KV Oostende v KV Mechelen
Albertparkstadion / Jupiler Pro League / 16th August 2014
So yes, we had a rather fun, drunken evening with the Club Brugge fans the night before, but we had our second Belgian football game to experience on the Saturday. For our second day in Belgium we had decided to head to the Belgium city of Oostende – located on the Belgium coastline around 27km from Bruges and just 15-20 minutes on the train from Bruges train station.
Me and Gibbo awoke reasonably early in our Bruges hotel, purchased some croissants just below Sint-Salvatorskathedraal and then made the 10-15 minute walk winding around the pleasant cobbled streets and canals of Bruges towards the train station. After a bit of flirty chat with the young, Belgian lady behind the counter serving our tickets, we were en route to Oostende.
Our hotel manager in Bruges, Hilke, had described the city of Oostende as a ‘shithole’ but from the reviews of people I had spoken to back home who had visited the city, I was confident we would enjoy ourselves.
We arrived at the station and were greeted by signs shouting at us #loveoostende and judging from the huge yachts in the harbour, I was sure that this was going to be a pleasant city. Oostende is very much Belgium’s main and largest seaside city and having wandered the harbour for 10 minutes we formed a very positive impression of the place.
We followed the harbour around until we eventually found the beach and the seaside proper. It was a slightly breezy day, but in general the sun was out and it was a good day to be by the sea with tourists roaming the promenade and many making their way down the long walkway heading out into the sea.
Me and Gibbo weren’t really in the mood for sunbathing, but we did make our way down to the sea to take a few snaps and then we headed back up to the town itself. We were in Oostende early as I was keen to watch my beloved Swansea take on Manchester United on TV somewhere in the early afternoon with the game kicking off at 13:45 (local time). We had been informed of a sports bar called Madison Sports Arena, which we found simply enough, but it was sadly closed on our arrival just after midday. The place was draped in signs saying it showed Premier League football though, so I was hopeful if we arrived back a little later in the early afternoon, we would find the game being shown.
Unsurprisingly for a seaside town, there was a strong smell of seafood in the air and so we followed the scent down through Oostende’s busy shopping street, which was jam-packed on this early Saturday afternoon. We zig-zagged our way through the side streets and through the various side squares until we found ourselves back near the area not far from the train station and directly next to Sint Petrus-en-Pauluskerk (Church of St. Peter and St. Paul). The church really is stunning and comparable to any structure that we witnessed in Bruges the day before. We felt its beauty was so exceptional that it was worth having a beer in the bar directly opposite from it.
Jupiler beer drunk, we headed back up the side streets of the town and back towards the seaside and, more importantly, the sports bar. I still felt it was too early to head to the bar showing the Swans game, so I diverted us into Café Botteltje – a great decision that would prove to be. It turned out the bar is famous for his huge selection of beers (300+ beers and 50 Belgian gins) which became a problem as we were unsure which beer to choose. For no apparent reason other than the fancy little bird on the bottle, I opted for Ara bier, whilst Gibbo went for the more brilliantly named Kwak. In fairness, for showmanship, Gibbo had selected better with his beer coming in a glass that slightly resembled a huge test tube with a wooden holder to drink it from. Both beers packed a punch with them both being 9-10% strong and I did worry for us lasting the whole day, considering it was still only 1pm.
With strong beer drunk, I raced around the corner to the Madison Sports Arena (the sports bar) to ensure they were showing the Swans v United and as I ran in in my new Swans shirt shouting, “Are you showing the Swans game?!” I was delighted when the barman said casually, “Of course”. We had our base for the day. The bar was fairly empty and unsurprisingly I was the only Swans fan to be seen with the table behind us seemingly rooting for United. However, as the game got underway and the bar filled up, it seemed that more people were backing the Swans. So when the Swans took the lead, I ran around like a maniac with 90% of the bar also cheering.
We were soon joined in the bar by KV Mechelen fans Gorik and Kevin. Mechelen were KV Oostende’s opponents for today and Gorik and Kevin were great company for the afternoon; more importantly, they were cheering on Swansea with me. It seemed the bar was beginning to take on more of a pro-Swansea feel and it soon became clear why: we hadn’t realised that the place was home to a Liverpool supporters’ club. Obviously. Anyway, things took a bad turn when United equalised and then Gorik inadvertently smashed my glass and spilled my beer, an act he apologised repeatedly for, before buying me a new beer and then still continuing to say “sorry” profusely, whilst I tried to explain it was really no problem.
By now, me and Gibbo were enjoying a lovely shared lunch of cheese and salami, a delicassy which would become a favourite of ours over the weekend. Things were about to get even better too. My dear Gylfi Sigurdsson scored to put Swansea 2-1 up and this would eventually prove the winner. It is safe to say I was ecstatic and more of Oostende’s local beer was ordered to celebrate Swansea’s glorious victory at Old Trafford.
The Mechelen fans were having an organised barbecue near Oostende’s ground, so we said our goodbyes to Gorik and Kevin and we continued to drink in the sports bar.
“Did the Swans win in the end?!” said an excited Welsh accent bursting through the door. I informed my fellow compatriot that they did indeed and then queried what another Welshman was doing on the Belgian coast. It turned out my fellow countryman, Gareth, had a partner who lived in Belgium. However, there was another coincidence to our meeting. Under 24 hours before I had claimed to Gibbo that you always meet people from my hometown of Merthyr Tydifl wherever you go, Gareth proved my theory correct as it transpired that Gareth’s Dad was from Quakers Yard – the very village I was raised in. A small world indeed.
Many hours had now been spent in the sports bar, so we decided to head back onto the promenade and check out the bars there. We ended up in Cafe Leopold (not much to report there) and then I received a message from our Oostende contact. Fanatic groundhoppper Peter Miles, who visits Belgium for football fairly regularly, had put us in touch with Oostende local Anthony. Anthony was kind enough to buy us tickets for the Oostende v Mechelen games, as he lives around the corner from Oostende’s ground. Our helpful Belgium friend was working in a nearby hotel until 5pm, but as we headed beyond 5pm we made our way down the promenade to meet him, keeping an eye out for his burgundy shirt. Eventually we spotted him head down the promenade, but he had obviously not spotted us as he sailed past us. Onwards down the promenade we went past the elegant looking pillared buildings that lined the promenade, until Anthony eventually turned around and spotted us.
We chatted to Anthony as we made our way down the promenade towards Oostende’s ground and having repeatedly stated how much I loved Club Brugge the day before, I soon learned that wasn’t going to impress Anthony as it turned out he is an Anderlecht fan – Club’s biggest rivals. Oops. It seems he had even got into a bit of bother at KV Oostende v Anderlecht just a week or so earlier, but we’ll leave that story aside (it involves a headbutt).
Past the racecourse we went and then around the base of BC Oostende, the city’s successful basketball and who I believe are the current national champions (I think).
Soon we were outside the Albertparkstadion, KV Oostende’s home, and Anthony led us around to the far side to pick up the tickets he had put aside for us in the ticket office. Brilliantly, our tickets cost €10 each as the club were having a ‘tourist day’; this essentially meant that if you lived more than 20km away from the ground, which I’m fairly sure Manchester is, you got cheap tickets and strangely enough tickets for the horse racing on Monday, which we sadly wouldn’t be around for. Although to get the cheap tickets it took Anthony going to the tourist office a few days earlier, a decent bike ride from his house, to get tourist passes for us; another top effort and an act we very much appreciated. We found ourselves outside the ticket office as the Mechelen players were rolling into the ground and after Anthony pointed out a few names to us, we ended up having a photo with their club captain, Seth De Witte.
Anthony then promised to take us to a bar that he described as ‘old school’ and this bar was found just 5 minutes around the corner from the ground. The place was brimming with the red, green and yellow of KV Oostende and it did make us wonder how many other clubs in Europe share such colours. We introduced ourselves to the Oostende fans who were more than happy to pose for photos with us whilst we had our first Stella Artois of our Belgian footballing weekend. After a couple of beers and having visited the weird toilets (made strange by the odd curtain thing you had to walk through to get into them) we said our goodbyes to Anthony and headed around the corner to the ground.
KV Oostende originated in 1904 with the birth of VG Oostende. 7 years later, AS Oostende would arrive on the scene and they would go onto to be the most successful team in the city with them regularly playing in the second division. By 1974 AS had made it to the top-tier and eventually VG and AS merged in 1981 to create KV Oostende. VG played in yellow and red and AS red and green, which also explains the slightly unusual colour combination of the modern day Oostende club with the merged club taking on all three colours. Originally the games between VG and AS were very fierce, so much so that away fans were refused entry to each other’s games, so there were inevitably protests against the two clubs merging at first. However, financial turmoil at each club led to both clubs realising they could probably do with helping each other.
KVO’s home Albertparkstadion is a 9,000 seater stadium with it now being fully seated since the club arrived in the top flight in 2013. The ground itself is a bit of a mish-mash of different stands with the stand we were seated in, in the corner of the ground, being a quite recent installment, so that the ground could reach the required seating capacity to play in the Pro League. To our right was a another seating stand (although most fans stood) and it was here where the more vocal Oostende fans were housed. On the opposite side of the pitch to us was a strange sort of three-stands-in-one with two smaller stands flanking a large stand in the middle – although just larger in size, seat capacity looked fairly small (although this may have been because there was some seating behind the large glass window). Behind the far goal stands a sheltered standing terrace and this was where the KV Mechelen fans were housed on this pleasant evening in Oostende.
With kick-off looming, I headed to the main stand to our left, where around the back of it I found the a collection of food vendors and a small club shop, where I purchased myself a KV Oostende scarf; probably the nicest feeling scarf I own. Then inside the stand itself was the large bar area and I purchased two small Maes beers (priced just over €2) to take up into the stand.
We completed a bit of a wander of the stands and then headed back to our seats ready for the kick-off, after enjoying the cheerleaders of course.
KV Oostende were the better team in the first half and had a few chances to take the lead, but failed to take them. Me and Gibbo were particularly impressed with the Oostende left-back Jordan Lukaku, brother of Everton’s Romelu Lukaku.
The closest Oostende would come to scoring was through their striker Elimane Coulibaly, who’s shot was cleared off the line in front of 6547 fans in Albertparkstadion today.
Half-time: KV Oostende v KV Mechelen.
I headed back around to the bar at half-time and brilliantly found an Oostende fan wearing a retro Manchester United shirt and one of those old school United ‘Sharp’ jackets. I couldn’t resist taking off my hoody to unveil my Swansea shirt underneath to him; the shirt seemed to put the fear of god into him as he looked appalled with the sight of United’s conquerors from earlier that day.
With some Maes in hand and with the sun now setting around the buildings behind the away stand, I headed back up to the stand for the second half. KV Mechelen now looked more threatening, but the game was still struggling to really come to life. I had not seen a 0-0 since the start of the season and I was starting to think that my first 0-0 of 2014/2015 was on the cards here.
I looked to have avoided a 0-0 when Sofiane Hanni finished from close range right in front of the Mechelen fans, after Oostende keeper Dider Ovano saved Glenn Claes’ original shot. As the Mechelen fans celebrated wildly, the linesman placed his flag in the air to rule out the goal.
A goal for the home team would come in the 69th minute when Niels De Schetter scored with a free header from a freekick and 4 minutes later it was 2-0, this time with Bjorn Ruytinx firing in a left-footed drive inside the box. There was little action after that and the game looked over with that 2nd goal.
Full-time: KV Oostende 2 – 0 KV Mecehelen.
We made our way back around the ground and towards the promenade, as Gibbo decided it was a much more scenic route back to the station rather cutting through the town. It was a good call as we strolled down the promenade back to the station with Jupiler cans in hand and with plenty of time to catch the 23:12 back to Bruges.
This was our last night in Bruges, so we decided to hit the town on arriving back there. We ended up in a small, busy square just off Marktplatz drinking with Bruges-based Englishman and Arsenal fan Steve, who seemed genuinely blown away by the fact that we had travelled to Belgium to watch football. Steve then told me that he did magic and asked for my Swansea shirt. Stupidly, in my inebriated state, I handed over my new Swans shirt to him (he was probably drunker than us) and as soon as I saw him put his cigarette towards my shirt I went to scream out in horror. Amazingly, as he pressed the cigarette into my shirt, it disappeared without leaving a mark on my shirt. Buy that man a drink! It really was a strange way to finish what had been a great day in northern Belgium.
Despite, Hilke’s claims the day before that Oostende is a ‘shithole’, I felt he was wrong. Yes, it is definitely not as strikingly beautiful as Bruges, but I don’t think many places are. With Oostende you get yourself a great, little seaside city with a nice beach, plenty of decent bars and high street full of shops if you are into that sort of thing. Think a classier, more Beligum version of Blackpool.
The promenade also offers a great walk to the city’s football ground. It may not be the grandest football ground you’ll ever visit, but it is certainly quirky enough and certainly worth a visit. Plus, you can really see all of Bruges within 1-2 days easy, so Oostende is definitely worth heading along to vary things up. #loveoostende
Highlights: plenty of bars, the superb Café Botteltje, watching the Swans win in Madison Sports Bar with the Mechelen lot, the promenade, cheap tickets (cheers Anthony!), nice, little ground.
Low Points: not that great a game, shame there’s no standing terrace in the home end.
See all my photos from our visit to Ostende and Albertparkstadion here.
Also, make sure to check out Gibbo’s site, Gibbo’s 92, for his upcoming report on our day in Bruges here.