Hey there, gold digger. Yes, you. So you support a big team right? AS Roma. Most of the time qualified for Europe. Able to pry away the best players from the minnows in Serie A. A club situated in one of the biggest and renowned cities in the world. You thought life as a Giallorosso is hard? It’s peanuts compared to say Lecce, Crotone, or Benevento.
PSG, Real, Bayern, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona. Admittedly it’s easy being a fan of one of the aforementioned teams. Titles, (super)cups, European success, it’s all part of their game. Hell, even Roma can’t complain about being a steady top club in Italy and a regular in both Champions League and Europa League competitions. We just signed Pedro and Mikhi, two class players with a serious reputation. We have Zaniolo, an Italian top talent, and tens of thousands tifosi in the Olimpico every two weeks (in a corona-free world that is).
But sometimes I shift my attention to a smaller entity. A club way down the ladder. A club that fights each year to survive. A club hoping for a surprise win against a big fish once in a while. A club that celebrates safety each year like it’s worth ten championships. A club like Waasland-Beveren.
I think most of you had to read that name twice, heaven forbid how some of you might pronounce it. But no worries, I’ll guide you through this small, cute Belgian piece of heritage.
The first thing you need to know is the colors: Yellow and Blue (also two of the best Pokémon games ever made, that aside). The club is situated in the town of Beveren in Flanders, Belgium. Not far from the border with the Netherlands and near the port of Antwerp. There are approximately 49,000 people living there. The stadium is called Freethiel and it seats about 8.200 fans. You see, peanuts compared to a metropolis like Rome.
Why exactly did I chose Beveren and not for example Anderlecht, Bruges or Ghent, other famous clubs in Belgium with more power and wealth? Well, from all clubs in Belgium’s top division it’s basically the nearest to the place I grew up and went to school (less than 15km). A friend of mine is a fierce fan and so eventually I joined him to watch some games live. Ironically, I’ve seen more live games from Waasland-Beveren than Roma (or any other club for that matter). Though it helps I don’t have to take a plane and book an overnight stay in an expensive Roman hotel for each match.
Waasland-Beveren was actually founded as SK Beveren back in 1935. Its heydays were undoubtedly from 1978 until mid-eighties: Two titles, two cups (and three finals), two Super Cups, Beveren was at the top of Belgium football. Names like Jean-Marie Pfaff, Filip De Wilde, Erwin Albert, or Schönberger might ring a bell. They even won against Inter in 1979 and reached the semifinal of the (then) Europacup II vs Barcelona.
However, between 2002 and 2005 was perhaps even more special in the club’s history (and I was at the peak of puberty, good times). SK Beveren started a cooperation with a football academy in Ivory Coast, which suddenly saw a ton load of young Ivorian players travel to Belgium in pursuit of the ultimate football dream: play in one of the top leagues in Europe and earn enough money to support their families.
For example: during the 2004-2005 season, no less than 18 of the 28 players in the squad were from Ivory Coast. At some point, the trainer played 11 Ivorians all at once. Of course, there was some controversy in Belgium but overall most of the Ivorians were a hit: Beveren reached the cup final in 2004 and afterward the UEFA CUP group stage. At times they were a joy to watch. Kinda like a Barcelona-light version. That’s when I started to follow this remarkable club. Curiously in the competition, they always seemed to struggle: 12th place, twice 16th place (of 18 teams). Supporting Beveren was always associated with a heart attack or five...or six.
But God just look at the talent they produced: Eboué went to Arsenal. Boka to Stuttgart. Romaric to Sevilla. Yaya Touré to Manchester City. Yapi Yapo to Nantes. Marco Né to Olympiakos. Keeper Barry Boubacar Copa played 80+ games for the national team. And guess what? Our very own predator Gervinho too started his career in Beveren.
In more recent times SK Beveren has had a bumpy history. After a series of money problems and a relegation to the third division, it formed a partnership with the tiny, nearby club Red Star. In 2010 RS Waasland-Beveren was born, although there were struggles between the two fan bases. Yet the club was promoted to top division quite quickly in 2012 and has remained there ever since. With very few highs and a lot of lows in between.
Ironically, last season Waasland-Beveren was last-placed after 29 rounds with one round left to play. The chances they would survive were very slim. Like ultra Fatboy Slim. However, the competition stopped abruptly due to the corona pandemic in March. The Pro League decided to call it a day and simply cancel the last round which left Waasland-Beveren relegated without having a fighting chance.
The club would put up a legal fight and go to court. And they won the damn thing as well. As a result, Waasland-Beveren remained in Belgium’s top flight for 2020-2021. They surprisingly won their first game of the season but then lost six consecutive games.
Lately, it seems the boys from Beveren are back in business as they amassed an astonishing 10 points in the last four games, including three clean sheets. For a club like Beveren, that’s really unique. Yet I fear the relegation dogfight will continue until the very end as they’re far from a comfortable position.
I just hope they’ll survive this season as it’s been way too long since I joined my mate in Beveren for old times sake. Corona has expelled fans from the stadium, but once the gates of Freethiel are open again, I’ll be there. In the middle of my yellow and blue army.
So there you have it, that’s my favorite team from a ‘smaller’ league. Sometimes less is more. What’s your favorite small club? Do you follow a special team in say Bulgaria, Croatia, Sweden, or Scotland? Please share it in the comment section!