This year the champions of the Belgian second division will be directly promoted to the Jupiler League – that in itself is for complicated reasons – but the actual denouement has dissolved into chaos.
Going into the final weekend, three clubs can gain promotion: Eupen (on 61 points), Royal Antwerp (61) and White Star Bruxelles (60). Royal Antwerp and Eupen meet at the Bosuil stadium, while White Star play lowly Patro Eisden.
On the surface then, all is serene. But there’s trouble bubbling under.
Royal Antwerp is Belgium’s oldest club. Champions in 1957, they reached the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final in 1993. That might have impressed the Manchester United management as the Belgian club were signed on as a feeder club back in 1999. That brought some rewards but not enough; Antwerp have been in the second division since 2004.
Eupen is the only professional club from Belgium’s German-speaking region. In 2012, the club was bought by the Qatari Aspire Foundation. The aim was to get Eupen into the JPL in order to give academy graduates a reasonable standard of football. They have been close to promotion several times in recent years but no cigars yet.
White Star Bruxelles is a club with few supporters – crowds of roughly 500 – debts, no ground of its own and no license that would allow them to play in the JPL next season. Nevertheless, they are close to gaining promotion. They currently play at Stade Machtens, the ground of RWDM47 – the club that emerged from the ashes of RWDM (champions in 1975) – in a hotly-contested ground-share. John Bico runs the club, he was once an agent for Frank Ribery and latterly Eden Hazard.
Infringements, appeals, celebrations and disappointments
Back in October, White Star visited Seraing – the result being a 1-1 draw. Seraing’s goal was scored by Jeffrey Rentmeister who had recently joined the club. Unfortunately for the home club, they were under a FIFA-imposed transfer ban at the time.
Fast forward to April 25 and an appeal is finally heard against Seraing fielding an ineligible player. Seraing are found to be in breach of regulations and White Star are granted two extra points (i.e. a victory by forfeit instead of a draw).
Cue celebrations in Brussels as White Star goes top – with 62 points – and they will be champions with a victory over Patro Eisden.
These celebrations were short-lived as Eupen made a formal protest against the decision. On April 28, the Belgian FA announced that the places in the table had never been revised due to the appeal against the appeal over the fielding of an ineligible player.
So Eupen and Antwerp went back (sic) on top of the table, with the clubs due to meet in Antwerp on Sunday evening. The match is sold out.
Going into the weekend
As for form, Royal Antwerp’s has been terrible – taking 10 points from the last available 30. Eupen meanwhile have gained 25 points in the same timeframe.
If either Eupen or Royal Antwerp win tonight, they will be (provisional) champions. If the match ends in a draw and White Star win, then White Star will be (provisional) champions.
Nothing will be decided tonight
As for the future, White Star will learn if they have a license for next season on Monday. Recent noises indicate that the club will be able to play at Stade Machtens in Molenbeek and debts rarely stop any club in Belgium from getting a license.
But the big one – the decision on whether Racing White will gain two extra points due to Seraing’s infringement – will not be known until May 11. It could only happen in …. no I vowed never to say that.