The story of the stadia in the Jupiler Pro League
The quality of the Jupiler Pro League on the field has picked up in recent seasons. Players such as De Bruyne, Benteke and Mignolet have taken to more illustrious and demanding leagues abroad like ducks to water, which is good for the reputation of the Pro League as a springboard for talented young players, in much the same way as the Eredivisie is. However, the Belgian FA must now oversee a similar, if not more radical improvement off the field in terms of the infrastructure of Belgium’s (top) clubs. Along with the format of the league, it’s the biggest problem facing Belgian football at this moment in time.
The traditional big three – Anderlecht, Standard and Club Brugge still play in stadia with capacities ranging from 20-30k. Club Brugge and Anderlecht have long felt held back by their current stadia but unfortunately for them, the local authorities can’t find an agreement with both clubs. In Antwerpen they were lucky to have a mayor who wanted to invest in a new stadium but neither Beerschot nor Royal Antwerp wanted to play in the proposed new stadium. Maybe Beerschot and Vanoppen will change their minds if they go down. The KBVB will have to lobby at federal, regional and local level to see if they can find a solution. Finding investors or money to build the stadia is not the problem – it’s a lack of political will.
Why are bigger stadia so important for Belgium clubs? First of all, they will generate much more income in ticket receipts alone and will bring in more money through more sponsorship, catering, corporate boxes and the club shop. It is also fair to say that if clubs do the hard yards off the pitch, their fortunes on the pitch will improve in the medium – long term.
Let’s hope that the new stadium of KAA Gent is the start of a new era concerning the stadia in Belgium. The club from Oost-Vlaanderen will play in their new temple from next season. It took a long time before they started building the Arteveldestadion but thanks to a good relationship between KAA Gent and the city (local mayor Daniël Termont) they managed to pull off one of the toughest projects to succeed in Belgium. The Arteveldestadion will have a capacity of around 20,000, considerably more than the current Jules Ottenstadion and allow De Buffalo’s to increase their budget from €18m to €25m. No wonder Michel Louwagie was beaming with pride when he led the media on a tour recently.
Euro 2000 was a magnificently organised tournament but looking back in hindsight, it was a missed opportunity to upgrade the stadia on the scale that Portugal did four years later. A smaller and poorer country than Belgium, albeit with a slightly more lop-sided league, they managed to construct some impressive footballing arenas in Lisbon and Porto for the Euro 2004 with the Estadio Jose Alvarade, Estadio da Luz and the Dragao all imposing and spectacular venues in their own right. The failure of the BeNeLux countries to win the right to host World Cup 2018 was a major blow though the prospect of hosting some Euro 2020 fixtures in Europe’s capital Brussels is sure to focus minds.
You can follow the development of KAA Gent’s new stadium at http://www.ourfuturestartshere.be/