Lyra TSV 2 Leopoldsburg 3 (30th March 2013)
If somebody had suggested I took the time out to see a Belgian 4th division match – regional 4th division that is – I’d have reacted with about as much enthusiasm as an English woman in Rotterdam’s tourist information centre did the following day, when “taking in an art exhibition and a display of Dutch design” was the suggestion to the question “what can I see in Rotterdam?”
I may have been to some pretty obscure low-level games in England, but I’d not even considered breaking into a long-weekend in Belgium to see such a match. I only did by accident. Having noticed the town of Lier very close to Antwerp on Google Earth, I zoomed in to see if I could find Lierse’s ground, and saw a fairly substantial ground very close to the town centre. Only upon zooming in further did I see that rather than being Lierse’s place, it was the home of Lyra TSV, who were handily at home on Saturday afternoon when I’d be there.
I also had the chance to look at Lierse’s actual ground, as well as taking in some of the more charming parts of the small town of Lier. Also taking in the town’s delights were a group of bikers, who left a bar on Zimmerplein in the town centre and revved up their engines loudly underneath the astronomical clock at the East end of the square. Their “born to be wild” image was rather shattered by their bikes all being of size that made them more suitable for children. Maybe things being too small was a theme in Lier, as I purchased a coffee in a cafe a few yards away, only to find it served up in a cup of a size that would seem more suited to having a boiled egg in it.
Also too small was the “ample” time of half an hour I’d allowed for the short walk to the ground, not helped by a couple of wrong turnings due to thinking I was in a completely different square to the one I was in. A period of undignified exasperation followed, as I ran round the area looking for the floodlights of the ground that I knew to be in the vicinity, but couldn’t find anywhere. In the end I found a back entrance almost by chance, relieved to have only missed a couple of minutes of the game.
Due to the 4th tier being regionalised, this level was more the equivalent of the Conference South than League Two, but it’s fair to say most Conference South clubs don’t have such a substantial ground. The main stand, running most of the length of one side, has bench seats for probably just over 1000, with a paddock in front holding around the same. Also there, pitched right on the terrace, was a stall selling burgers and other very hearty and meaty looking products.
The stand was as old skool as they come, with a propped roof covering all, and even if there was an incursion of ivy inside the roof at one corner, the place has a tidiness to it that certainly wasn’t present at Antwerp the previous night. It did look as if the middle section was once a smaller and older stand. Indeed, its roof still seems to exist below the newer addition, and from the outside you can see how the flanks of the stand roof don’t match up with the middle, as if someone has taken a large bite out of it.
At the far end of the ground was a substantial and almost alarmingly steep terrace, where an enthusiastic, if not too numerous, band of supporters waved flags, sang, and banged the odd drum. They were off to one side of the terrace due to the decision to place a large advertising hoarding on top of the players’ tunnel that emerged from behind this goal, blocking out a large section of the goal from view should somebody ever want to look in that direction, crazy as it sounds.
Despite its steepness and size, the terrace wasn’t exactly well blessed with crush barriers. Two thirds of the way down was just one row of moss-covered concrete barriers. Given that two days later I’d visit a non-league English ground were a gentle grass-covered slope was fenced off as a safety hazard, there’s clearly a difference of opinion in standards between the two countries.
The opposite end held the club bar and lounge. Unusually, this was raised on stilts above the flat terrace below, giving a cracking view to anyone able to commandeer the front few seats at the rows of table in the pretty large bar. Given that virtually their entire crowd went into the bar at half time – I counted 12 people out of maybe 300 in total, who were still outside during the break – it had to be fairly big. The bar also had a system for buying beers that seemed mad at the time, but makes a lot of sense. Rather than pay at the bar, you had to buy a beer ticket from a cashier at a separate desk, and hand that in at the bar to get your beer. Daft if you are only having one beer, but it does mean you could buy up to 10 beers in advance (and get a discount), and the bar staff can serve quicker as they are only serving beers, not doing the money as well.
This bar was clearly a more modern addition, but despite a boxiness that would make Volvo envious, being up on stilts made it fill the end much better than it would had it been on the ground.
The final side was just a footpath down the touchline, with a fence festooned with multiple rows of adverts forming a tall wall. Towards one end, the top row of adverts had broken off backwards, given the impression that it had been smashed through by one mightily hard clearance.
Then again, this is Belgium. Whacking the ball into Row Z for safety doesn’t seem to be the done thing. I saw a left back under pressure take a ball on his right heel, flick it in one touch to his left, then step sideways and clear cleanly with his left foot. You don’t see that sort of thing too often at Farnborough.
Much is said about watching a different kind of skill, but less appreciated is the chance to see a different kind of incompetence too. Players are even able to uselessly give away possession cheaply in a calm and controlled manner over there, and way too many free kicks end in training ground nightmare “clever” routines that come to nothing. Yet the odd thing is, the first four goals all came from set-pieces.
The first was about ten minutes in. A Lyra free kick was floated to the back post, only for the Leopoldsburg keeper to make a right hash of his catch, fumbling into his own net to give Lyra the lead.
It didn’t last long. A corner was whipped in low, and it zipped through the six yard box for a three yard side-foot tap-in. From there Lyra were the better side, and came closest to going back in front when a chip over the keeper was headed off the line.
It was Leopoldsburg who took the lead though, just before half time. Another free kick was met at the near post, and the low downward header gave the keeper no chance.
If the Leopoldsburg team-talk at half time was about keeping things tight, it didn’t work. Within five minutes they’d given away another free kick. This one was tipped away by the keeper, but the ball was played straight back in and glanced across goal, going in off the post.
Promotion chasing Leopoldsburg weren’t to be denied though, and with about 20 minutes to go, a second attempted bicycle kick was decidedly more accurate than an earlier awful effort, flying past the Lyra keeper to put the away side 3-2 up.
From there they were able to tighten up and see out the game without any real scares. If they were pleased with their afternoon, so was I. It may have been one of the more obscure foreign games I’ve been to, but it was one of the better ones.