By Walter Broeckx.
Editor’s note: if you are squeemish, or a very deep and sincere believer in animals’ rights, this may not be the article for you. Especially at lunch time.
Ever since Vermaelen set foot on English soil some fans noticed that he had a very sharp look in his eyes. Eyes that can kill. When he is on the field he looks at everyone with this look on his face as if he was ready to tear your head off if you tried to pass him or score a goal.
In fact this is his football look because also in interviews he always has that same look on his face. The look of a man on a mission. A man who is looking ahead of him and looking for his target to snap it in the neck.
But when you see him off the field and when he is not involved in football things he is more relaxed. But there is always a bit of a serious expression on his face.
When people describe Flemish people they usually say we are hard working, but we also like to enjoy live, like to laugh and like to drink and have a party with friends and family. We really are a mixture between the Dutch mentality but we also have been under French and Spanish occupation so much in our history we have introduced some kind of enjoying live the southern way in ourselves.
So Vermaelen is a bit different when you see him on the field. I’m sure he will be enjoying himself when he is wearing the Arsenal shirt but together with putting the shirt on he becomes the Verminator and his look becomes deadly.
But is there a reason for this look that he wants to grab you by the throat? Well there is one and it is all down to his origins. And if you want to know why he has this look on his face, I will take you all the way to a few little towns next to Antwerp.
Antwerp is the main port of Flanders. In Antwerp they say they are the main port of Europe as they like to see things big over there. But Antwerp is the most important city of Belgium when you talk of import and export, employment and I could carry on a bit. When things are going well in the port of Antwerp the economy in Belgium is doing good.
Anyway Vermaelen spent his youth in Stabroek. In Flanders when we speak of Stabroek we call them a “polderdorp”. The second part ‘dorp” can be translated as village. And the word “polder” is a low-lying tract of land enclosed by embankments know as dikes, that forms an artificial hydrological entity, meaning it has no connection with outside water other than through manually operated devices. I confess I found this explanation on the internet. And in fact there are 6 of those villages situated north of Antwerp who are called “polderdorp”.
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Stabroek itself is a village that reaches until the northern docks and factories from the port of Antwerp. If you stand in Stabroek you can see the port and the cranes from the harbour facilities and you can smell the industrial plants that bring work to the region. In fact there is just a highway (from Antwerp to Rotterdam) and a few fields between the village of Stabroek and the port of Antwerp.
The people from Stabroek in particular are known as hard workers, and many of them do or did the hard work in the harbour. The loading and offloading of ships and they are used to hard work and hard live. And I must say that I can detect something of that character in the way Vermaelen plays.
But in those “polder villages” there is a special kind of behaviour that hardly anyone knows outside the villages. Not that it is a secret but it is something that is, as far as I know, only done in those villages. It is some kind of sport. In Dutch it is called “ganzenrijden” and if I have to translate this it should sound like “goose drive” or “goose riding”. It may sound a bit funny but I can tell you that in times long ago it wasn’t fun for the goose involved.
Goose riding is a tournament between the polder villages where on Sunday afternoon inhabitants come together to the market square and hang a goose upside down on a gallows and try to pull off its head. Until 1926 they used a live goose but as civilisation even reached those parts of the world around that time, since then they first kill the goose before trying to pull its head off.
They also put grease on the head of the goose to make it slippery because otherwise it would be to easy.
Now in the goose riding season, (it really is called that), there is a competition in each town and the one who snatches the head is declared the king of the goose riders in that village. And they are crowned like a real king. And after that the king and his fans go to the pubs and celebrate the event in style. It all depends on what you call style off course.
It is a competition that is being held in 6 villages. And it attracts a few thousand people.
And there is what you could call a play-off, where the best representatives of each village have a last contest and the winner then is called the “emperor”. That day the supporters come to the contest with their horses, in their traditional clothes, in their own colours. They bring their own marching bands with them and as much beer as possible.
Then the participants start to ride and they will continue to do this till the head comes off.
It sometimes takes hours before the head comes off the goose. So it really is a good thing the goose is dead before the contest starts. And the contest only stops when the head is in the hands of the king or the emperor.
And after that there is a big party where the winners celebrate victory and the losers drink because they have to live with another year of being told that the emperor is from another town.
So I think that the way Vermaelen is looking on a football field is the look that the goose riders have when they come storming to the gallows to tear the head off from the goose. I think many opponent on the field has got goose bumps from his look and rightly so, he could tear their head off if he wants, after all he is from Stabroek.
And for those who think that I have been telling you some nonsense in the style of Billy the Dog I can only advise you to type in google the word “ganzenrijden” and explore the wonderful world were Vermaelen is coming from.