Hello everyone, welcome back to Getting To The Game.
Thanks for all the clicks and likes etc, It's been a really busy month so far.
A trip to The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany for three games at Brugge, Roda JC and Schalke 04 and a few beers with some old friends, the main highlight. But you'll hear all about that soon.
First up was a Thursday night, under the lights at the Jan Breydelstadion, for Club Brugge vs Red Bull Salzburg in the UEFA Europa League.
Founded in 1891, Club Brugge Koninklijke Voetbalvereniging, or just Club Brugge to you and I, are the second most Successful side in Belgian football.
Having not played outside the top flight since 1959 they have enjoyed consistent success, winning fifteen league titles and eleven national cups.
Arguably their greatest ever moment came in 1978 whilst under the leadership of the great Ernst Happel when they faced holders Liverpool in the European Cup Final..
Panathinaikos, Atlético Madrid and Juventus were beaten en route to Wembely where they were finally defeated 1-0 by the English champions.
Unfortunately for the Belgians, this was second time in three seasons Liverpool had beaten them in a European final.
In 1976 it was the UEFA Cup that Liverpool defeated the Blauw-Zwart 4-3 over two legs.
Bruges hold Matricule number 3, (Matricule numbers are basically a huge list of clubs in Belgium, ranked in order of when they first registered with the football association) which is a proud boast for all clubs in the country. (Specially if like Brugge they are in the single figures)
‘Club’ share a bitter rivalry with Brussels based R.S.C. Anderlecht, often challenging each other for for the league title.
The “Derby of Belgium” is fiercely contested with each side winning two, drawing two and losing two of the last six matches.
The heated rivalry has been know to spill off the pitch too, with violence marring some of the clashes between the big two.
The hatred from the Brugge fans towards 'Les mauve' is usually aimed at their history of cheating (in 1984 Nottingham Forest fell foul of Anderlecht bribing the referee to ensure a win in Europe) on top of a whole host of other allegations that surround the Brussels team.
On top of that, it’s believed by their fans that Brugge are a team of the people and Anderlecht are a team for the well off, bourgeoisie.
Similar to Manchester’s blue and red divide or in Greece between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos.
They play their home games the the 29,000 seater Jan Breydel Stadium which they share with rivals Cercle Brugge.
Built in 1975 it resembles the brutalist architecture of Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre or the Trinity Centre in Gateshead, if it’s time but unfortunately that time has long since gone.
The blue and blacks have a proud tradition of plucking players from relative obscurity and turning them into players ready to take on Europe’s top five league’s.
In the past few seasons they have seen Thomas Meunier, Carlos Bacca, Ivan Perišić, Matty Ryan and Jose Izquierdo all pass through the club and on to bigger things.
Talking of the last few seasons, they’ve been kind to Bruges, the Flanders side have been Jupiler Pro League champions twice and runners up twice in the past four years.
Add to that their performances in the Cup, (one win and two finals out of four) and it has become a pretty dominating period for the side.
This season has been a mixed bag though, embarrassing league defeats at the likes of Zulte Waregem and Mouscron have left Club eleven points behind leaders Genk with five games to play before the League splits for the play offs.
In Europe though, fantastic performances in the Champions League against Monaco, Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid gained them six points, enough to set up this tie with Red Bull Salzburg.
As mentioned earlier, this was the start of three games in three days across three countries so early starts after late nights was an on running theme over the weekend.
I left my house at 07:30 Thursday morning to get the Eurostar to Brussels, met my good friend and Bruges fan Roy.
Arrived in Brussels, Train to Berchem, Car to Wuustwezel for dinner and it’s like a click of a finger it's 17:30.
Luckily it’s 21:00 kick off, or so I thought...
A crash on the main motorway through Antwerp meant we missed the Coach and had to drive another two hour to Brugge, arriving with about ten minutes to spare!
The build up to a European night at the Jan Breydelstadion is quite special, much like some of the more famous stadia around the continent.
You see the vast floodlights from miles around, and can feel the drums beating a constant rhythm as you get closer to entering the turnstile.
But more than that, you can feel the buzz of expectation and hope of the home fans.
The game starts after a rendition of You’ll never walk alone (which I hate, but that’s just a personal preference) followed by the Europa League’s second rate version of the champions League song.
Blood was pumping, atmosphere was buzzing and so were Salzburg who got off to much the better start, keeping the ball well and looking dangerous down the flanks.
Defensive frailty seemed to be the theme of the night as the Bruges back line look dodgy at best.
Red Bull’s Zlatko Junuzovic took full advantage of a defensive mix up between the Brugge stand-in right back Sofyan Amrabat and keeper Ethan Horvath.
Amrabat stood appealing for offside whilst Horvath simultaneously slipped over, leaving the Austrian an golden opportunity to dink over the stranded keeper.
From them on it was case of “game management” for Red Bull, who used every chance to waste time and get brugge players in the book.
Halftime came as a welcome break for the home team as they’d been struggling to contain the counter attack, specially in wide areas.
Club Brugge K.V. 0-1 RB Salzburg
A halftime trip to the bar, that served real alcoholic beer! Which I thought wasn’t allowed anymore on UEFA match nights, but was a pleasant surprise.
(Hopefully I’ve not just landed them in trouble, there’s probably no UEFA cronies reading anyway).
Halftime drinks turned into staying well into the second period (I missed the equaliser as I was meeting up with Tim, another friend) but did catch it on the big screen in the bar.
A header from Stefano Denswil that looked not to of crossed the line but was given by the referees watch.
As a side note, my major gripe with football in Europe is the Token/Card system to buy anything at the game!
You have to queue to load a card, then queue to get a beer after.
Then if you have money left on the card when you leave, you need to queue again to get it back!
Anyone with a good theory on this, answers at the bottom in the comments section please.
Luckily Tim has a season card and he and Roy kept me well stocked in Jupiler.
I arrived back in the stand in perfect time for the winner, a deflected cross from the right hand side headed home by Brazilian striker Wesley.
The stadium erupted, then proceeded to bite their nails for the remaining ten minutes.
The Bruges defence stayed strong until full time to give Club a 2-1 to take to Austria the following week.
All in all it was a hard fought victory for the home team, against a well drilled Salzburg side that dominated possession and had more clear cut chances.
The famous "We Are Bruges"
Maybe against the run of play, but that’s football!
After the game our friend Joren drove me, Roy, Sander and Bart back to the Antwerp region of Northern Belgium for a well earned rest, as I had to go to the Netherlands the following day.
You can listen to all the interviews I did on the way back in the videos.
There’s even one in which they all take turns at explaining the Playoff system!
Hope you enjoyed it, next time up it’s Roda JC.