Lower league football: Untold goes worldwide

By Walter Broeckx

Regular readers know that whenever there is no Arsenal match Tony and Drew try to visit a lower league ground and have a look at football over there.

This time Untold is treating you with a novelty again. A look at lower league football …on the continent. So here we have it the first Untold lower league visit to football in Belgium.

To start with football in Belgium is divided in national wide football and then you have the regional leagues divided in each province. As I live in the province of Antwerp I visited of course a match from that region. It was a game from the 3rd division between FC Merksem – Oosthoven.  Merksem are currently 3rd in the league 14 points behind the leader with 9 matches to go. In Arsenal terms a world wide crisis would be on the cards.

But Merksem still have a chance to go up if they can qualify for the play offs at the end of the season. And they have any chance of doing this as long as they keep this 3rd place.

On to the match. They play in a very typical surrounding. Merksem is part of the city of Antwerp and their ground is set up between the Albert Canal, the big ring way round Antwerp and a rather poorer part of Antwerp with lots of old factories many of them old and empty. So not really a high quality surrounding. It is visible when you look at the accommodation.

Ref putting the wall at the right distance

The ref puts the wall on the right distance

But recently things have improved. Their old club house  dated from around 1920 I think has just been replaced by a new wooden club house where you can stand up when you are bigger than 1,80m. Before that you had to duck your head almost all the time.

They have a little area that has a roof and where you can stand when it rains. And on that stand you even have a few seats. I guess that is for the prawn sandwich brigade. But non where there on the day I visited them. It’s also not really helpful that the seats have been placed at the back so if you would go to sit there you will only see the back to the people standing in front of you. Really smart.

On to the match. Merksem dominated the proceedings on the bad pitch. Lots of bumps and the ball was bouncing around like a a pinball players now knowing where it will go too. As the home team and being used to it Merksem guessed better where the ball would end up.

They had a few chances but the Oosthoven keeper managed to make some good saves and was rescued by the woodwork on two occasions. But finally Merksem managed to make the break through and scored the 1-0. Fully deserved.  And things got even better when a few minutes later the keeper brought down an attacker going past him.

A yellow card and a penalty for Arsenal was the correct verdict of a good referee. Merksem scored and the 2-0 wasthe right score line at that moment.

Everyone preparing for the penalty

Getting ready for the penalty to make it 2-0

Final highlight of the first half was when a break was on for the visitors and the ref trying to start a run backwards and because of a hole in the pitch he lost his balance. He made a perfect tumble  backwards and he landed back on his feet and could continue to follow the attack.  The supporters really could appreciate it and it was the talking point when the supporters went in to the clubhouse at half time.

At half time I went in to the brand new clubhouse. Got a hot chocolate (it was rather cold). No pies or things like that in Belgium football grounds. When you are lucky you can get a hot dog or a hamburger.  Bratwurst is very rare but it can be found at some grounds.  Price for drinks was around 2euro. Food usually around 3 to 4 euro.

The Main Stand

A view on the ‘main stand’ capacity around 40 people

The posh seats. All 8 of them

The posh seats for the prawn sandwich people. They were not there


The second half the match was still very much under control of the home team but they failed to score another goal that would have put the game out of reach of the visitors. Half way the second half the visitors then scored and suddenly the game became all nervous. The home team suddenly not that sure any more of their win and the visitors suddenly getting hope.

What followed was some 20 minutes of football with both teams putting all their effort in to it. One team defending the lead the other trying to get a point. The ref and his assistants kept their head cool and made sure that tempers didn’t get too high. Calming things down in a great way and calling the fouls when it was needed, giving some great advantages and coming back in a great way when the advantage wasn’t a real advantage.

Final whistle all going home

All going home satisfied

The final score remained at 2-0 and the home supporters went in to the clubhouse in a satisfied way. The visitors could accept their defeat.  And for the others like me it was a nice entertaining match.  Some 200 people attended the match and that is a decent crowd for football at this level in Belgium.

13 Replies to “Lower league football: Untold goes worldwide”

  1. Walter, thanks a good antidote to the Arsenal weekend but shouldn’t the final score have been 2-1 as you said the visitors halved the lead?

  2. Andrew:
    There is ‘maths’ and there is ‘Belgian maths’
    There is Belgian chocolate and chips. Yummy, yummy!

  3. Hardly worth attending for only a lukewarm chocolate drink. I would have looked for the nearest warm restaurant and a plate of chips, followed by chocolates and hot coffee.

  4. And then to think Nicky that I still am waiting in anticipation of Tony will accept my receipt note for the costs I made. 😉
    Oh the ways we Untold reporters have to go sometimes… and the costs… 🙂

    So Tony is off to Spain….he is off with the money I think.

  5. Andrew I think they put something in my chocolate .. it tasted so funny…

    The correct score was 2-1…

  6. Enjoyed the report and the photos. A glimpse into a different world! Maybe some of the premier league refs could take a few lessons from this one!

  7. loving the conservatory chairs Walter, thanks. Looks like lower league on the continent is like lower league at home (but we NEVER get bratwurst!)

  8. Nice ,Walter , were there any AAAA types there ?
    You know , those who pay ‘good’ money to boo their team !
    Not even sure why I asked !

  9. @Walter, and to think we entrust you with ref analysis and you can’t get the scoreline right.

    Oxford Utd are having a good season in League Two. Unbeaten away from home after 14 away games. If only the home record was so exemplary they’d be top of their league.

  10. In lower league football in Belgium (well in Antwerp it is don’t know for the rest of the country) the habit that the home club offers a little bit to the visitors officials in the form of a gateau or cake and offer them coffee and tea at half time.

    So that is maybe why the chairs were not taken as I took the picture at half time. Taking the pictures got me a few strange looks. I could see them thinking: what is this guy doing? But people in Flanders mind their own business and don’t ask questions at strangers. Little did they know that I was going to give them and their clubs world wide coverage 🙂

  11. And another anecdote about this club. I have had the ‘pleasure’ of doing a few games on that ground myself when I was working on my career in the early days and when driving my kids around in their early referee career (two sons as a ref).
    The old club house and dressing rooms were made out of concrete panels. A very common used and cheap building material to build garden sheds. No isolation so freaking cold in the winter.
    The dressing room for the refs was funny. The roof went down towards one side so you could hardly stand upright at one end. And as it was only about 1,5 meter wide and just 4 meters long (including the shower) you hardly could be in the room with 3 refs at all. We joked that we all had to make the same moves to not bump in to each other all the time.

    But the old shed has been replaced now and at least you sit warm and comfortable now and even the refs have a spacious changing room now.

  12. I know about the score line… I could have changed it in the article but nobody is perfect. Not even me and myself… 😉

  13. @Walter,
    I nearly choked on my croissant and coffee this morning, on reading about the referees moving in glorious unison to avoid the dangers of a peculiarly shaped dressing room.
    They should have transformed their movements, with music, into a lucrative stage show.

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