A Lille bit of Leuven

Two games, one day, two countries?  No problems at all for the Daggers Diary team.

In each of the last two years, Dagenham Dan, Neil and I have ventured into Northern Europe for a weekend of football. Over the last two years, we have managed to attend games in four different countries, or like last year, we attended four top flight games in Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

This year though, we weren’t sure if we would be able to do the trip. Neil had taken a new job, which meant that holidays might be difficult. Added to that was a lot going on at our respective workplaces (as well as cost) and our February trip was eventually, and reluctantly cancelled.

Well it was until a couple of weeks ago. Dan sent round an email about resurrecting the trip over the regulation three days, and had managed to get five games into the time allowed. While none of us really had the cash to spend, we each reckoned that we could do it, but at a push. Eventually, sense prevailed and once again we had to abandon the idea of three days away. But a one day trip? Well, that might work, and so it is how we find ourselves on the Eurostar from Folkestone bound for Calais at 8am on a Sunday morning, before a couple of hours drive to Leuven in Belgium for our first game on our european day out.

With our normal three day trip postponed until later in the year, it meant that we could attend our own clubs games on Saturday. Dan and I suffered as Plymouth won 2-1 at Victoria Road, while Neil was at Brentford to watch Wolves win 3-0.

Of course, no trip can be truly incident free, but those that we have been on before have generally gone well, with maybe one minor mishap. This time, we had a real winner. Having arrived at Folkestone, we were waiting for Neil to arrive at the arranged time of 7am. We all stocked up on drinks and chocolate from the shop, Neil filled up the fuel tank of his car upon arrival and we moved back to the main car park in preparation of our journey. Then the bomb dropped; Neil had forgotten his passport. With our train crossing at 8.20, and with Neil living at least an hour away, it looked as though we were scuppered before we had even left the country. Dan was on the phone to Eurotunnel trying to rearrange our crossing, but the offices didn’t open until 8am, so out came the iPad. Neil was apologetic, and reckoned we should press on without him, but we do these things as a group, and we weren’t about to go without him. So Neil went back home to retrieve e errant document while Dan (having successfully sorted out our train to France) and I stayed in the service station.

It’s a strange feeling, being in a service station ridiculously early on a Sunday morning. It’s almost like a portal between the sleeping world and the awake one, with neither quite sure how to behave until one takes the lead. As we reach our intended (but now delayed) departure time, the services are starting to come alive.

Sunday 23rd February 2014, O.H. Leuven v Club Brugge

Once Neil had returned, we immediately headed toward the train terminal. Having rearranged our train for a later time, we were fortunate enough to basically just drive straight on to a train and after thinking that we might have troubles, we were on our way to Leuven. The two hour drive to Leuven is passed quite quickly, through the fields and towns of Northern France.

We arrive in Leuven about an hour or so before kick off, but parking the car becomes a problem. The park that we used last year for our visit is permit only for today’s game, so it means that we have to trawl the surrounding streets for somewhere to park. It takes another fifteen minutes before we finally find a space and are able to finally head towards the ground.

Dan has already arranged the tickets, and so he heads towards the ticket office to collect them. This takes all of about thirty seconds, and he reappears clutching the envelope containing the all important documents. We enter the stadium at the nearest entrance, and make our way round to the covered terrace.

On paper, this appears to be a bit of a mismatch. Leuven are second from bottom, while club Brugge are near to the top of the division. The teams line up and there are still people coming into the stadium. Anyone missing the kick off though, would probably have missed the opening goal. Barely thirty seconds have been played, and Brugge go in front; with the first effort on goal, a slow-motion shot from Meunier rolls past the home goalkeeper and the noisy start from the home fans is somewhat silenced.

Leuven respond well, and get a foothold in the game but don’t really pressure the visiting defence. It all has the impression of a cup tie, with the lower league team at home; there is plenty of effort, but not enough ability to actually punish the opposition.

That impression is reinforced after twenty minutes. This time, Leuven are the architects of their own downfall, with slack defending allowing the impressive Rafaelov loads of time on the edge of the area to pick his spot and plant the ball past the goalkeeper.

At the interval, Club Brugge are still two up, but within fifteen minutes of the second half they extend their lead to four; the second was a fantastic strike by De Sutter which had me asking Dan if that was the game over and done with.

To be honest, Leuven had not looked like they could get back into the game and at 0-4, it looked like it would be a bit of a procession for the remaining thirty minutes. Then, with twenty minutes left, Leuven score what looks like it will be a consolation; a shot from the edge of the areas diverted into the net by Kostovski and the noise levels, impressive despite the ever worsening score line is raised again.

The introduction of Ruytinx has given the Brugge defence someone else to think about, as he is putting in a performance that has shaken them out of their comfort zone. I think abrasive is about the best description, and they clearly don’t like it.

If Leuven have any hopes of making the score look that little bit more respectable, then they have to get at least one more goal, and this is what they do. The Brugge goalkeeper goes walkies and is beaten to a flighted free kick by Reynaud, with the ball ending up in the net. Cue more home celebrations, another airing for the home club anthem, Sweet Caroline, and now the comeback could be on.

The home side are certainly in the ascendancy and have more chances, and go close, but it is from a Leuven near miss that Brugge break and will score their fifth goal. This sucks the last signs of life from the home team, and the last ten minutes are played out with Brugge maintaining the majority of possession.

The three minutes added on pass without incident, and the orange clad referee eventually brings the game to an end, with Brugge running out winners by 5-2. As games go, this has been quite good, and a decent sized crowd can’t fail to have been entertained. There is warm applause for the home teams effort, but in the end, it is another defeat that they can ill afford if they are to remain in the top flight of Belgian football.

The short walk back to the car park is taken up with mention of our next game, and the journey that awaits us. We are on our way within a few minutes, and as we rejoin the motorway, the sat nav points in the direction of France, and the Grand Stade in Lille.

Sunday 23rd February 2014, LOSC Lille v Ol.Lyonnais

As we get to Lille, the sky is darkening, but we have arrived about two and a half hours before kick off, leaving us plenty of time to find our way round. Dan dives out of the car to go the stadium to retrieve not only our tickets, but also the parking permit for the game.

The stadium looks impressive from a distance, with one side lit up with led lighting, extolling the virtues of the arena, plus plugging the game tonight. As we feast on kebab meat and chips outside the ground, we can only look forward and hope that it will be half as good as our earlier game.

Not that it actually gets anywhere being as good as Leuven. While we were sitting in the service station at Folkestone waiting for Neil to return with his passport, Dan and I were speculating on the score for this one, for his bet. Both of us have poor records in games on French soil; I had seen five goals in six games (three of which were penalties) while Dan had seven in seven games. Add to this both teams lack of goals in the league season so far, and our prediction was that it would finish 0-0.

This is how the game finished. Lille were probably the better team in the first half, and shaded the second, but in truth, this was a game that really didn’t stir any kind of excitement. I know that I was tired as it had been a long day by the time this kicked off, but I was trying really hard in the second half not to fall asleep.

Perhaps the kindest thing to say was that the two teams were more evenly matched than they were in Belgium, but in truth, if I had been watching this one on tv at home, I probably would have turned it off by half time. Although there are a couple of efforts cleared from the goal line, the game just seems to lack that little spark that makes it come alive.

As we walk away from the stadium, heading in the direction of the car park, Neil resolves not to attend a French league game again. Ever. In this life or the next. He even states that if we ever do venture back for a French league game, he would prefer to go shopping. Perhaps it is the tiredness talking, but as we start to drive away, and back to Calais, it might be some time before we sample the delights of Ligue 1 again.

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