KV Mechelen 0 Charleroi 0 (30th March 2013)
I’ve seen some bad views at football grounds in my time. The away end top tier at QPR is notoriously bad. Plenty of grounds in the past had fencing mesh so tight you could only presume they didn’t even want air to escape from the away end. And earlier on that very afternoon I’d see a large advertising board obstructing part of the goal at Lyra’s ground.
Never before though had I sat in my allocated seat to find no part of the nearest goal was visible to me. In fact even seeing the penalty spot was a small mercy, such was the catastrophically poor design of Row A of Tribune 3 at Mechelen’s ARGOS Stadium, and unlike the British Argos, I could take my ticket back for an easy refund either.
I was in Mechelen town just over three quarters of an hour after the final whistle blowing at Lyra, crucially giving me just enough time to take in the very nice central square, as well as a meal and a beer in a bar. No time sadly to climb the 514 steps of the cathedral tower, but with my legs already complaining and stiffening after several miles of walking over the last couple of days, it was probably for the best.
Mechelen’s ground was itself an easy mile or so walk further north from the centre, and like the approach to Royal Antwerp, it had nostalgia inducing corner floodlight pylons lighting the darkening sky, and pointing the way.
It was a real old style ground, and as such getting there about half an hour before kick off, just as the trickle of fans through the turnstiles turns into a throng, is the best time to arrive, with the sense of atmosphere just building. A glimpse of the stands within through the open corner just added to the anticipation.
The ironic thing about the awful view from my seat was that I’d specifically chosen that end as I thought it would offer the best view of the stadium. In many ways it did, just not of the pitch. The stand I was in was perhaps the least interesting part of the ground, although hardly dull. It was rather like a version of the Brook Road End at Brentford, with half a dozen or so rows of seats perched high above a narrow terrace. Being Belgium, despite being quite a modern stand, it had wooden benches rather than seats, and in case there was a risk of the terrace having any hint of comfort, it had no back wall so the wind on this bitter night could whip through unhindered. It was on the back row of that upper tier that I took refuge, away from my designated Row A seat, in the hope of see at least some of the action should it happen at the near end.
Opposite was a “business seat” stand like at Antwerp, made rather more interesting by the addition of a tier of normal seats added to the front. With the glass in front of the business seats not being tinted, and the seats clearly visible, the end looked rather like the ends at Derby’s old Baseball ground. Adding a degree of quirkiness to it, this stand only went for two thirds of the width of the pitch, due to a road cutting across this corner.
To the right is the main stand, an old cantilever stand with curving roof supports, very similar to the one I saw in Richmond when I saw London Scottish play. This one is considerably bigger though. Big enough to allow the rear of the stand to have been converted into executive boxes. A narrow paddock in front was small enough to not need any crush barriers, and most welcome here and throughout the ground was the lack of perimeter fencing.
The only fencing was found on the other side, separating the home and away fans on a covered terrace that ran for almost the whole length of the side. The gap where it finished was filled with seats, if not people, by a small rugby-style temporary stand. The terrace itself had an upturned flat roof, with probably too many columns, but was the heart of the Mechelen support. With the front of the each terrace step painted yellow, to contrast with the red crush barriers, it was certainly colourful both empty and full.
Indeed, with the red & yellow proudly on display everywhere, Mechelen is probably one of the more colourful nights in football. Of the three games, this one, despite being part of the apparently deeply unpopular Belgian play-off format, was the one that had the real sense of being a big football night. Something special. Sometimes in life though, things don’t live up to the billing.
It wasn’t a bad game by any means, but neither was it one of those almost mythical terrific 0-0 draws. It was had a higher quality meeting with my now familiar Belgian friends, Mr Caught-in-possession and Mr Over-elaborate-training-ground-move, as both sides showed attacking ambition and incompetence in equal measures.
Charleroi really deserved to lose for taking the field in a monochrome version of Hull City garish tiger stripe kit, looking like they’d made shirts out of a collection of 80s tarts’ miniskirts, but were probably just about the better side in the first half. A medley of wasted half-chances, mainly from set pieces was about the best they could offer though. Mechelen’s best first half effort was a shot from “the D” after a poor skied clearance, but it went straight at the keeper.
After being booed off at half time, Mechelen showed a great deal more urgency in the second period. They looked to be knocking at the door, hitting a close range shot into the side netting, as well as forcing the keeper into a desperate take on the line, and later missing from a yard out, although at least that was offside too.
Charleroi had almost vanished as an attacking force, but thought they’d nicked the win late on. Put clean through, a forward flicked the ball past the Mechelen keeper from an angle with the outside of his boot. With team-mates already raising their arms in celebration, the ball agonisingly rolled wide.
Several other half chances were wasted for the home side, and a despairing far too high volley near the end seemed to drain the belief from the crowd. The angry boos that followed the final whistle told their own tale, and it was obvious that I’d picked the wrong day to watch Mechelen, but it was the sort of ground you’d want to come back to. I might avoid Row A next time though.