Friday, 30 July 2010

Forza Berchem!



These days it seems de rigueur for football fans to leave Blighty's shores in search of a glamorous weekend in Europe, catching a match at a top Italian, German of Spanish club.

A weekend trip to Madrid, Milan or Hamburg seems almost a rite of passage for supporters in 2010 - particularly those who back lower league sides and don't often get the chance to follow their team in European competitions.

And the occasional European jaunt has a lot going in its favour. Tickets to top flight games abroad are a fraction of the price of the Premiership and, in many cases, you can enjoy a lager or two on the terraces. Yes, terraces. The very word gets the pulses racing.

For a variety of reasons (mainly laziness) I have only been to one game on the Continent - a match between Cercle Brugge KSV and their rivals Lommel. I certainly want to see more.

But while friends have waxed lyrical about games at the San Siro, the Camp Nou or the Stadio delle Alpi, there is something about those grounds which just don't do it for. At least in principle anyway.

Spending every other Saturday watching Brighton and Hove Albion in front of little more than 6,000 is the norm. Trading them in - albeit temporarily - for a high-flying team and their 60,000 plus gates would seem like betrayal. Like saying the Albion are not enough - the footballing equivalent of husbands disappearing to Thailand for a fortnight of filth while the wives sit at home in their leggins.

For that reason, a group of friends and I decided to adopt a foreign team like the ones we all support. A club like Brighton, Millwall or Leyton Orient. A team we could put rivalries aside to support together. Not to mention enjoy a nice weekend away to watch.

A league was chosen at random: Belgium pipped Austria and Portugal. Now we needed a team. A quick look (well, quick in the sense we pawed over the internet when we probably should have been working) left us with a shortlist.

And, in possibly their first ever victory on foreign soil, Belgium forth division outfit Koninklijk Berchem Sport FC came out on top. A unanimous choice.

Formed in 1906, Berchem play at the 12,150 capacity Ludo Coeckstadion near Antwerp. Their fans sing songs in English, travel in their hundreds to away matches and have a penchant for flairs. Not the trousers, the hand held sea warning devices.

And, in a twist of coincidence, they also count former Leyton Orient legend Wim Walschaerts as one of their greats. A match made in heaven.

Other former stars include Dick Advocaat. And the current squad includes a player called Robin Jacobs who, according to Wikipedia, is a fictional character on US TV's daytime drama Days of our Lives.

Months have drifted by since the official formation (see: setting up a Facebook group) of the Koninklijk Berchem Sport FC English Supporters Club. It now has 92 members - although some seem to be Belgians.

Plans are afoot for an early season trip - much to the delight and, it is fair to say happy confusion, of the the Berchem fans.

Gilbert Van Den Bempt's yellow and black army. Forza Bercham.

*For a host of good ideas on where to go for a good trip to Europe, click on the European Football Weekends link on the right hand side of this page.

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