Saturday, 21 April 2018

Oostende By The Sea

KV Oostende  2  Sint-Truidense VV  2

Belgian Europa League Play Off Group B

I do like to be beside the seaside, especially when it means a football match is involved.

Skegness, Blackpool, Morecambe and Scarborough are all seaside resorts I’ve had the pleasure of watching the beautiful game take place at in the past years or so, but, I’ve never been to a resort overseas for a game.

Well, technically that isn’t the case because I’ve been to Bray Wanderers in Ireland, but in terms of mainland Europe, it’s not something I’ve really done.

The Home End
So when we drove to Oostende on the Friday to collect the match tickets, I was curious to see just what sort of seaside town it was. Being the impatient kind I asked Jamesie his opinion, and it was met with.


I asked him to qualify that a little

“Old people, loads of them”

So I suggested it might be more Eastbourne or Worthing?

“Yeah, probably more accurate to be honest”

Ready For Development
The proof of course would be in the pudding, but as we drove into Oostende on that first day the weather was sunny, albeit a touch windy, and travelling along the seafront, the waves could be seen crashing onto the shore. Not a vast amount of people were around, but those that were kind of fitted the description.

The ground, called the Versluys Arena, is very close to the seafront, and sits just a street behind the main promenade (although I suspect they don’t call it that). It looked very smart as we parked up and purchased the tickets, but more on the stadium later.

KV Oostende are a club that has been in the top flight since 2013, having previously had a couple of spells at the highest level in the previous thirty years, along with a relegation to the third tier.

This season they finished the regular season 11th from 16 sides and as a result made the Europa League Play-Off’s. Quite how finishing so low entitles a team to challenge for Europe bewilders me somewhat, but welcome to the mad World of the Belgian Play-Off’s.

The Away End
As we made our way to Oostende from Lauwe on the Sunday, the weather had started turn, rain was sweeping in, so having parked up close to the stadium we had to move quickly to a nearby café for some sustenance. With fodder on board, it was the short walk to the ground and having had a quick look around the perimeter it was through the turnstiles and into the very impressive bar that sat below the South stand.

Just under 4,000 punters had decided to pitch up for the game, albeit the visitors from the far East of Belgium bought a handful with them. The atmosphere from the home support was still very good though in a ground that is somewhat conducive to good atmosphere.

The Stand What We Sat In 
Our stand was a modern seated variety that was built only a couple of years ago, and clearly beneath it was all mod-cons. To our right was another modern seated stand where the bull of the hard core home support congregates, while at the opposite end was a similar structure that was split to allow for segregation.

Opposite our stand was an older and smaller stand that had some corporate facilities within it, and on either side of it were two stands that looked like temporary structures. I suspect they will eventually redevelop that side of the ground as it does look a little out of place in comparison to its more modern neighbours, but I guess that all comes down to the old funding situation.

Looking Seawards
It was a strange game. The visitors looked the better side in the first period for long spells but found themselves two goals down at the break thanks to two well taken efforts from Richairo Zivkovic.
Oostende then had chances to increase the lead in the second period but it all went pear shaped when goals from Alexis De Sart and an 85th minute effort from Jordan Botaka saw the visitors grab a vital point.

The second half was played in an absolute monsoon, so much so the drainage system on our stand roof failed and we had the sight of what can only be described as waterfall pouring from one of the huge disbursement tanks. The pitch held up well though, albeit the ball was starting to hold up a little in the conditions.

Bizarrely though as the final whistle arrived and the home fans left the ground feeling a little flat, the rains stopped and we had a comfortable journey back to Gent.

A couple of pints of Albanian Toilet Cleaner were consumed in what had become our ‘local’ rounded off the evening, as did a few cans of Jupiler back in the apartment, and that gave us the opportunity to reflect on what had been a fabulous weekend of football, beer and friends.

It wasn’t over yet though, we still had Monday to come, and that comprised of a few beers in Banbury before taking in the Stourbridge v Workington game. That finished up 3-2 to the visitors, but by this stage you sensed we were all ready for our homes and our beds.

Until next time that is, Liege, Aachen, Maastricht and Luxembourg were discussed as a possible trip.

Not before we’ve been to Eastbourne though……

And Then The Rain Came....

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