“Let’s get it on”. 7.20am Sunday 17th April 2011. I was waiting outside East Croydon station for an Englishman, a Scotsman and a quasi-Spanishman. We were heading east to the Kent coast and further. Our purpose was of course football – why would it be anything else? Not just any old football either. Whilst England looked forward to the mouth-watering Bolton Wanderers versus Stoke City in the FA Cup Semi-Final, we were all over the Belgium EXQI League.
Sixty miles up the coast from Day Trip mecca Calais is the Belgium coastal town of Ostend. Or Oostend, even Oostende depending on how lazy you are when you type. Once home to the Belgium royal family when they wanted a knees up by the seaside, and a host venue for the 1920 Olympics when they hosted the sailing events on behalf of Antwerp down the road. Today it is fading a bit like Margate, unable to compete with the cheap package destinations of the Costa del Sol and the Algarve. But for a few hours it would be like paradise for us as we were here to see KV Oostende host Royal Antwerp.
I had been to the town twice, both times in transit to Bruges (or Brugge depending what day of the week it is). Once during Euro2000 when a group of us had used the now defunct Sea Cat from Dover to come over for the epic Yugoslavia v Spain game, and then on a Fuller-break when we flew from Stansted. Amazingly Ryanair actually launched this route and kept it open for nearly a year. Flight time? Approximately 23 minutes which I believe was their shortest ever route which meant that it was far too close a destination of interest to be viable.
As I was researching this piece I did a search on “famous” people who had lived in the town. I was gobsmacked to see the name Marvin Gaye on the list. Surely not THE Marvin Gaye, but as I looked into it my jaw dropped in amazement. It was the one and the same. Gaye wrote “Sexual Healing” while at the village Moere, near Ostend. His friend and attorney, Curtis Shaw later said that Gaye’s Moere period was “the best thing that ever happened to Marvin.” The now-famous video of “Sexual Healing” was shot at the Casino-Kursaal in Ostend. Now is that not the best fact of the day? At this point I should just stop typing and put my feet up. But I am a professional and I can see you crave details of the whole trip so I will carry on for the sake of my art.
As the crow flies, TBIR Towers is 121 miles from the Albertparkstadion in Ostend. Less than a trip down to Dorchester or Weston-Super-Mare. And with good conversation, clear motorways and some Marvin on the radio we were there within a couple of hours of leaving East Croydon. Our first port of call was to meet up with our Belgium advance party who had secured our tickets. This was the hottest gig in town and the normal 1,600 average attendance at the Albertparkstadion was due to be boosted thanks to the travelling support of Royal Antwerp, who are the Millwall of Belgium football, although we certainly like them.
The trip from East Croydon was textbook. Even time for FGR Phil to indulge in the biggest breakfast bap known to man. Imagine your biggest bellybusting full English breakfast you can, and then cram it into a bun. The lad deserves an Olympic Gold for eating it all without one spillage. We were waved through passport control with the knowing air of French ignorance – “off you go Englishmen, go and buy all the tobacco and beer you can. It’s not our problem when you get stopped later”. As if we would be thinking of filling up the TBIRmobile with its ample boot with such things!
Before I was able to get through the quiz questions I had prepared for the chaps we were disembarking and I had the foot to the metal as we cruised along the E40. Now just one mile over the border into Belgium is a strange little place. Adinkerke, to give it its proper name, but it is probably just called Tobaccoville to the rest of Europe. It is here that day trippers head to fill up their cars with tobacco products. All English interests are catered for here. A pub, a chocolate shop and a brothel. Well, it had Amsterdam style windows, offered “special day trippers rates” and its address was number 69 in the road – don’t shoot me if I am wrong but the evidence suggests otherwise. We stopped to pick up some chocolate for our respective partners, some 5litre barrels of Maes Beer and a pouch or two of tobacco for Dave. Nothing else at all. And if anyone did ask, then we were all one family and nobody had given us anything else. Wink icon to be inserted here.
Forty five minutes later after negotiating the one way system from hell and being distracted by a statue of a large lady laying naked in a fountain (No wonder Marvin got all excited here) we found the ground. Well, it wasn’t hard really. We just followed the lines of police riot vans, did a left at the water cannon and parked next to the tanks. We had scheduled in some time for a beer by the seafront so headed into a bar that had teddy bears hanging from the ceiling, playing loud Europop of course (shockingly no Marvin Gaye on the jukebox). We waved as the Royal Antwerp coaches drove past – they weren’t allowed such dangerous things as the sea air or even a beer as it was far too dangerous according to the Mayor of Oostende.
The ground itself is was a marvellous little place. All different stands cobbled together, some new (including one that had rows of cinema seats behind glass – in fact it could have actually been a cinema with the film being projected onto the glass whilst we thought they were just watching the football!), some old like the away end. All existing side by side with a shopping complex, as you do. And the nets? I do not think you will see a finer set of nets this season. None of your string squares – oh no. These were nylon hexagons if you please.
KV Oostende 1 Royal Antwerp 3 – Albertparkstadion – Sunday 17th April 2011
The game was unofficially kicked off by Miss Belgium 2011 (Coast) and her blonde friend in the same sort of US Baseball style where someone relatively famous tries to throw the first pitch. Now I am not picking holes in the seriousness of this but the first kick definitely went backwards and should have been taken again, perhaps with a penalty of them losing some clothes…stop it now Stuart!
The game itself was actually a corker. Whilst the standard may not have been Premier League, and the heat obviously sapped a bit of energy, both teams played with the ball on the floor and attacked from the first whistle. Antwerp came into the game with a bit of form behind them (as we saw a few weeks ago here) and it was no surprise when they took the lead after Niels Martin slammed the ball home from close range. One became two in the 40th minute when Kevin Oris smashed home a penalty after Xavier Luissint had fouled the Antwerp player.
Half time was the perfect opportunity to stock up on a few more items from the club shop. KV Oostende handsoap anyone? Or a tea set? Perfect for the royal wedding day. And lo and behold who did we bump into? None other than Miss Belgium 2011 (Coast) that is who! She was only took pleased to pose for pictures, obviously being used to such a duty being officially the best looking girl on the Belgium coast, in 2011, who entered the competition.
The second half saw Danny and Dave positioned behind one goal, whilst Phil and I took the half way line. We checked behind us just to make sure there were no “embarrassing signs” unlike Danny and David who managed to stand in front of a huge TWAT sign. I’m not going to pass any comment at this stage but when Danny dropped his beer Homer Simpson style, a chorus of “Ha ha” could be heard from the stand behind.
The home side pushed forward and were rewarded with a penalty of their own. Expertly dispatched by Samy Houri and expertly filmed by Danny here. We had a game on our hands…well all for a minute as Antwerp went up the other end and Ori’s volley from close range 45 seconds later killed the game.
A hugely enjoyable afternoon all around. Now it was time to head home. Or was it. We had discovered that Club Brugge were playing Lokeren in the Championship play off at 8.30pm. It was less than 10 miles away. None of us had to be at work on Monday morning so could we? Should we? The rules of an EFW state that you should be away for at least one night. But sense ruled in the end. By delaying our trip we would forfeit our return Eurotunnel crossing and have to pay a few hundred to get back. It was bound to be nil nil anyway (and it was). So we headed back to Calais, via a visit to their new ground of course (in the name of research for a future trip) before being whisked onto our awaiting train just in time to miss 606.
As I walked through the door of TBIR towers at 8.15pm CMF asked if I had had a good time. It would have been rude not to have answered in any other way:-
“Babe, It was hot just like an oven
Avenue 69 had some lovin’
And baby they sold tobacco and much stronger
We met Miss Belgium Coast 2011 she had longer…
Legs than Danny”
I’ll get my coat..
More photos from the trip can be found here.
For the European Football Weekends version head over to here.