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Trecker in Brussels: Where's the love?
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Disconnect between clubs, fans evident in Brussels' culture
We’re en route on Munich today from Manchester, with a stop in a place not exactly well-known for soccer. Belgium has played host to a number of American players – Oguchi Onyewu, Sacha Kljestan – and given the world leagues some top talents (Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Maroune Fellaini) but few think of this place as a mecca for the sport.
There are a few complex reasons for this: Belgium is linguistically split among three tongues (four if you count the lingua franca, which is English) and divided among loyalty to the Dutch Eredvisie and Ligue 1. Today’s papers had Ajax on the Dutch-language front covers; PSG on the French. (The English press, predictably, had Manchester City).
The cars up and down the streets of St. Gilles, the small city district where I was staying were covered in Ajax’s colors and totems. Closer to the Grand Place, I saw work trucks with PSG and Lille stickers, but no representation at all for any of the Belgian teams.
My “research” on this subject is admittedly unscientific; I tumbled out of a train, into a bed, and then killed some time at Brussels’ fabulous comic book art museum before hopping into a series of other trains that will dump me in Bavaria on Wednesday. My image of Brussels remains the same as it was after the last five times I was here: charming, quiet, great food and not a place to spend more than a day or two.
Nonetheless, I was struck by the disconnect between Belgium’s teams on the street level and our perception of them in the States. None of us think the Belgian league is good, exactly, but many of us have been more charitable thanks to their early embrace of American players and the fact that many of the teams do have a long history. Anderlecht and Standard Liege aren’t world-beaters but they aren’t shabby either. This Scot will readily admit either of those teams could beat the pants off Celtic, and they would give most decent teams a decent game of it.
But the jerseys in the stores? Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and bizarrely, Giorgios Samaras. Not a single Belgian national team jersey, and not one Belgian name on a Premier League strip. Wayne Rooney? That they had. Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, too.
In fact, the most popular Belgian we saw isn’t even a real person; that would be Brussels' favorite son, Tintin, who narrowly edges out the Manneken Pis as the ubiquitous symbol of the city.
There were no ads for soccer and not a hint the sport even exists inside Belgium’s borders. It reminds me a bit of the struggles MLS has had to gain attention in our own country, and it seems a cautionary tale. After all, Anderlecht’s been around a lot longer than the Seattle Sounders.
Numbers to consider
3000: The number of tickets that have reportedly been sold to England fans for the European Championship. This is shockingly low.
10: The number of games Joey Barton is expected to be suspended for after his red card against Manchester City, and his subsequent kick to Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero.
17: The amount, in millions of dollars, the QPR will have to pay if they wish to buy out Barton’s contract to terminate him.
4: The number of home games Alex McLeish won with Aston Villa this season, the worst ever in the team’s history. McLeish was sacked Monday.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.
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