From Yaya Toure to the verge of extinction – the fall and rise of Beveren
Emmanuel Eboué, Gilles Yapi Yapo, Romaric, Igor Lolo, Boubacar Copa, Arthur Boka, Gervinho. It’s an impressive cast list right?
And that’s before mentioning Manchester City’s matchwinner in the FA Cup semis against Manchester United, Yaya Touré. While the former Barcelona man, who has been the subject of recent controversy, now earns £180,000 a week his introduction to European football was altogether in a more humble environment. Touré, along with his aforementioned fellow alumni, first plied his trade on the continent with Belgian club KSK Beveren. Their former coach Jean-Marc Guillou founded the ASEC Mimosas football academy in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan, which proved a goldmine of talent in the West African state. The first influx of players arrived in Belgium in 2001.
Yaya Touré described his feelings as he left his homeland behind for a new life more than 3,000 miles away in a foreign continent in a television documentary on Flemish television: “My head was bowed as I sat in the aeroplane. I will never forget it. I didn’t watch the TV and I didn’t sleep either. On the six-hour flight to Paris, I asked myself, ‘when I get there, what do I have to do to succeed? what do I have to do to help my parents?’ I thought about all these things until we landed in Paris.”
The club had the idea of teaching the initial group of five Francophones some basic Dutch to help them to show respect for their surroundings. As I said, that was the idea but as you can well imagine, despite the club’s best efforts, it wasn’t easy for the young quintet. Touré recalls his attempts to pick up the local lingo saying, “It was very funny. Every time I watch the video back again, I remember how it went. The teacher had everything on the board and we had to repeat after him.” The documentary shows the teacher going through the ritual “Dit is de deur, dit is het venster, dit is de tafel, dit is een stoel, dit is een bloem, dit is een plant (This is the door, this is the window, this is the table, this is a chair, this is a flower, this is a plant) and so it went on.
However, once this glittering cast of stars departed for pastures new, the rot began to set in and the club went into what would be terminal decline as after a cup final in 2004, which led to a UEFA Cup campaign, they were relegated at the end of the 2006-07 season. Unable to find their way back into the more lucrative top division, their long-running financial troubles finally caught up with them and they were forced to drop out of the professional league last summer after finishing dead last in the Tweede Klasse. For some, it was no less than the club deserved as they had only been saved in 2002 due to the decision of the KBVB (Belgian FA) not to grant a licence to Eendracht Aalst and RWDM. And furthermore, their policy of flooding the team with Ivorians was far from universally popular.
The side from just outside Antwerpen, who had a proud history, looked like limping into extinction, which would have been a great shame. With the legendary goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, they won the Belgian Cup in 1978 before a side with several semi-professionals knocked Inter out of the Cup Winners’ Cup quarters in 1979. Later that year, they lifted their first league title. Another would follow in 1984 and Beveren were regulars in European competition through the mid-1980s. Ergo, with such a stellar tradition, they were not going to bow out with a whimper.
In the depths of despair, Beveren were thrown a lifeline. After merger talks with Jupiler Pro League outfit Sporting Lokeren broke down, the club joined together with Red Star Waasland, a side from the Tweede Klasse who, though they had finished sixth, were unable to realise their ambitions while playing at their Puyenbeke stadium. Given that the Lokeren merger broke down because Beveren insisted on playing at their 13,290 capacity Freethiel stadium, it was the perfect scenario for all concerned.
“Working together is a win-win situation for everyone. Of course there will be opponents but we will not allow them to hold us back. Waasland has ambition but we will not realise that if we stay at Puyenbeke,” Waasland’s sporting director Dirk Poppe told Sporza back in May 2010.
The news was confirmed on 19 May 2010 with Beveren being absorbed into Red Star Waasland, whose identification number (stamnummer/matricule) 4068 lived on. Fusions are quite common in Belgian football, with notable examples including Beerschot AC (a merger of Germinal Ekeren and Beerschot VAC) in Antwerpen, Zulte Waregem (Zultse VV and KSV Waregem) and reigning Belgian champions Racing Genk (Waterschei Thor and KFC Winterslag).
Given the precarious situation Beveren found themselves in, their goal was simply to avoid relegation in their first season, aiming for promotion within three. However, an outstanding start to the season saw them top of the table after ten games, earning them a “period title” and qualification for the end of season promotion play-offs between the winners of the other two periods and the winner of the Pro League relegation “play-downs”, which I assure you is nothing to do with American football.
Come the end of the campaign, Waasland-Beveren finished a very creditable fourth and took their place in the play-offs alongside Mons, Lommel and Eupen. With two matches to play, Mons led Waasland-Beveren by three points and Lommel were still in the mix as Eupen capitulated, distracted by an off the field court case against the KBVB over their failure to punish Lierse (who narrowly avoided the play-downs at Eupen’s expense) for fielding an ineligible player.
And so Waasland-Beveren played host to Mons in the penultimate match. With stoppage time approaching, the Walloon outfit led 2-1 thanks to goals from Jeremy Perbet (his 21st goal in 19 games) and Mustapha Jarju. What was to follow was the stuff of legends. Goalkeeper Michael Clepkens helped a mammoth long-throw into the net with a near-post header to equalise before Bourabia’s free-kick deep into injury time completed a never-to-be-forgotten comeback and brought Waasland-Beveren level on points with Mons. Full credit to Dirk Geeraerd, whose side displayed tremendous character and embodied the determination of their coach, himself with a point to prove after he was fired from then Pro League outfit Roeselare almost three years ago.
In the final round of fixtures, Mons swept Lommel aside, romping to a 4-0 triumph and Waasland-Beveren, buoyed by the support of over 1500 fans in Eupen, managed a 1-0 win that was more convincing than the scoreline might suggest. In order to determine who will become the 16th side to take their place in the Pro League next season, there will be a one-off test match in Tubize. With two wins and two draws in four matches, Waasland-Beveren are unbeaten in their short history against Mons and will fancy their chances although anything is possible over 90 minutes (and extra-time should we require it). If the newest professional side in Belgium pull it off, it would be quite some feat and football in the Waasland would receive an incredible jolt, which may be a far cry from the exploits of the likes of Gervinho and Yaya Touré but an achievement, which given the circumstances, will rank with any in the history of football in the Waasland.
Waasland-Beveren lost that game 2-1 but have since won promotion and now spent two seasons in the Jupiler Pro League. Bob Peeters restored his managerial reputation by taking over in November and instilling confidence and a sense of team-spirit but he has now decided to leave the club and looks set to become the new Charlton Athletic manager.