Royal Antwerp FC.(part 1).

 

Memories:  Royal Antwerp FC

Relaxing at the Antwerp club. 

The Royal Antwerp Football Club had been founded in 1880 by British merchants who, not only exported their products and commodities to the world, but in doing so, introduced their most popular football code.   A very conservative sporting club; the ‘Great Old,’ as Antwerp was affectionately known throughout Belgium, had reversed tradition by acquiring two foreign players for the 1966 season.   Iwan Frankel, had arrived from the Dutch colony of Surinam, and I had been signed from Stockport County in England.

Iwan Frankel and I arrived at Antwerp for the 1966 season.

Having served two seasons of a ‘roller coaster’ ride with Stockport County, my time there interrupted with injury and indifferent form, I embarked on a pathway into European football.   My unworldliness and inexperience left me with scant regard for the difficulties and pitfalls that living in a foreign country might bring during the nineteen sixties.   I was off on a footballing escapade and that’s the thing that mattered to me.

With mixed emotions; sadness, at leaving my wife Lesley and new born daughter Sharon behind in Yorkshire; excitement, at the prospect of the footballing adventures ahead, I packed my car to its capacity and set off to Dover where I boarded the lurching, rolling, overnight car ferry to ZeeBrugge.

Royal Antwerp 1966 season.

On the boat accross the Channel I can remember talking to some home bound West German football supporters who kept me awake, as they drowned their sorrows by consuming copious amounts of Stella Artois.  Their complaints centred on how England had cheated them out of winning the World Cup Final at Wembley; played on the previous weekend.

On arrival at the Belgian port, in the pitch dark, and traversing the bumpy winding cobblestoned roads, on which I frequently found myself on the wrong side, I arrived, blurry eyed, at the Antwerp Stadium just as dawn was beginning to break.

Enjoying a drink at the Hotel de Sport with a teammate.

The Royal Antwerp officials made me very welcome and I was quickly installed into the ‘Hotel de Sport’ in the centre of Antwerp’s busy and bustling central city area.   In hindsight this may not have been the wisest location for a twenty two year old professional footballer, particularly with the night clubs and ‘red light’ district in such close proximity.

However, after surviving a rigorous two month pre-season training schedule, and having found an apartment located in the suburb of Deurne, along with my wife and baby daughter, I faced the prospect of cementing my place in the starting line-up at Royal Antwerp.

 

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Lesley, Sharon and our Belgian born son Russell.

My league debut for Royal Antwerp of Belgium was played in the industrial city of Liege, which is set in the French speaking, eastern part of Belgium and close to the German border.   At the time we were riding high in the 1st Division of Belgium’s Football League and a sellout crowd of up to thirty thousand was expected at the game.   I can distinctly remember going through our usual warm-up routine, on the spacious training pitch located adjacent to the great Tribune, and observing the hordes of spectators building up at the turnstiles.   I nervously realized at the time that this would be the largest crowd which I had faced during my short football career.

Trying to keep the Liege attackers at bay.

FC Liege v Royal Antwerp.   Oct1966.

As we filed out of tunnel leading into the packed stadium we were confronted by a blast of piercing whistles from the partisan F C Liege supporters, which were bravely countered by pockets’ of our own travelling fans, bedecked in their red and white paraphernalia, stationed on the steep slopes of the terraces.

With the customary formalities, which merely consisted of lining up in the centre of the pitch and acknowledging the crowd with a wave (far removed from today’s controversial mandatory pre-match hand-shakes), concluded, the referee whistled to get proceedings underway.

What followed was an even end to end game in which we succumbed to a goal just prior to the half-time whistle, and despite a sustained effort in the second half we were unable to level the score; the game ending in defeat.

On a personal front I did well enough to receive positive reports in the media, and consequently, retained my position in the starting line-up for the rest of the season.

Although my debut for Royal Antwerp resulted in a 1 – 0 defeat at FC Liege, it was a precursor to a successful season for the club.    We remain title contenders, until a late loss of form saw us finish in third position on the League table, but this was enough to qualify us for one of the following season’s European Cup competitions.

Wilfred van Moer leaves opponents behind as I watch admiringly from behind.

The 1966 Antwerp squad contained some fine individual players who I was proud to be associated with.   Wilfred Van Moer was a classy midfielder who won his first cap for Belgium during that season.   He later went on to play in the German Bundesliga and also distinguished himself at the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico.   Keepers, Wim Coremans and Eddy Braem challenged each other for the number one spot with Eddy winning out for the majority of games and also gaining a place in the Begium National Under 23 squad.   Willy Van der Wee and Theo Van de Velde were busy and dynamic midfielders but Willy was unfortunate with injuries and missed much of the season.   Robert Geens, Mon Goris, Maurice Reniers, Jos Rens, Flor Bohez and myself vied for places in a back five.    Geens was an emerging talent who served the club for several years, Mon Goris had much natural ability and could have made great strides in his career but seemed to lose his way over a period of time.   Jos Rens was an experienced centreback who had played much of his career at Club Brugge; this was to be his last season at Antwerp.   Flor Bohez played on the opposite flank to me at left wing back, as one of the earliest attacking fullbacks he gained his first International cap in 1966, against Holland in a dour 0 – 0 draw played at Antwerp’s Bousil Stadium.  Maurice Renier was unfortunate to lose his position, after a disasterous European Cup defeat against Scottish club, Kilmarnock.   His bad fortune allowed me the chance to replace him, and establish myself in the starting line-up, resulting in him being transferred to Beveren Waas at the end of the season.

Thierry Antwerp action 2

Season  1966-1967 : 22.01.1967 : Daring Club Brussels – R. Antwerp F.C. 1-0

From left to right. : Aloïs Goossens, Jean-Paul Colonval (Daring), Maurice Tillotson & Jos Rens (Antwerp).

I enjoyed my first season at the club, with many of our attacking moves coming down the right flank.   My combination with Van Moer continually ‘set up’ the speedy Karel Beyers, who had the ability to take on his opponents and supply accurate crosses into the danger area for our main striker Ubain Sagers.   Unfortunately, my second season with the ‘Red and Whites’ would not end as happily……..

Enjoying the physical aspect of the game against Club Brugge.