Friday, 15 April 2011

K.V. Oostende

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About K.V. Oostende * (*But Were Afraid to Ask) 

This Sunday the EFW team head to Ostend to see KVO take on Royal Antwerp. Shamefully, I knew nothing about the home team - until today. I dialed up a Belgian guy called Gerrit. Who he? Only one of the nicest most informative chaps one could ever wish to speak to. This is what he had to say.... 

KVO was founded in 1981 out of a merger of two local teams: AS Oostende (Atletische Sportvereniging Oostende, translated as Atheltic Sportsclub Oostende) and VG Oostende (Vanneste Genootschap Oostende, named after a local who was somehow involved with the foundation of the club). VGO was a slightly older club and had the matricule number 31, their colours were yellow-red and they played most of their existance in the Armenonville stadium (located besides the hospital not far from the Kontergem district of the city). AS Oostende had the matricule 53 and played most of their existence in the Albertpark (which is still the current stadium of the club) in the district of Mariakerke, back then a separate community but by now part of Oostende proper. Their colours were red-green. I am pretty sure that AS Oostende had a more socialist background, and VG a more liberal background. Back in the days when football was new in Belgium, most villages and cities (even small villages) had multiple clubs where politics divided the clubs from each other. Oostende was home to some other teams such as SK Voorwaarts Oostende and Hermes Oostende (both playing at the Mispelplein close to the airport) who later would merge to the now defunct HogerOp Oostende. These teams never played any major role and always remained in the lower amateur leagues.

AS Oostende has played in the top division for a few years. The club has also experienced many lows as well as highs. They were once relegated for match-fixing, but also the AS Oostende goalkeeper played in the Belgian national team's goal during the world cup in 1954 (even though AS Oostende was in the second division at that time !). VG Oostende's best achievement was the second level.

Derbies between both teams were often heated and kept the city in a trance. Often there was no away support: fans of both clubs did not want a single penny in the pocket of the local rival, so they refused to pay entrance tickets and spend money going to the hated rivals. That was how intense the rivalry was.

Talks of a merger first appeared during the seventies but the water was still too deep then. However, VG Oostende and AS Oostende both were in very troubled waters financially, on the brink of bankruptcy. A merger more and more became the only way out to assure professional football surviving in Oostende. The city council also supported a merger because this was realistically the only way to avoid both clubs collapsing. In 1981 the merger was realised despite heavy protests of the fans (at the wall of the VGO stadium was painted "A merger -- never !".

The new team continued with the matricule 31 of VG Oostende and in the Albertpark stadium of AS Oostende. The team started off in third division. The first seasons the merger took a while to digest. Fans of AS and VG were blaming the players from the former rival when the newly founded club did not perform well. It took a few years before the new club was really accepted, and nowadays I can safely say that the overwhelming majority of fans are former ASO fans or children of an ASO-orientated family. Because of the latter, even younger fans who never knew AS or VG as separate clubs and didn't experience the merger themselves, often still have anti-VGO or pro-ASO sentiments.

EFW hired the world's tallest man to take a snap of the Albertpark Stadium

The club had little success until Raoul Peeters took control. This coach brought the team into the second division finally in 1992 and, against all odds, the club secured a second promotion in a row a year later and immediately reached the top division for the first time. Nobody gave KVO much chance to survive but the team defied the odds and finished 7th spot. Still the best ever performance in the history of the club, and KVO was even voted as Team of the Season. The team was made up of many local boys. Goalkeeper Christophe Lycke was a fisherman before turning professional, Björn Renty was a native of neighbouring coastal town Middelkerke, there were players like Johnny Neirynck and Danny Devuyst (Neirynck worked as a hamburger servant in a local McDonald's and Devuyst since retiring from football runs a succesful tavern in Oostende) ; the only "non local input" were only a handful of players who however were very much an added value. Mike Origi of Kenya became a true KVO legend, Zbigniew Swietek of Poland scored 13 goals in his first season in the top division if I remember well (although apparently the official site says otherwise), and Janik (also of Poland) made such a huge impact that he has a few years ago been elected as best ever player to wear the KVO shirt.

The team was especially hard to beat at home and the trip to the Albertparkstadium (located just behind the seaside promenade, which made strong winds and frequent rain very common -- this made the game extra difficult for the visiting teams) and was the sensation of the top division. The KVO support, without any trace of hooliganism at that time, was welcomed all over Belgium as being amongst the most pleasant fans of the league.

The board, lead by eccentric president Eddy Vergeylen, then made a capital mistake: rather than investing in new players, they built a very expensive business seats building. This would have been a great investment if the team continued to perform like the year before. Unfortunately this didn't happen and KVO relegated back to second division, finishing second from bottom. That year we did win at Club Brugge (2-3 with an epic performance from Mike Origi) but overall we only won 5 games (cup games excluded) and only one game (a 0-0 away to Beveren) we did not let in any goals. A 7-1 defeat away to Aalst was our worst score.
Back in second division we signed a lot of expensive players such as prolific goalscorer Zlatko Arambasic (a true goal machine). We also signed very experienced coach Urbain Hasaert. It was clear that we wanted to go back to first division immediately. In the end we narrowly missed the championship title and had to play promotion playoffs. There we missed on promotion. Result: more debts.

The club was forced to sell the best players and start with low ambitions and young players to control the debts somehow. In that next season we finished halfway the table and had 17 draws out of 34 games.

The next season nobody had high expectations but the team performed much better than expected. Coach Dennis Van Wijck and his team became a huge success and we won the second division, promoting back to the top division very unexpectedly. For the last away game vs Geel we had 17 buses filled with travelling fans, a fact we would never ever repeat. The stay in the top division only lasted 1 year and we relegated again, although we did beat the famous Standard Liège 2-1 on the first day of the season. Some very famous players like Edmilson, Laurent Dauwe and Roger Lukaku played for us that year, and it was the year when the notorious Jean Marie Pfaff was coaching us for a while (a while... because his results were so poor and players complained so much about his trainings, that he was fired again later on the season).

Things went from bad to worse because back in second division, even though we reached the playoffs, it was clear there were internal struggles. The second year in the second division was a disaster. We relegated to third division and also suffered our worst ever defeat; 9-0 in Turnhout. It was also the year in which Luc Devroe, manager rather than an on-field coach, was forced to become our trainer as Leo Van der Elst was fired for bad results and there was no other viable solution than making Devroe the coach. He was terrible (although the players he had to work with were also far from good). One game was memorable: the home game versus Deinze. We were 0-2 behind when goalkeeper Bargibant was sent off with a red card. A few minutes later reserve goalkeeper Virgil De Windt was also sent off with a red card! Defender Dominique DHooghe out of necessity had to play goalkeeper for the remaining 17 minutes. In those minutes, despite being with only 9 players left and with someone in goal who never played goalkeeper before, we managed to overcome a 0-2 score and finish the game 2-2. A very spectacular game but in the end we relegated anyway.

The first season in third division wasn't success either with bad football, but we nonetheless qualified for the playoffs. We lost in the final to Hamme, 4-1. The second year the football wasn't much better, in the end we finished second and played promotion playoffs again. In that, we lost in the first round vs Leuven. However, as the champions of this year's third division, Berchem Sport, were forbidden promotion due to financial problems, we were taking their place and promoted despite not winning the playoffs.

The next year in second division was another success story. Inexperienced coach Gilbert Bodart (former goalkeeper of Standard Liège and the national team) brought together a team with limited budget but with some extremely good players from our youth academy breaking through and with some low-cost transfers proving to be a success. We reached the play-offs for promotion and won it. A home victory vs Tubize (1-0 with a fantastic goal by David Crv) sealed our ticket back into the top division (also thanks to competitor Roeselare collapsing under the stress and losing their last playoff game, which meant we leapfrogged over them at the last moment). During this season we also signed Paul Okon, former Player of the Year in Belgium and highly successful with Club Brugge, Middlesbrough and Lazio Rome, and international for Australia. To sign a player that famous was unseen before in Oostende. He came to us and said "maybe people will say I am crazy for doing this" but he did so because he wanted to be back in Belgium. With an experienced legend like Okon in the defense, we sealed promotion. Okon also remained loyal to the club during the next year in the premier division.

This did not become a success unfortunately. We relegated back to the second division and coach Bodart got sacked because he got involved in a match-fixing scandal. Apparently he had gambled on his own team losing games. The moment the club found out about these rumours and had indications it was true, the coach got fired on the spot. Despite the relegation it was a season to remember. There was legend Paul Okon in defense, there were three other Australian players (an Australian flag was hanging from the stand very often), goalkeeper Dimitri Habran was one of the most passionate players we've seen in Oostende, and best of all: we won the away game versus giants Anderlecht 0-1. Anderlecht had about 23 shots on goal but none of them went in. We had one single chance in the whole game and scored it. For a small team like KVO, beating Anderlecht away is the type of victory that will still be remembered in 15 years' time.

Ever since the relegation we've been in second division, trying to get back into the premier division. A few times we came close to playing the playoffs for promotion but missed out narrowly a couple of times. KVO did get praised for being one of the only financially healthy clubs in the division, and for playing with many local boys who have been playing for KVO since childhood. Lars Wallaeys is a good example. At the moment, about 5 or 6 first team players come out of our own youth program. However, there is a downside too as bad football and lack of good results saw the fanbase reduce in numbers, only just over 1000 die-hards stay loyal to the club while only against big teams we get a higher attendance now and then. Of course this is nothing new, I remember the year we relegated to third division that there were exactly 4 fans travelling to the away game in Heusden-Zolder: me, my father, and two friends (none of us living in Oostende at that time).

KVO's fans proudly embrace the fishermen's culture of the city, and rather than typical football songs, the fans sing old fishermen's songs (in the Ostend dialect) on the stands. Examples are "M'n Zeekapiting" ("My naval captain") and "Op de vismarkt" ("At the fish market"). Also, when KVO scores, the chorus of "Oh la la la" by TC Matic is played ; the singer of TC Matic, musical legend Arno Hintjens, is a native of Oostende and still visits pubs in his city of birth very often (he is not a football fan however and has never performed at a KVO game).

The Albertpark stadium has a capacity of about 9000. It used to have two seated stands next to each other with terracing on both ends. Now it is an all-seater in order to be ready in case of promotion (since the premier division requires a minimum of seats in order to get a license).

VG Oostende, one of both clubs that merged to form KVO, was re-founded by fans who could not accept the merger. This happened in 1982, one year only after the merger. The city council initially was against it but could not stop it. The new VGO is considered a new club though, with a new matricule. Since Armenonville was declared unsafe, the city (who own the Albertparkstadium) allowed VGO to groundshare with KVO. This lasted for almost 10 years, only a few months ago VGO moved out of Albertpark and now plays at the Mispelplein of the former defunct HogerOp Oostende (itself a merger of SK Voorwaarts and Hermes Oostende). The "new VGO" initially played in the regional amateur leagues until a local businessman started investing in the club. The club suddenly skyrocketed to the 4th national level and twice played the playoffs for promotion to the third level, only one level below KVO. Then the investor stopped the cashflow and VGO relegated back to the first regional amateur league, and then a second time in a row to the second provincial level. The new VGO has little fans but nonetheless, during their time in the Albertpark, were given one of both canteens in the stadium, the canteen where most working class KVO fans used to drink. This caused serious anger amongst KVO fans, who were already quite anti-VGO because they considered re-founding the club as a rejection of the newly formed KVO. When VGO moved into the stadium of KVO to groundshare and "stole" the beloved canteen, the hatred between KVO and VGO was going very intense again and still is today. Many KVO fans delight in the decay of the new VGO.

Rivalries exist with nearby teams such as Club Brugge, to a lesser extent Cercle Brugge, and also somewhat with KV Kortrijk and KSV Roeselare (all teams from the same province as KVO).

KVO at some point had a co-operation with Glasgow Celtic, who promised to send some promising talented players to Oostende to let them get experience in our team. I don't think they ever sent a single player for more than a few training days though. A co-operation with RC Lens of the French league never really got realised neither.

KVO fans do maintain friendship ties with Czech hockey club Pardubice (this is because one of KVO's long term fans lived there for a short while and kept in touch with his friends) ; he travels to the Czech Republic several times a year for hockey games (and lots of beer) and once a year a group of Czechs came to Oostende for a game. I think this tradition is still going although I am not entirely sure. One of the Czechs who travelled to KVO when I was still in Belgium was a girl named Zuzana, the most beautiful face and eyes I've ever seen in a football stadium. We lost that game 3-1 to Dessel Sport but all I can remember of that game was that face and those eyes. At some point some Danish tourists who spent a holiday at the Belgian coast attended a game and used the internet to stay updated about the club, I am unaware if they ever returned for a second game but they were surely making such plans. A friendship with AS Eupen (on the whole other edge of the country, Eupen lies near the German border and is a German-speaking club) developed last season. Some KVO fans travelled the nearly 400 km to Eupen a few times to support them in their (succesful) attempt to promote to the top division, and a group of Eupen fans have attended a few KVO games in second division the past year. A banner "Oostende Eupen United" could be seen behind the goal.

KVO is proud to host one of the most respected and best organised youth tournaments in Belgium, organised every Easter. The club's tournament has attracted participation of some top clubs from France, Holland and Germany. The tournament is so well respected that the Dutch giants Ajax agreed to play a friendly game in Oostende as a thankyou for letting their youth teams participate in the tournament. Unfortunately the mayor of Oostende forbid the game for security reasons when he found out a quite large group of Ajax fans were planning to travel from Amsterdam to Oostende for this game. For a club with not much cash like us, a friendly against Ajax could have been a sold-out stadium and lots of media attention, so let's just say the mayor of the city robbed KVO of a unique chance (but in Oostende, basketball has been the sport supported by the local city council ... the basketball club of Oostende is amongst the best in Belgium. This is very nice, but the consequence is that the city council prefers financially supporting the basketball club rather than investing in improving the football team)

KVO has about 6 official fan clubs. Most are in Oostende itself, with two being far out of the city: one based in Veurne near the French border, and one based in the province of Oost-Vlaanderen (with Ghent as capital city). A banner "KVO Fans Gent" can be seen often during games. We also have some fans living in the Vilvoorde-Mechelen area, but they have no organised fan club. The officially recognised fan clubs together form a supporters foundation who have frequent meetings to plan actions to promote atmosphere in the stadium and attract people to the games. The KVO fans overall are very friendly, the number of hooligans was simply zero during most of our existence, which made us very welcome at other clubs. Only in more recent years have a few fans misbehaved, but they have been sanctioned by the club. Overall, we still have one of the best behaved fanbases, although the number of fans sadly enough has decreased due to poor level of play and bad results for a few years. The club is however more or less debt-free, and is one of the only clubs in second division without financial problems. Its youth program is very good and about half of the team is made up of players from our own youth ranks.

EFW will be at K.V. Oostende v Royal Antwerp this Sunday

- Feel free to comment below - 


M.O.B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M.O.B. said...

A decent and correct history report, but the author forgot about the hooligan firm in the beginning of the nineties: the first season KV Oostende was in the top division, FC Bruges was shit and as a pretty large part of their firm consisted of lads living in Ostend & Bredene (a somewhat notorious town 5 miles towards the Dutch border), those 5O to 100 guys between 18 (my age at the time) & 35 decided to visit more KV Oostende games than before, especially when the Antwerp, Anderlecht, Antwerp & Beerschot firms came to town. A few of the lads even played in the KV Oostende youth ranks.

Other firms used to be surprised when arriving at the ground: "What's the Bruges firm doing here?"

Gerrit said...

Hmmm, Beerschot were on the brink of collapse in lower divisions, we didn't encounter them that often. The Bruges game was always a bit heated but in general .... I remember games against Cercle, Waregem, Standard, Germinal Ekeren, Aalst, ... where I accidently ended up in the wrong end. Not a single bit of tension. Hooliganism was the exception rather than the reason. Stewards and bus combi rules only were introduced over the years, the first years I attended games we often even did not have separate areas for the different sets of fans. Those were the days ... Just a relaxed game of football with no worries whatsoever.