desperate time to go through. And I think this is one of the reasons I am such a big fan of the current way the Arsenal board and management behave in a very responsible way. Believe me you don’t want to go through such a period of uncertainty and fear.
We had quite a few of well known internationals in our history. Names who will mean nothing to people from outside Belgium. But the name Ludo Coeck should be known a bit. He came in our first team in the year 1972 as a 16 year old was sold to Anderlecht a few months later, became an international, and later he went to play for Inter Milan until he got killed in a car crash on the highway between Antwerp and Brussels at the age of 30. Since then the name of the stadium has been changed from “Het Rooi” to “Ludo Coeck Stadium”. There is a special site to remember this great player over here http://www.berchem-sport.com/ludocoeck/index.html
Other interesting names (for refs) is the fact that former Dutch Fifa top referee Dick Jol played for us in his playing days. And maybe the most famous and well known name of all our players in our history only played a few months for us and this was Dick Advocaat, the former coach of the Dutch team and current Russian team, who played for Berchem in the last days of his career and had a short and rather unsuccessful spell with us.
PS : I was just imagining RVP with an Arsenal flag in the centre circle with 55.000 fans in the stands and then all doing this Berchem winning ceremony… would be very impressive.
If you have a local team that means something to you, aside from supporting Arsenal, we’d love to hear your story. Email it as a Word file, attached to an email to Tony.Attwood@AISA.org
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