Experience

Published on January 31st, 2022 | by Brussels In View

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With Champions League looming, Belgian football club mulls its future

Fans of Union Saint Gilles, the football club that has taken the Belgian top flight by storm this season, are split on a possible move from their historic home.

The club is currently riding the crest of a hugely successful wave, topping the Jupiler League (it has a 9 point lead over Club Brugge) and with the particularly mouth-watering prospect of Champions League football looming large on the near horizon.

It took yet another step closer to this seemingly impossible dream on Sunday with a narrow but deserved 1-0 home win over near neighbours Anderlecht, arguably the country’s best known club but which now languishes in the shadow of the supposedly inferior USG.

The hard fought (and close) game, played in front of the usually raucous home support but with a reduced attendance due to the ongoing health pandemic, keeps USG firmly at the top of the league table and reinforces their credentials for what would be an amazing first title win in many, many years.

While the devoted USG fans are very much united in their desire to see their beloved club back at the top for the first time since before WW2, they are less united on another key issue facing Union: where they will play their football in future.

The club is currently facing a big decision: whether to stay at the stadium that has been home for generations in the municipality of Forest/Vorst or up sticks and move to a purpose built ground.

For some the prospect of leaving the atmospheric, if rather rundown Joseph Marien stadium, fills some fans with dread while others embrace the chance to move to a flashy new home.

This website took the pulse of fans before Sunday’s game against Anderlect to gauge how they feel about the issue.

Pieter Van Cutsem, a lifelong fan who lives in Uccle, said, “I think it is time to move. The football side of things is now up with the best but you cannot say that about the stadium which, basically, is in a right state. It is time to move.”

Xavier Vanlancker, who travels to games from his home in Flanders, said, “I agree – we just cannot contemplate playing European football at this ground. We all love the place of course but it is just not up to scratch.”

Other fans, though, say more effort should be made on trying to expand the current stadium rather than contemplate a move away.

They include Isabelle Raes, a Union fan for over 20 years, who noted,  “Surely, they can extend the current stadium? Everyone loves coming here for home games because it has an atmosphere like no other. It would be very sad if we moved to another place.”

Dirk Destrebecq, a Union fan who lives nearby, would also be “heartbroken” if the club relocates, telling this site, “No, I hope that does not happen. I can understand the frustration at the current size of the ground and the facilities but I think these could be improved to allow us to stay.”

The stadium currently holds about 8,000 and reportedly does not meet Uefa standards, not an ideal scenario with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid possible visitors next season.

One option under consideration is relocating to a newly built stadium just off Exit 17 on the Brussels Ring, close to the sprawling Audi car plant in Forest.

This 22,470 square metre site would meet Uefa demands, with a capacity of about 14,000, growing to 21,000 over time, 17,000 seated.

The club is said to be keen on building a hotel, with up to 150 rooms next to the site, something that has been done by other clubs of course, including Chelsea.

Another option on the table is the Bertelson site, near the Forest National concert venue which already currently has some sporting facilities. The downside here, it is said, is the fact that it is the middle of a very built up area.

The possibility of just staying at the current stadium has not yet been ruled out.

It all leaves the club’s long term future in the air, with fans clearly split on the best option.

But, for now, supporters are very much fixed on one thing: winning the title for the first time in (for most of them) living memory.

The team has surpassed all expectations as club president Alex Muzio told this website, “yes, even just a couple of years or so ago, we could not have imagined where we are today!”

With about a third of the season still to go, the club and its loyal fanbase are keeping fingers crossed that there will more of the sort of dogged performances – and results – that overcame Anderlecht,  their supposedly more superior opponents at the weekend.

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