LOKEREN – ST TRUIDEN (1:0)
Saturday 26th November 2016
Today was to be the third match of my trip and a voyage into Belgium was required. I had never been to Lokeren before so this was a new ground to tick off my list. Little did I know that this was to evolve into one of my more eventful football trips I have ever had. I was catching the St Truiden supporter’s bus from outside the Kanarie pub in St Truiden, The plan was to get the bus from Maastricht to St Truiden and having done this route before, I knew that the easiest route was by bus and with it being an evening kick off I had time in the afternoon to explore a lost ground.
The ground belonged to Cercle Tongeren situated on Sportspleinstraat in Tongeren. To get to St Truiden from Maastricht by bus you must change in Tongeren so it was an ideal opportunity to visit. The ground is tucked away in amongst a quiet residential street and is fairly difficulty to find as it looks as though it is just woodland and shrubs. Search a little deeper and you will be in awe as the ground has stood dormant since 1969. The remains of the old main stand are still visible, concrete still intact albeit in a crumbling state. Visible still are also the floodlight pylons which had once shined on stars from a bygone era. The playing field is now a maze of overgrown weeds, branches and grass. A football graveyard if ever there was one, it amazed me that the structure still stood after so many years with Health and Safety being oblivious to it’s location. Knowing well that the structure could collapse at any moment I wandered around looking for the ultimate photographic shot of it’s dilapidated state.
Back on the bus and an hour later I was in St Truiden and outside “The Kanarie” which has always been a favourite of mine since I first visited in 2008. It’s a small pub opposite the stadium of St Truiden or STVV for short. Many a good night has been had in there and it’s where the majority of my Belgian friends partake in a few beverages or two. It is also the departure point of the supporters buses which used to leave ‘en masse’ but recently, because of various factors such as the team not playing well, the run up to Christmas, the opposition etc there were to be only 3 buses set to leave tonight for Lokeren.
An away trip on the supporters bus is quite an experience and one which really turns into an endurance test. It requires careful time management and good organisational skills. The beers are loaded onto the bus beforehand from the cellar underneath the pub on a conveyor belt. For a 3 hour round trip I would guess there can be as many as 20-30 crates of beer on each bus so once you sit down beers come flying at you from all angles and they don’t like the word NO! So much so that not before long, if you don’t keep up with the pace, you will end up 3-4 beers lagging behind, NO is not an answer.
I walked into the pub and met some of my friends and before I had a chance to take my coat off a beer was in front of me, a sign of things to come no doubt. A few glasses of Cristal was just the tonic after an afternoon of bus hopping (makes a change from groundhopping!). My lodgings for the night were in the famously named “fuck truck”, a campervan with multiple uses! It belongs to one of the members of the supporters club and tonight it was parked only a short stumble across the road from the pub. It’s also the home of the special STVV Scottish Supporters Flag, a huge piece of material that was made back in 2007 by a small group of guys from Fife and Dundee and gets it’s outing each time one of “us Scots” goes over to a game.
The bus departed promptly at 6.30pm and drove 100 yards before a police motorbike appeared and sped in front of us, he gestured to the driver to follow him and soon another bike appeared and then an unmarked car. This was unusual behavior so we all began to wonder what was happening. We drove past junction after junction on the way out of St Truiden and saw other police motorbikes stopping traffic to let us through. The bemusement turned to worry when we were escorted into a disused car park where about 20 police cars with dogs awaited us. We knew this was getting serious and stopped the joking about. The bus came to a halt and the police stormed onto the bus asking for our hands to be put into the air.
Our eyes were dazzled by the headlights of all of the police cars as we were all paraded against the outside of the bus with our hands still in the air while the sniffer dogs ran up and down the line. I later found out that it was drugs that they were after but luckily I had smoked all mine in Amsterdam on Thursday (Joke!!). No drugs were found and after a check of our ID’s we were let on our way. It certainly was an experience that some regular bus goers had never encountered before in all their 30-40 years going to watch football so it with a little relief that the bus continued it’s journey out of St. Truiden. After this unexpected inconvenience making kick off was now going to be tight. We needed a drink after our experience so we took great pleasure in throwing copious amounts of liquid down our throats en route to the stadium.
We arrived just in time as kick off was only minutes away so we all stumbled off the bus and made our way to the away section. Some of these older Belgian grounds still have terracing and I am a big fan of this and so was pleased to see that Lokeren’s away section still had their terracing intact. From my position behind the goals, I could see the main tribune looked as if the original structure had been modernised. The rest of the ground seemed to match with the continued modern style and the club colours of black and yellow. Much is the same with many other European grounds, the away sections are rarely modernised providing the worst facilities in the ground. I remember an awful shoebox sized away section at the Sportpark Berg en Bos in Appeldoorn, Holland that smelt of urine and excrement. It made for an extremely unpleasant experience. I think many clubs purposefully leave the away section undeveloped to make it the worst experience ever!
About 100 supporters had travelled who made quite a lot of noise, not in any great cohesion may i add, but more in a wall of drunken rambles. The only goal of the game was scored early on by a penalty kick that was awarded to Lokeren, this was a debatable decision contested by the majority of the away section. Quite how they could see properly is beyond me as most were plastered with too much beer. The game was poor with not much goalmouth action and for once I was relatively sober and spent most of the match laughing and joking at some of the other fans crazy drunken antics. I saw one fan audition for the circus as he repeatedly did somersaults around one of the terracing crush barriers, egged on by the cheers of his mates. His body coming down with such force his head was just missing hitting the concrete each time and thus avoiding serious injury. (like I have never tried a stunt like this when I have had too much to drink ???!!)
The good thing about beer is that it doesn’t matter the result or performance you can always console yourself with a cold one and if they had not had enough beer already, bus number two drunk a whole lot more on the bus back to St Truiden thankfully there were no police around this time. Once back at the pub in usual fashion the party carried on well into the wee hours although briefly interrupted by my sudden realisation that I have left my mobile phone on the bus. A call to the bus driver after midnight revealed that it had been found but it meant I would have to go and pick it up tomorrow and without doubt experience another adventure.