KAA Gent 3-1 Standard Liège 1 (13:08:11)
France: that's done. Now it was time to move on towards Belgium as LesEFW continued apace. Walk this way with Stuart Fuller from The Ball is Round ....
With the noise of the Les Sang et Or fans still ringing in our ears we headed away from the Stade Félix Bollaert so that we could see our second game in a day in Gent, Belgium. Not that that was something particularly special - after all we think nothing of trying to slip in one, two or even five games in a day sometimes. But it is rare you can see two games in two DIFFERENT countries in one day. Sure, it had been done before with Holland/Germany, and more recently in Sweden/Denmark but it is always a special thrill, that Danny would say "makes him do a little wee".
Timings would be tight. We had just about ninety minutes to complete the 120km trip. The difficulty would be finding the JulesOttenstadion, armed just with Google Maps on my phone. But we had a secret weapon on board. Super Hans had chosen to join us on our quest. What could go wrong with "Royal Antwerp's number one fan on board"?
The first thing you should know if you try and attempt a similar journey is do not try and find road signs in France for "Gent". Despite the fact the whole of the Western world knowing the city as Gent, or sometimes Ghent, those loveable French like to call it Gand. And so you need to follow signs for that. We found that out when SuperHans told us after we had missed the first major interchange on the motorway near Lille. Never mind I thought, as long as we are heading for Kortrijk we would be OK. Wrong again, Kortrijk is called Courtrai of course, so we missed that road too.
Eventually we found our way and passed through the Belgium border. "OK - top 10 Belgians..Go" - the game we play every time we come here, and the game we always fail to complete. Even with Hans onboard we only managed to get to seven, which is still our record. We approached Gent with thirty minutes to spare, looking like we could actually make kick off. "So Hans, where is the ground?", He didn't know of course, although he could quite easily point out the exact location of the red light district as we drove round and round in circles looking for a sign.
And the we saw one. Someone on a bike with a big KAA Gent flag. "Follow that bike!" was the shout from Mr Last. A great idea in principle but the TBIR taxi still hasn't developed powers to travel down bike lines, so we had to simply sit in a long line of traffic. Time ticked down and we knew we were close when we saw the Police water cannon parked up. So such are the resources of the Belgium police that they can roll this beauty out for multiples games each weekend, yet our Government didn't think of asking "a lend" and bringing it back on a ferry last week?
1 x enormous water cannon, tick
The crowds were out in numbers for the game. After all, the visitors Standard Liège are back in form, finishing as runners up in the Jupiler League last season and snaring the Belgium Cup. We parked up and then a brisk walk down past Voetbalstraat saw us at the ground. One job left - pick up the tickets. Now to you and I you may think that having four or five people manning the ticket office in the run up to kick off is a good idea. And actually that is what De Buffalos had, although they took the concept of having one person actually serving with four standing around chatting meaning kick off passed as we waited in line.
Finally we bagged our €25 tickets (more than we paid for the four other games on LesEFW combined I hasten to add), knowing they would be the top seats in the house. Of course they weren't. We were in the only part of the ground uncovered, with a bizarre rule that no food or drink could be taken in. Still we did get to sit behind Mr and Mrs Buffalos Fans of the day (both with badly dyed blonde hair and acne) as well as a man who makes a living as Alan Biley's lookalike (available for parties, bar mitzvahs and Portsmouth circa 1982 revival meetings)
Available for parties, bar mitzvahs and Portsmouth circa 1982 revival meetings
Remote control floodlights. Wow.
The ground was rocking. Still no score but an almost sell out. The Rouche of Liège had a fair size contingent at the far end, happily singing about their love for this part of Belgium. This is to be the last season the club play in Gentbrugge, before a move to a new stadium, called the Arteveldstadion. There was no love lost between the players on the pitch either, with the referee having ever decision called into question. After 18 minutes he bottled his first big decision of the day but not awarding Gent a penalty after a blatant foul, and then angers them even further by brandishing the "offender" the first yellow card for his retribution.
But we don't have to wait too long for the first goal. After the relatively sterile games in France this one is turning out to be a cracker. A Gent corner is not cleared well enough and Jørgensen's tame shot seems to be charmed as it swerves and curves around players legs in the area and trickles into the corner of the net. Who cares how they go in (take note Arsene Wenger) as long as they do. Alan Biley-a-like goes mad, showing the crowd his two fisted pumping salute. Another man raises his umbrella in some kind of rain dance, which of course then brings rain. He must be some kind of red indian chief with skills like that.
Standard sized away support
One becomes two a few minutes later, and this time it is a peach of a strike. Mboyo's run and cross is brilliantly met by the Dane Jørgensen again for his, and Gent's second goal. Without alcohol for nearly twelve hours the goal is enough to send Danny and Andy down to the bar, celebrating the goal with a hatful of Maes beers.
Half time brings some amusing incidents, none more so that the position of one of those outdoor pissoirs. The ones that are basically long tubes for men to, well, piss in. But place one of those next to the single ladies loo and you have an amusing sight of the females having a gander at the men's tackle then either nodding in approval or sniggering to their friends behind. We counted just the one nod to over a dozen sniggers.
Back to the action, and whilst the first few minutes were taken up with a discussion about whether we could actually make game 3 of the day at Kortrijk, Gent continued to press on the Standard goal. SuperHans was as useful as ever when asked about how long it would take us to get there, what is the ground like, and how much to get in. "I don't know" came his reply, "But I do know where their red light district is". Of course you do.
Twenty minutes in and Kanu, no relation to Kanu unless you mean that Kanu and not that one, scored for the visitors and for a few minutes there are some wobbles from the home team. But the home fans turn the noise up a notch and as if by magic Smolders hits a smoldering volley into the corner of the net to restore the two goal lead. If the temporary roof could lift off at this stage it would have done. Gent's number one fan, a man dressed in what can only be described as a "superhero costume you put together at the last minute from items of clothing at the back of the wardrobe" went mad. The man deserves a special award, not for the silk blue pantaloons, nor the white gloves worn over his blue silk shirt. Not even for the cape or bandana, but for the crisp white Y-fronts he wore outside his trousers. And who said the Belgians had no sense of humour?
Praying for a KAA Gent superhero, ladies?
The last few minutes passed without incident, apart from a second yellow for Gent's Ljubijankic. Full time brought most of the 10,739 to their feet in celebration and the players were joined on the pitch by the club's mascot, a Red Indian Chief, complete with his squaw and of course, and umbrella.
For us, the night was young and after finding our way to the hotel, via the red light district twice thanks to Han's directions we headed off into the sunset with the crazy idea of trying to drink eleven different Belgian beers, and that placing them into the Best footballing XI ever. A sensible idea at 9pm, but after a gallon of trappist ales your Carlos Alberto Parreira and Ray Stewart's do seem to blend into one.
There's one of these in it from the players if you can take a non-football related photo in Gent - Ed.
Tsk. Will this do?
....Yeeeeessssss!!! Cold beers all round. Cheers!
Next up .... we went in search of the magic of the Belgian Cup ... and found it here ..