Sunday, 4 September 2011

RSC Anderlecht v Bursaspor

Like a greasy chip butty?

RSC Anderlecht 2-2 Bursaspor (25:08:11)
Europa League Play Off 2nd Leg, Constant Vanden Stock Stadium

Sheffield United fan and Editor of 'A United View on Football', Ian Rands fills up our senses, like a gallon of magnet....

My work often takes me on my travels, usually the UK, but currently I am rolling out a project across our international offices. They are usually flying visits, there and back in a day, or an overnight stay at most. The only upside being a brief bit of sight-seeing and a chance to sample the local beer, assuming it is an over- nighter.

The early trips have been through the summer. Warsaw provided a brief distant look at the new National Stadium. Amsterdam provided nothing more than a nosey in the ground of third tier club Amsterdamsche, whilst walking to my hotel. A trip to Brussels and a quick glance at fixtures provided a much better alternative; RSC Anderlecht v Bursaspor in the Europa League - 4th Qualifying Round (Play Offs). It was a nicely poised tie, with RSCA 2-1 up from the first leg in Turkey.

My first job was buying a ticket. Looking at the RSCA website it looked reasonably simple to order tickets online, until 10 days before they announced that, for security reasons, they were only selling in person at the ticket office. A quick email to the ticket office to explain my predicament led to a response that tickets would be on sale until 12:30 on matchday. I looked at my Eurostar booking - 2:00pm arrival. Gah!

Not one to write off a potential match and preferring not to spend my evening on my own admiring the Mannequin Pis, I decided to email all staff in our Brussels and Antwerp offices to see if anyone could get me a ticket. Not sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised when I received 5 (five) offers of help and another from a lawyer stating that he couldn't help with the ticket conundrum, but was more than happy to meet up to talk football on my visit.

This left me with a difficult decision, so many runners and riders, which horse to back? I decided to go with the first offer from Jeroen (our tax partner in Brussels) and it paid off with a top price ticket ( €24) in Tribune 1 confirmed the Thursday before. Result.

The day of the game saw me head down to London from Sheffield, before picking up the Eurostar to Brussels. On arrival at my firm's office my ticket was waiting at reception and I went up to thank Jeroen for sorting out the ticket. He was a busy man. With unexpected client issues to resolve he said that, although he had a ticket himself, he wasn't sure whether he was going to make the match. Our prolonged chat on RSCA, Lukaku, the latest crop of talented Belgians in the Premier League (Fellaini, Kompany, Dembele) and the last great Belgian team past (Scifo, Vercauteren et al) wouldn't have helped his cause.

After meetings in the office I crossed Avenue Louise, checked in to my hotel, got changed and headed to the Louisa metro station. Several stops and a change of train later I was at Station St Guidon and emerging into what appeared to be a built up, residential area. Following purple shirted fans, I turned right up a hill trudging onwards until the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium appeared, hidden away amongst shops, bars and flats.
Walking through a police cordon closing the road I entered what is best described as an Anderlecht fanzone. Bars with outdoor stalls constantly pouring plastic cups of Jupiler for the throngs, numerous burger and hotdog vans, fans smothering everything and anything in curry ketchup and two large Buses (like the American school buses) converted into souvenir stalls.

In the zone. The RSC Anderlect fanzone

€6 later and a Jupiler in one hand and a hotdog in the other I wandered around taking in the sights, sounds and smells. I was later told it was quieter than normal as it wasn't a sell-out. On that basis, it must be great on a league matchday. The only downside I could see was that the beer cups were small, the measures short and heads were large (thanks to hurried pouring). They wouldn't have been accepted in the Sheaf Inn, Bramall Lane  -"as tha gorra flake for that".

The souvenir buses were great. Looking through the window at a piece of chipboard containing 1960's football badges for a whole host of top flight teams and Brighton (Mr Last would approve), but sadly no Blades badge. I paid a trip to the official shop with a few more beers to follow and then I went into the ground in a vain search for a programme (only for league games apparently).

As the beers had passed through rather quickly, I paid a trip to the rather exposed and basic Urinoirs just inside the entrance. They reminded me of the Bramall Lane Kop toilets circa 1982, although the Belgian toilets did at least have a roof and an absence of green vegetation growing up the walls. I then walked up four flights of a dingy concrete stairwell, stopping to read a pledge of love from a RSCA fan to former players Par Zetterburg and Olivier Doll, before entering the seated area.

Just popping in here for a Mannequin Pis #Urinoirs

The stadium itself is a two tier concrete bowl, seated on all four sides, but with standing areas on the lower tier behind the goal. The stadium was re-built to its current state in 1983 and with the standing areas not used or temporarily seated for European games, the 28,000 capacity is reduced. The club has considered several options to increase capacity in recent years. At one time a new build stadium was on the agenda. They now appear to have settled on adding a third tier to the stadium in the next 2-3 years. Sat in the left hand section of Tribune 1 I had a great view of most of the pitch, however the steepness of the rake meant seeing incidents on the near touchline was at times difficult.

With about ten minutes to kick off, the partially full stadium was still generating a great noise. A small pocket of Anderlecht fans in the "standing area" behind the goal to my left banging away on their drums and waving their flags, urged on by the exhortations and tunes of the PA announcer. To my right, a couple of hundred Bursaspor fans huddled in the near corner of the Upper tier, fervently supporting their team but struggling to be heard.

In fact the only time they were heard was during a minute's silence, marking the death of the son of Anderlecht's new signing Dieumerci Mbokani, when they kicked in with a noisy song. Although to be fair I think they only responded to the home support breaking the silence to sing a song of support for Mbokani. The boos immediately rang around the stadium and drowned the Turkish fans out again.

As kick off approached I received a tap on the shoulder. "Are you Jeroen's colleague? He is going to be late I am Anton". Introductions made I now had people to share my thoughts on the match with; Anton, Geert, Maxim, Anneleen and Steven. I say share thoughts, the fare on offer led to plenty of shakes of the head and raised eyebrows.

The match itself was a scrappy affair, with neither team able to maintain a decent spell of possession and both frequently handing the ball back to the opposition. Both teams paid the price for having played few competitive games prior. For Bursaspor the delay to the Turkish season due to the match fixing scandal meant that they had played just three European matches prior to this; a two legged victory over Gomel of Belarus and the first leg of this tie in Bursa.

I only wanted to see you bathing in the purple and white...

Mr Rands is spot on in his attire as usual

Anderlecht had played 4 league games as well as the first leg, winning two, drawing one and one defeat, displaying the kind of form that had seen this once great name of European football finish 5th in the Jupiler League last season and saw them in a similar position going into this game. Their situation not helped by the sale of  Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea and the loss of several injured players, including new signing Ronald Vargas.

Poor defending down the flanks let in Bursaspor for an early opener, headed home by Bahadir. Play flowed from end to end, the stand out players being the Argentinian pair of  Biglia and Suarez for Anderlecht, who created the best chances. Despite this, the Anderlecht equaliser came from central defender Juhasz, who gave former England keeper Scott Carson no chance with a downward header.

Half time arrived, as did my colleague Jeroen, and a round of beers were purchased, supplying me with a new drink cup for work. Anderlecht branded glass – Tick!

Putting the 'Royal' in 'Sporting Club Anderlecht'

It is a cliché, but the next goal was vital, an Anderlecht goal would surely make things comfortable, a Bursaspor goal and it was all square overall and on away goals. Tension around the ground was eased early in the second half, as Bursaspor failed to bring the ball out of defence and Carson could only parry a shot into the path of Milan Jovanovic who slotted home.

Again Bursaspor pressed, yet again more slack marking let in Stepanov for another headed goal and Bursaspor knew another would be enough to take them through on away goals. The pressure mounted and all around me heads were in hands as there was a feeling on inevitability that the Purple & Whites would pay the price for not finishing the game off. Even Geert, a Cercle Brugge fan, was showing some anxiety.

Fan frustrations were becoming more vocal. Having admired the ineptitude of the Anderlecht striker Tom De Sutter throughout the first half, he will forever be known to me as “Rubbish”, as that is all Jeroen ever said when he kicked the ball during the second half. Substitute Kanu got what can only be described as a mixed reception on taking the field and, as defending became more frantic and ball retention less consistent, emotions were running high.  However, as much as Bursaspor pressed they lacked any kind of cutting edge and the final whistle brought relief around the stadium. The Anderlecht taking acclaim from all sides of the ground, as Carnival de Paris blared out of the PA.

On leaving the ground I was about to head off for the Metro, when Jeroen said we should go and see if anyone had stayed for a beer. They had. So the seven of us stood outside a bar,  opposite the stadium, drinking Jupiler and enthusiastically discussing English football, Belgian football and the qualities of our respective national teams. Annalene also got me a couple of copies of the Mons programme from the previous weekend, to make up for the absence of a programme that night. It was a nice touch.
Eventually there were just three of us left; Anton, Geert and myself. With the street sweepers creating mountains of plastic cups, the bars emptying of people and work the next morning, we departed. Geert directed me back to St Guidon station and I tottered back to the hotel. A 1 a.m. finish was not the way I planned to end the day, especially with an important presentation to deliver the next day, but it was the result of an enjoyable football watching experience and good company.

Although it is still early days, the Jupiler League looks to be a competitive one this season. Going into the international break Anderlecht are in 8th place - just 2 points of top spot. With players to return, they will certainly be challenging for the title but so will many others; Standard, Genk, Club Brugge, to name three. I would really recommend taking any opportunity you have to take in a game, as much for the pre and post match atmosphere as the football itself. I suspect that you will see a tight, hard fought game.

My top price ticket in the main stand for a Europa League game cost less than the lowest price ticket available for the Bolton Wanderers v Manchester City match I had attended the previous Sunday and, although the match lacked the same quality, the match-day experience was much better.

The cost was also not much more than a ticket to watch my team Sheffield United in League One action back home, but I have to admit that on a weekly basis; greasy chip butties trump hotdogs, I prefer a gallon of Magnet to multiple cups of Jupiler and anything Tom De Sutter can do, I am sure Chris Porter can do worse.

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The Greasy Chip Butty song sung by Blades fans is the greatest football song of all time, fact.

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