STANDARD LIEGE – ZULTE WAREGEM (4:1)
STADIUM: STADE MAURICE DUFRASNE
Sunday 27th November 2016
What a mess I was but at least I was alive, a familiar phrase that always enters my thoughts after a night on the sauce. I had no phone so I could not tell what time it was, it was freezing cold as the heating is the campervan had stopped working and my mouth felt as dry as a birdcage. I was about as useful as a fish with breasts! I promised myself that today would be the day I would not touch a drop of beer. I got dressed and met my friend in the pub, it was 09.30 in the morning and thank god for a coffee, anything other than beer. We plotted our movements for the day and an hour later we set off in the campervan to a house where my phone was kept. It had been placed in a plastic carrier bag and was stuffed into the bottom compartment of the bus drivers letterbox. It was a relief to find it again and it even had some charge left on it from the night before.
I was dropped off in Liege next to the Stade Maurice Defrasne home of Standard Liege for my fourth game of the trip. Tonight’s visitors were top of the table Zulte Waregem who were favourites for another win. This was a new stadium for me, I had driven past it before twice but I always count a ground as one where i have seen a match being played rather than just a visit on a non matchday. It’s the first time I had walked around the outside and was impressed by it’s towering and unusual structure. I was meeting another friend who had my ticket so made my way to find him past all the pubs and catering outlets, street vendors selling scarfs and memorabilia and hot food such as burgers and chips (fritjes). My meeting point was the pub of the Ultras. I had to remember that I was in the French speaking part of Belgium and had to switch languages, as is the case, i often find that the more beer I drink the better the language flows, maybe I am relaxed more or maybe it is just the way my brain is wired (or not wired!). I asked for directions and, surprise surprise, nobody knew where it was so just as I was about to give up I saw it across the road from where I was standing. It’s on the main road outside the stadium but is not marked like the other bars in the street making it difficult to locate.
I wandered in and found my friend, he shoved a beer in my hand and went to get my ticket for me. With my early morning promise of no beer firmly kicked into touch, I began to slowly sip the amber nectar trying to limit my intake, this didn’t seem to work much as more beer was thrust into my hands as I met more people. Remembering to speak French I tried to spark up some conversation with some of the guys I met who were big bruising characters only to learn some of them spoke decent enough English. Most of them all had stadium bans and were not attending the match, they were just there to drink and I learned from them why they had received such a ban. One had ran onto the pitch in Liege and another had been caught fighting in Marseille when England and Russia came together in the European Championships 2016. The music was loud in the pub and people were starting to dance, a full pre-party atmosphere was in swing. Whether I was being understood or not with my broken French I will never know but I was starting to enjoy myself too much and a glance at the time told me that kick off was only 5 minutes away. I made my exit, stage left, and walked the two minute journey to the ground.
Most of the crowd were inside already except for a few late stragglers, like myself, and I could hear the singing as I approached. After a quick security search I climbed the steep stairs and picked the second level. The tribune I was in, behind the goals, had three levels and it appeared to be all full of safe standing, an idea I quite like as I feel it generates a better atmosphere. Inside I was impressed with the view, the viewing access is great, each level is steep and it gives you the feeling that you are on top of the crowd looking down. Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh is like this, in my view one of the best stadiums in Scotland for atmosphere. You are that close to the action you can feel the football, a feeling that is lost at some bigger modern arenas.
Zulte had a man sent off early in the first half which enthralled the crowd, soon after Standard went ahead and the ground exploded with joy, what a noise. It was a game of counter attacking football with both teams pressing high up the pitch leaving gaps at the back. This meant for an end to end encounter and despite Zulte equalising the atmosphere did not let up. Eventually we had a breakthrough, 20 minutes from the end it was Standard who scored, then another and another in quick succession. Three goals within 10 minutes against the 10 men league leaders. The atmosphere was raucous and I couldn’t help myself but get carried away. I love the journey football can take you on and how fast it ebbs and flows. Sometimes I stand at a stadium not really caring about what the score is and other times you can get so involved with the atmosphere that it carries you along on a crest of a wave and generally makes you feel great.
The final whistle sounded and a 4-1 win for Standard, which was not expected if I am going by the reaction of the crowd. I made my way out onto the street and then walked back to the pub promising myself that I would be good. I was and only had two more beers then made my exit back to my hotel to check in. What a marvelous evening’s entertainment I thought as my head touched the pillow and at least this was warmer than a campervan!