Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Tubize Or Not Tubize (That Is The Question)

AFC Tubize  0  Union Saint Gilloise  1

Belgium Division 1 B – Relegation Play Off

When Sheffield Football Club’s media and photography duo of Jamesie and Ben got in touch to suggest a weekend of beer and football, I jumped at the chance.

Not even the recent memory of a trip to the arse of Europe (Brussels), a City I vowed never to return to, could put me off what looked on paper to be quite an adventure, especially as my only commitment in terms of planning and logistics was to turn up and pay my share of the costs!

With an apartment secured in Gent, the Tunnel booked and a five game schedule over three days put into place well in advance, my only concern was finding someone who was prepared to pick me up at 6.20am and take me to the meeting point. Mrs H refused, Mr H Senior couldn’t refuse, he’s good like that!

Much banter was shared on the M1 as Mrs H’s carefully prepared bacon and sausage sandwiches were consumed (she must have felt guilty about the lift!), and in advance of the diligently prepared schedule, we arrived in Folkestone and managed to secure an earlier crossing.

It's A Big One!
I’ve never travelled in the tunnel before, and being the claustrophobic type I was a shade apprehensive but to be fair, while not the most spacious and luxurious means of transport, it was quick and efficient, arriving in Coquelles in what seemed like next to no time at all.

The battle bus continued its journey, with Ben opting to sleep and myself doing the co-pilot bit, and other than a brief detour via Oostende to collect some match tickets for the Sunday game, Gent was arrived at in advance of the plan and we were soon trying to reach agreement as to who got what bedroom. I lost….

After acquiring supplies from a local Nacht Winkel, it was time to head East and then South of Brussels to the town of Tubize for the first instalment of the trip. Located in Walloon Brabant, the town is also known by its Dutch name of Tubeke, but being a Walloon municipality, the predominant language is French.  Home of over 22,000 inhabitants, the town boasts a second tier football team, but tonight was about a battle for survival, or so it seemed.

View From The Hill
I won’t bother trying to explain how promotion / relegation and the play-off system works in Belgium, let alone in a second tier league that contains only eight clubs, but put simply, if Tubize were to lose the game then they were certain to be relegated to the third tier and what is effectively amateur football. Relegated to the Conference? Yes, something like that….

AFC Tubize have got a cracking stadium. Located on the South side of the town, you enter the ground behind the North goal and immediately to your left is the clubhouse where the obligatory vouchers can be bought to acquire drinkies.  We tried the voucher system out and I’m happy to confirm that it works.

To the right of the clubhouse is a bank of uncovered seating of the temporary variety, but then as you move round to the West side of the Stade Leburton, a large seated stand covering two thirds of the length of the touchline is a striking structure. With corporate facilities, club offices and another clubhouse to the rear, it’s an imposing beast, but further round in an anti-clockwise direction is another large stand behind the goal. Other than a section for away support, of which there was a good number, the rest of the stand was closed, leaving the section of covered terracing the straddles the half way line on the East side as the main focal point for the hard core home support. Complete with flags and drums they made plenty of noise and created a colourful display, and although not large in numbers, they didn’t lack passion.

Main Stand
On the field it was a fairly even first half but as we ticked past the hour mark, Shean Garlito saw red for the hosts and within ten minutes Jonathan Kindermans had fired a low drive into the bottom corner to give the visitors from Brussels a crucial lead.

As the game ticked into injury time, it looked as though the result would all but relegate Tubize and save a Union Saint Gilloise side that had flirted with the trap door themselves, but suddenly the hosts were awarded a penalty.

Despite loud protests that resulted in a couple of yellow cards, the penalty was saved and immediately the final whistle sounded. The boys from Brussels ran to the opposite end of the ground to celebrate with their fans, while the players of Tubize sank to their knees.

Away Fans - Give Us A Song....
A bar in Gent saw us finish a successful night in a fairly untypical fashion, but little did we know what was about to unfold.

It was announced three days later that AFC Tubize were not relegated after all because the promotion contenders from amateur football had failed to obtain the required licence to move up to the professional game. So, clearly the controversial recent restructuring of Belgian football and its pyramid system is working marvellously well then? A round of relegation play-offs where no one can actually be relegated!

Too many Trappists and Tripels when those in power thought that one through I guess……

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