Sunday 8th March 2020 15.00
Belgian Second Amateur Division (ACFF Section)
RAAL La Louvière 2 Acren-Lessines 0 HT: 2-0 Att: 300hc
Malela 21, Renquin 38p
from Stade du Tivoli
After glitzy Pro League Belgian football in the Dutch-speaking region, it was now time to sample a more pastoral lower league vibe in the French-speaking region.
This was fourth tier Belgian football – zut alors!. Their fourth tier is regionalised – this was the French speaking ACFF league and there are two Dutch speaking leagues, the VFVA and the VFVB. The Belgian pyramid is a bit odd in that the top flight and third tier have 16 teams, but the second tier has just eight. From what I can gather the First Division B play each other twice for a 14 match season before Christmas, then play another season after Christmas and the two winners have a play-off for promotion at the end.
The promotion first leg was happening today between Beerschot-Wilrijk and OH Leuven. Alas there were no tickets left, otherwise that was the no-brainer. Beerschot-Wilrijk have been losing finalists two years running.
Looking to other games, La Louvière’s Stade du Tivoli looked impressive online, being much grander than others of the fourth and even third tier. Those others could intermingle with the smaller grounds of the Northern Premier divisions without looking out of place. But the Stade du Tivoli had a grand splendor about it. This stately provenance can be explained by their former incarnation RAA Louviéroise, who folded in 2009. They had existed since 1913 and had played top flight football. They even won the Belgian Cup in 2003, beating Sint-Truiden, and then played in the UEFA Cup against Benfica the following season. They drew with Benfica 1-1 at Charleroi’s ground before losing 1-0 in LisbonThey were reformed eight years later as Royal Athletic Association Louviéroise La Louvière (RAAL La Louvière). Only two years old, the club is aiming to get promotion from their regionalised fourth tier league. La Louvière has a similar birth story as Rome, with a wolf nursing a child. The area was infested with wolves in the 12th century and it’s old French name means wolf’s lair. Obviously the football team bear the name, like our Wolverhampton Wanderers. That’s not the only similarity with the Black Country; the area was a former coal mining site which is now part of a heritage centre along with four boat lifts on the canal.
Getting out at La Louvière station, you could tell you were in a slightly run down ex coal mining area. The grim grey afternoon didn’t help first impressions. We headed for the large canal running by the town, with the aim of seeing the boat lift, that was kind of twinned with Northwich’s Anderton Boat Lift, which was referenced on the information boards at the site. It was a very wide tree-lined canal with paths both sides enjoyed by runners, walkers and cyclists alike, with some serious industrial bridges reminding you of its steel heritage.
From the Canal we ventured into town for some snappin and pre-match drinks. We found a delightful pub called the Palais de la Bière off the main square of what was a surprisingly smart looking town, given its industrial heritage. The pub was like a Belgian version of a great local and was complete with La Louvière fans. They served me a beer called Corne (which is French for Horn) in a horn shaped glass which was a first for me.
The Stade du Tivoli has a low profile as you approach. It is an athletics ground with some mid-height traditional floodlights.
There’s a pleasing sweeping terrace running round one end, in which around 50 Wolves Ultras sang all game, helped with their tempo by a drummer at the front of the stand and conductor waving his arms. It was a roudy pocket of green and black flag waving Belgians.
An English style straight stand with striking alternating blue and white benches rose about ten rows up. On the other side were larger stands more akin to athletics stadiums. The one on the side, all seater and behind the goal a section of seats and a bit more curved terrace. The backdrop on that side was the many high rise flats on the road behind, an impressive urban sightline.. Overall it was a ground of real character and size for a fourth tier club. The few hundred fans were lost in the vastness of it but hopefully soon the club will get the fans back in watching higher tier football.