Football in Belgium
Football, a sport which has been played in Belgium since the end of the 19th century, is that country's most popular sport. The national association was founded in 1895 with the intention of bringing some order and organization to the sport. The first match of the national team was played on May 1, 1904 (3-3 against France).
The teams with the highest average attendances during the 2012-2013 season were:
|1||Club Brugge KV||25 502||max. 28 152|
|2||Standard de Liège||22 225||max. 30 023|
|3||RSC Anderlecht||21 100||max. 24 000|
|4||KRC Genk||19 954||max. 21 468|
- 1 National style
- 2 Clubs
- 3 Football in Belgium by province
- 4 League system
- 5 European Competitions
- 6 Football outside of the Belgian FA
- 7 Indoor football
- 8 Women's football
- 9 References
- 10 External Links
Both the national football team and the top Belgium division have a reputation for physical play. This came as a result of a lack of technically skilled foreign players allowed to play in Belgium due to legal restrictions. This changed after the Bosman ruling which forced the liberalization of the football player market in Europe. In response, Belgian clubs began to buy unknown players from Eastern Europe, South America and Africa. This had two contradictory consequences. On the one hand, the national team was weakened by the reduced opportunity for native Belgium players to gain a spot on domestic teams. On the other hand, the Jupiler League reinforced its status as an entry league for players who then move on to some of the greatest European clubs.
Indeed, some of the most talented players in Europe have played in Belgian clubs: Yaya Touré, Jean-Pierre Papin, Daniel Amokachi, Antolín Alcaraz and David Rozehnal were discovered at Club Brugge; Sunday Oliseh and Victor Ikpeba at RFC Liégeois; Jan Koller, Nii Lamptey and Aruna Dindane at R.S.C. Anderlecht; and Mido at K.A.A. Gent.
Others to have started or launched their careers in Belgium include Emmanuel Eboue, Romaric, Gervinho, Didier Zokora, Arthur Boka, Ivica Dragutinovic, Mario Stanic, Morten Olsen, Dorinel Munteanu, André Cruz, Seol Ki-Hyeon, Kennet Andersson, Klas Ingesson, Aaron Mokoena, Michaël Ciani, Nicolas Pareja, Oguchi Onyewu, Rabiu Afolabi, Cheick Tioté, Peter Odemwingie, Joseph Yobo, Ouwo Moussa Maazou, Milan Jovanović, Ognjen Vukojević, Ivan Perišić, Nikica Jelavić, Demba Ba, Dante, Bryan Ruiz, Gervinho and Rob Rensenbrink.
Because of the physical nature of Belgian football, it has tended to primarily produce talented defensive players. These include Jean-Marie Pfaff, Eric Gerets, Leo Clijsters, Michel Preud'homme, Georges Grün, Philippe Albert, Franky Van Der Elst, Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen. In comparison, only few attacking Belgian footballers have received international recognition: Enzo Scifo, Jan Ceulemans, Marc Degryse, Luc Nilis, Emile Mpenza.
Now this is slowly starting to change with Belgium producing talents such as Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Mousa Dembélé, Christian Benteke, Kevin Mirallas, Marouane Fellaini, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and many more.
With football's rapid growth in popularity in the late 19th century, several football clubs came into existence in Belgium. The first to register with the national association was R. Antwerp F.C.. They were subsequently assigned the matricule number 1 when the Royal Belgian Football Association gave a matricule number to each registered club in November 1926, by order of registration. Many matricule numbers no longer exist due to clubs ceasing to exist or merging with another club. When two (or more) clubs merge, they must choose which matricule number to keep. The new club begins the championship at the level where the former club with the same matricule number should have begun the season. Typically they choose the one with the most honours. However, it has often occurred that a club with multiple championship titles have to merge with another less successful club in order to survive. In this case, the club with financial problems has to take the matricule number of the other club, and the honours are lost with the merger. For instance, when the 7 times champion Antwerp-based club K Beerschot VAC was struggling with financial difficulties in the third division in the late 1990s, they merged with then first division neighbour club KFC Germinal Ekeren to survive. The new club named KFC Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen started in the first division with the matricule number of KFC Germinal Ekeren, losing the honours of K Beerschot VAC, but keeping their installations and their purple shirt. Another famous example is that of 5 times champion Daring Club de Bruxelles merger with RR White into R White Daring Molenbeek in 1973.
The first few matricule numbers are:
- R. Antwerp F.C..
- Daring Club de Bruxelles (no longer active)
- Club Brugge
- R.F.C. Liégeois
- R. Léopold Uccle Forestoise
- Racing Club de Bruxelles
- K.A.A. Gent
- R.C.S. Verviétois
- R. Dolhain F.C.
- R. Union Saint-Gilloise
For a more complete list, see List of football clubs in Belgium.
A Belgian club's name usually includes the name of the town where the club plays as well as a prefix and/or suffix. Since Belgians speak three languages, French and Dutch being the main ones and German being the third official language, Belgian teams may use either language as the basis for their names. For historical reasons, many Flemish clubs changed their names from French to Dutch between the beginning of the 20th century and the late 1960s. Additionally, many clubs have experienced frequent name changes. Reasons for these include a language change, a merger, an anniversary, etc. Because of the numerous mergers between Belgian clubs, team names sometimes combine several town names (such as K. Beringen-Heusden-Zolder or Sporting West Ingelmunster-Harelbeke) which reflect mergers. In recent history clubs representing immigrant communities have come into existence and sometimes use names that are in neither of Belgium's official languages (the now defunct clubs Türkgucun Ozburun and Türkiyemspor Zaventem, or the still existing Agrupacion Oviedo-Asturiana from Brussels being examples).
Finally, a team which exists for at least 50 years may add the prefix Royal to its name (either in English or in the team's language). Before 1958, this right was given to any team that celebrated its 25th year of existence. Between 1958 and 1968, the rule was changed to grant the title to any team with at least 35 years of existence. Since 1968, the time limit has increased to 50 years.
The following is a partial list of common prefixes and suffixes in Belgium's two main languages.
|Royal||Royale (R.)||Koninklijke (K.)|
|Athletic Association||Association Athlétique (A.A.)||Atletieke Associatie (A.A.)|
|Sport Association||Association Sportive (A.S.)||Sportvereniging (S.V.)|
|Sport Circle||Cercle Sportif (C.S.)||Sportkring (S.K.)|
|Excelsior||Excelsior (E.)||Excelsior (E.)|
|Football Club||Football Club (F.C.)||Voetbalklub (V.K.)
or Voetbalclub (V.C.)
|Sport Club||Sporting Club (S.C.)||Sporting Club or
Sport Club (S.C.)
|Racing Club||Racing Club (R.C.)||Racing Club (R.C.)|
|Football Association||Association Football (A.F.)||Voetbal Vereniging (V.V.)|
|Royal Society||Société Royale (S.R.)||Koninklijke Maatschappij (K.M.)|
|Athletic Club||Athletic Club (A.C.)||Atletiek Club (A.C.)|
- UEFA Champions' League:
- Club Brugge (1978)
- Cup Winners' Cup:
- UEFA Cup:
- Inter-Cities Fairs Cup:
- R.S.C. Anderlecht (1970)
- European Supercup:
Football in Belgium by province
Under the first four levels in the league system, the competition is organized by province, with the notable exception of the Brabant that comprises clubs from the provinces of Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and the Brussels Capital Region.
As of 2012/13, four clubs from West Flanders play in the First Division (Cercle and Club Brugge, KV Kortrijk and Zulte-Waregem) and two clubs play in the Second Division (Oostende and Roeselare).
Bruges is currently the only city in Belgium with two teams in the top flight.
Three clubs from East Flanders are currently play in the Pro League (AA Gent, Lokeren and Waasland-Beveren), three other clubs ply their trade in the Second Division (Eendracht Aalst, Oudenaarde and Sint-Niklaas)
The province of Antwerp has an old tradition of football. The first Belgian clubs were established in the city of Antwerp (Antwerp Lyon's Club, A.S. Anvers-Borgerhout, and most notably Royal Antwerp FC, which is the country's oldest club and which is affectionately referred to as the Great Old by its supporters and the media). Royal Antwerp currently plays in the Second Division, as do provincial rivals Westerlo and Dessel Sport.
Technically speaking Brussels is not a province but rather an autonomous administrative (sub-)urban region within the province of Flemish Brabant. Only one club from Brussels are currently active plays in the Pro League (Anderlecht, the country's most successful club to date).
The first ever Belgian League Championship was made up out of 7 teams, 4 of which were based in Brussels: Racing Club, Léopold Club Uccle, Sporting Club and Union d'Ixelles. Léopold Club was a club for the nobility and bourgeoisie in Brussels and is still active after no less than 4 mergers between 1982 and 2001 (they are currently playing in the Fourth Division). The latter two clubs ceased to exist in 1897 and 1901 respectively and were replaced by a new Brussels-based club (R. Union Saint-Gilloise), which would become a dominant force in Belgian football during the following seasons, winning 7 titles between 1903 and 1913. The club originally shared a rivalry with Racing Club and later Daring Club, who would go on and win the title in 1912. Later, Anderlecht became their biggest rival for city-wide bragging rights.
After World War I, Belgian football was dominated by clubs from Antwerp and Bruges. From the early 1930s however, Union and Daring divided 5 titles amongst themselves. The rivalry between the two clubs has inspired a stage play named 'Bossemans et Coppenolle' (Bossemans was the name of the Union head coach, Coppenolle his counterpart at Daring). Shortly after World War II, Anderlecht replaced Union and Daring as the dominant team in Brussels. Its cross-city rivals at the time were, in succession, Union, Daring, and Racing White, later renamed R.W.D.M., which is currently named FC Brussels. The latter are currently active in the Second Division, as is Woluwe, a club from the Brussels suburban region.
The province of Namur is, with that of Luxembourg, the province with the least prestigious football history in Belgium. Currently no clubs from the province of Namur are playing in the top two levels of Belgian football and no club from this province has ever played in the top flight.
FC de Liège won the first ever Belgian title in 1896. The club struggled financially during the early years of the 21st century and was eventually dissolved in 2011. A new club was formed, which is currently competing in the Fourth Division.
In 2010/11, K.A.S. Eupen (Königliche Allgemeine Sportvereinigung Eupen) was the first and at present only club ever from Belgium's German-speaking region to play in the Pro League. The club were relegated after only one season though, and they are currently still playing in the Second Division, as are provincial rivals Visé.
Historically, FC de Liège (5 titles from 1895 to 1953) and Standard Liège (10 titles from 1958 to 2009) are the province's most successful, most well-known and most popular clubs.
Currently only one club from the province of Luxembourg plays in the second level of Belgian football, namely, Royal Excelsior Virton. No club from this province has ever played in the Pro League. Former Belgian international Philippe Albert was born in this province (in the municipality of Bouillon).
The Belgian football league pyramid has 8 levels:
- Pro League
- Second Division
- Third Division (A and B, teams are assigned to a league based loosely on geographic location)
- Fourth Division (A, B, C and D, teams are assigned to a league based loosely on geographic location)
- Provincial Division 1
- Provincial Division 2
- Provincial Division 3
- Provincial Division 4
Each provincial subdivision of the FA runs its own 4-division league. Only teams that are geographically located in a certain province are allowed to compete in the corresponding provincial league. A notable exception is the Brabant provincial league, which is made up of teams from Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and Brussels.
UEFA Champions League
The following teams have qualified for group stage in the UEFA Champions League
- Club Brugge K.V. (4 times: 1992-93, 2002-03, 2003-04, 2005-06)
- Anderlecht (9 times: 1993-94, 1994-95, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07 2012-13)
- K. Lierse S.K. (1997–98)
- Genk (2 times: 2002-03, 2011-12)
- Standard Liège (2009-10)
Football outside of the Belgian FA
Other than the UEFA-affiliated FA, several amateur football leagues exist in Belgium, most at regional levels. These are often called "pub teams' leagues" while this is not entirely correct: far from all clubs represent a pub, often there are teams enrolled who represent a town or district of a village, a company, or another institution. Many amateur leagues exist in Belgium, most of them are region-bound or province-bound. Examples of amateur leagues with a long tradition include the KVV (Koninklijke Vlaamse Voetbalbond) organising provincial leagues in all Flemish provinces but West-Vlaanderen, the MTSA for the area Dendermonde-Aalst-Denderstreek, the LVVB Melle for the area Wetteren-Ghent (with some clubs outside of this area), the LVV Meetjesland for the Meetjesland area and few clubs from Ghent, the Corporative Leagues in several provinces mainly intended for company teams (although sometimes also including general amateur teams), the WALIVO in the Waasland area, the ABSSA and Travailliste leagues in Brussels and surrounding areas, ... The system is complex as some of these regional leagues are affiliated to the Belgian FA (sometimes their member clubs receive a matricule number) but the leagues are totally separate from the league system in the leagues directly run by the Belgian FA (described above). Some other amateur leagues operate totally separate from the Belgian FA with no connection to the Belgian FA in any ways. Amateur leagues are in decline in some areas due to the competition from the general Belgian FA-run leagues and due to long travel distances being unpractical at amateur level. Several clubs who started in amateur leagues have made the transfer to the leagues run directly by the Belgian FA (starting at the lowest level). Some of these clubs even managed to, after a while, reach a relatively high level of the Belgian pyramid. Many amateur leagues in the past were tied to a political ideology, and Catholic, Socialist and Liberal amateur leagues existed. Nowadays most amateur leagues are based upon geographic area rather than on political ideologies.
In Belgium, the Belgian FA also runs a nationwide Futsal league. Clubs are given a matricule number as well, although a separate one than the matricule numbers assigned to the clubs in outdoor football. Usually the letter A is in front of the matricule number to indicate an indoor club. A separate indoor football league is organised by the BZVB (Belgische Zaalvoetbal Bond, translated as Belgian Indoor Football Association), this is not tied to the Belgian FA. Both of these leagues run at the same moment but without any interaction with each other.
In addition, Mini Football is popular in Belgium (this has different rules all together than Futsal) and this league is run by a separate FA dealing with mini football only.
Both the Belgian FA and several regional amateur football leagues run a league for women. The league operated by the Belgian FA consists of 3 nationwide levels, with several levels per province below. The Belgian FA started to organise women's football in the early seventies, due to the UEFA obligating every member FA to organise leagues for women as well as for men. In the beginning the Belgian FA disencouraged women to play football and advised them to opt for sports such as volleyball. The first season only existing clubs (with male teams) could enrol a female team in the league. As popularity of women's football grew and more and more teams wanted to play in the league, the Belgian FA dropped the above rule and accepted new clubs to affiliate who only focussed on ladies' football. These clubs are assigned matricule numbers just like any other club, and meanwhile women's football is fully integrated in the Belgian football. That said, the league is not professional as yet (only a few female players have been full-time professionals) and the national team is amongst the weaker teams in Europe due to other countries such as Germany, Norway, Sweden having fully professional women's leagues. Clubs who have been successful in past or present in Belgian women's football include Brussels Dames '71 (currently the women's team of RSC Anderlecht), Rapide Wezemaal, Astro Begijnendijk, Eva's Kumtich, Sinaai Girls, Standard Fémina Liège, Dames Eendracht Aalst (previously tied to the club KSC Eendracht Aalst which was also successful in men's football). Plans exist to develop a new super league where existing clubs with professional men's teams would enrole a women's team. While this new league is not launched yet, several famous clubs have already created a women's team, such as Club Brugge, Lierse SK, Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen, and St-Truidense VV. It is now called BeNe League.
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- (English) RSSSF archive - Belgian clubs history
- (English) League321.com - Belgian Football League Tables, Records & Statistics Database.
- (Dutch) Belgian Soccer Database - Extensive database about players, clubs, results and other historical statistics