If you’re fond of football, you might as an expat miss all those week-ends standing on the terrace of your local stadium, a beer in one hand, a snack in the other, yelling with some other fellows for your squad, whether the sun shines or the rain falls. Well, in that case, you’ll be happy to know that Brussels has its own “football populaire” team. Forget about the Mauves of Anderlecht, Union Saint-Gilloise is the quintessence of what football is all about: tradition, good sphere, open-minding, and a cool audience.
Here are five good reasons why you should go to the Parc Duden next Sunday.
By Julien Duez, intern at the UNRIC’s Benelux desk.
There is only one team in Brussels
And this is the Royale Union Saint-Gilloise. Born in 1897, the yellow and blue club from Saint-Gilles is the most ancient team in the capital-city, and the tenth oldest in Belgium. Plus, with 11 titles and 2 national cups, Union 60 (named after a sixty games undefeated serie between 1933 and 1935) is the third most titled club in the Kingdom. Although all these trophies were gathered before WWII, USG is considered as a cult team. Local rivals are the famous Royal Sporting Club d’Anderlecht (RSCA), who pretends to be Brussels’ number one team but is more like the Pajottenland‘s one, and the Royal White Daring Molenbeek (RWDM), another old glory from Molenbeek (West of Brussels), who bankrupted many times and now evolves in the fifth division. The derbies are far from now, but the rivalvry subsists into the local folklore, more particularely through the cult theater play Bossemans et Coppenolle, sort of brusseleir version of Romeo and Juliet, where the families arms are either “Union” or “Daring”.Last season, Union accessed the second division but thanks to a foolish league-reform, only the eight first teams will be part of the future second professional football league by 2016. This season is about to be full of madness, because the squad as well as the fans want to be part of it.
Far far away from modern football, USG tries always to maintain its popular status, which means to have an affordable price policy in order to not lose its loyal fanbase. Despite a risk of bankrupt that happened a few years ago and the miraculous investment of a German businessman named Jürgen Baatzsch (bless you), Union is still one of the cheapest professional team in Belgium. For example, a standing ticket will cost you 10€ (or 15€ if it’s a high-level game) and a 25cl. beer, only 2€. In comparison with the local rival of Anderlecht, a standing ticket will cost you 25€, no matter the fixture’s level, and a (light) beer, 3€. More relevant, despite the accession to the second division, the club’s direction decided to keep the membership prices the same as they were last year: 90€ for a season-card on the terrace. And kids under 16 still got free access. Beat that modern football!
They have Ignazio Cocchiere
Every team needs its legend. The current one’s name’s Ignazio Cocchiere. Born in 1987 in Varese, Italy, the guy grew up in a city better known for its basketball team rather than for its football one. Nevertheless, he stayed focused on his passion and joined Inter Milan’s youth team at the age of 17. He even played with Mario Balotelli, with whom he won the Primavera, kind of a B-teams’ championship. After having reached the age limit to play in a youth squad, Ignazio was transfered to Pizighettone. Third division, 7000 souls and a university where he studied political science. After three years, he was transfered agained, to the FC Stade Nyonnais in the Swiss second league. There, he continued to study until the end of his contract. Afterwards, he chose to finish his degree rather than privileging his football carreer. His thesis was about the civil protection at the European level. Because of a few interviews he had to make at the Commission, he moved to Brussels… and never got back home. Today, “Igna” is half football player and half parliamentary assisant. He’s also part of the building team of an interparliamentary group about sport, as well as he’s making the fans chant the song they’ve dedicated to him every week-end.
It is the only place where you can drink Cantillon Cuvée Saint-Gilloise on tap
If you don’t know the Cantillon brewery already, go visit it! This is the last traditional beer factory in Brussels. You can also buy their products but only the bottled ones. And everyone should know a beer tastes really better when it comes from the tap. Especially when it’s a special edition. So the Parc Duden’s “buvette” is the place to be if you want to experience the lambic that Cantillon made to celebrate USG’s accession to the Proximus League. And trust me, you really want to experience it.
You won’t find such an atmosphere anywhere else
Union can in a way be related to the famous German team of Sankt-Pauli, where everyone except intolerant people is welcomed. Despite its outsider status, the club can count on its ultrà scene built up by the Union Bhoys, a group born in 2001, who truly makes the show every week-end during the ninety minutes. On the terraces, every possibly imaginable categories of people meet each others: old brusseleirs, local inhabitants, hardcore fans, tourists, expats, hipsters, workers, students, children, parents… There is inevitably a place for you in the Parc Duden. Because the atmosphere is also what a lot of people do come for. Sport can also be considered as secondary.