After a number of bad performances abroad a negative feelings about the Belgian teams and league, the last couple of years my native country is on the way up again. The national team has its brightest selection of young talents available in over a decade, and fans from all parts of the country have massively embraced the national team again. Also, a few years after the reforms of the league (notably entering a play-off system to determine the nation’s champion, European slots and relegators to second division) the Belgian clubs are also again performing better in Europe.
RSC Anderlecht, last year’s champion of Belgium, qualified for the Champions League for the first time in 5 years. While they were eliminated in the group phase, they did get a lot of positive comments from Belgian football fans and from their opponents. Only Spanish club Malaga CF was clearly too strong for Anderlecht when they beat them 0-3 in Brussels. In the other 5 games of the group stage, Anderlecht showed a decent and sometimes downward good display. They also had a few good results, such as a 0-0 draw in San Siro against AC Milan, a draw away to (already qualified) Malaga, and a well deserved home victory against Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg. They were unlucky to lose in Russia and unlucky at home versus Milan too, but only in one game out of six they were truly deserving the loss. Anderlecht left the Champions League with heads up high.
Our other teams in Europe this year also didn’t do too bad. Only Lokeren and KAA Gent (Lokeren won the Belgian Cup in 2011-2012 season) did not make the group stages of the Europa League, Lokeren however came close: losing only on away goals rule against Viktoria Plzen (who would later win their group ahead of Atletico Madrid). Only Ghent could look back in anger, as they were beaten chancelessly by Hungarian team Videoton (after already struggling to eliminate Luxembourgish amateurs Differdange). Club Brugge did not perform too well neither, finishing bottom in their group, but they had a win versus Maritimo Funchal and a hopegiving draw versus Newcastle United. KRC Genk finally managed to qualify for the next stage for the first time in their history and remain active in Europe as last Belgian representant.
Optimism is returning in Belgian football. However, this was after a dark decade in which we saw corruption scandals, bad results, and most dramatic: the loss of some traditional clubs. Perhaps most dramatically was the death of RWDM, along with neighbours Union St Gilloise the true "people’s club" in Brussels (Anderlecht fans and players come from all over the nation rather than having a specific Brussels identity) and a club with a very long and complex tradition. A tradition that will never be forgotten. But is there also a future for the popular team from St Jans Molenbeek? A few people are trying to revive the memory of the club or even the club itself, although such attempts so far have been not very succesful.
First of all we need to have a brief look at why RWDM was so iconic. It was the result of several mergers. Unlike most merged teams, this team however had a long tradition because the clubs merging all were amongst the oldest clubs in the country.
One of the first clubs to exist in Belgium was Daring Club Bruxelles, which would later rename itself Daring Molenbeek. The club predated the 20th century and when matricule numbers were introduced later on by the Belgian FA, the club received the nr 2. Only Royal Antwerp FC had an older number. The club, playing in black and red, was highly iconic and played most of its existance in what is now the Edmond Machtensstadion. The club was a true "people’s club", an identity that would be preserved after the merger. Their main rivals initially were Union St Gilloise, until after the second World War, when Anderlecht started to rise to the top of Belgian football and become a main rival of Daring. Distance between both stadiums: maximum 2 kilometers.
Only few kilometers further down the road, Racing Club Bruxelles was founded. They received the matricule number 6. They used several grounds during their existance, but most notoriously was the Ganzenvijver stadium in Uccle (the oldest stadium in Belgium, still used for hockey games nowadays) and the Stade des Trois Tilleuls in Watermael-Boitsfort. The latter has a capacity of over 50000 people and is in fact the biggest stadium in the country. As most of the ground are terraces without safety regulations, top football is impossible here, although teams from lower amateur divisions still play football here in this stadium to date.
Finally, on the other side of the capital, in Woluwe-St-Lambert, White Star received the matricule number 47. They played in several grounds during their existance, most known are the ground at the Rue Kelle (which still exists today but only the pitch, the terracing and stands are gone) and later on the Stade Fallon (which was also used for athletics).
The clubs did very well but after the second World War, things changed a lot. Anderlecht, not even a top team before the war, rapidly professionalised and started to rise, it quickly became the new force in Belgian football. RFC Liege and to lesser extent Antwerp, powerhorses before the war, lost their leading positions although occasional successes still happened and both clubs remained amongst the best supported clubs in Belgian football. Club Brugge KV had a few successes in the past, but in the sixties and seventies established itself as a top club to stay. They started winning more and more titles and fans, and even reached a European final. Finally, Standard Liege managed to keep its position as an imporant challenger to the top teams.
The success of Anderlecht just down the road, made other Brussels clubs realise they were losing more and more force and had to unite to overcome problems on the pitch or off the pitch (financial problems). Union Saint-Gilloise remained independent as only Brussels club which existed from the very start of Belgian football. The other clubs in the shadow of Anderlecht would at some point disappear or merge to survive. The latter was also done between RRC Bruxelles (who rarely filled their giant stadium and also didn’t perform well on pitch) and White Star. The clubs decided to join forces and maintain the matricule nr 47, in order to play in the Stade Fallon under the name Racing White. The matricule nr 6 was saved by a bureaucratic trick in which a loophole in the rules was used to pass on the matricule 6 de facto to KFC La Rhodienne (currently Rhodienne-De Hoek, who continue playing under matricule nr 6).
Sidenote: Woluwe FC, the current White Star Woluwe playing in second division in the Stade Fallon, was a different club alltogether. The only link is that they adopted the White Star name in order to keep the name alive. Other than that, they were a different story alltogether.
In 1973 the Woluwe based club RC White reached out to their friends in Molenbeek, the other side of Brussels. Both teams decided a merger was the best solution, and thus the matricule 2 was deleted and the both clubs merged under the nr 47 of RC White. The name of the new club became RWDM: Racing White Daring Molenbeek. They were invited to add the "Royal" to their name but while accepting the title, they are one of the very few clubs who decided not to include this title in the club name. RWDM would play in black-red-white colours in the Machtensstadium of Daring Molenbeek. It was an instant success and the club was rising high in the first years following the merger, even winning a national championship and playing in Europe several times.
While mergers are often frowned upon, RWDM was different. The fans immediately embraced the new team. The club became known as a true "people’s club", with a fanfare playing music non-stop during games as one of their most famous and most iconic features. The RWDM fanfare gained notoriety in the whole of Belgium.
But the dream wasn’t meant to last, and in 2002 after constant financial problems, RWDM could no longer pay off their debts and were officially dead.
Since then different people have tried to make RWDM rise again, or even claim their club is the rightful heir of the RWDM legacy. So far success is limited though, making one wonder if there is really a future for an RWDM revival or not. Let’s look at the attemps.
Johan Vermeersch, who was also president of RWDM before it disbanded, wanted to assure football would continued to be played in Molenbeek-St-Jean, one of the poorer communities within the capital district and with a large immigrant population. He did not want the Machtensstadium to remain unused, and also wanted a club with a good youth program to offer expat children a safe and healthy alternative for hanging around on unsafe streets.
At that moment there was a club from just outside the capital district playing in the second nationwide division: KFC Strombeek, from the village of Strombeek-Bever which bordered the capital district. The club however had few fans and their stadium De Singel was amongst the smallest at their level. Johan Vermeersch offered the club to relocate to the Machtensstadium in Molenbeek (inside Brussels Capital District) to fill in the vacant place left behind by RWDM. KFC Strombeek, matricule nr 1936, finished the season in the Molenbeek stadium and then made the relocation permanent: it changed its name to FC Molenbeek Brussels Strombeek, or abbreviated FC Brussels. It changed its club colours to red and black, like the old Daring Molenbeek, and fans of the old RWDM started to show strong attention to the new club. The club did well on the pitch and quickly promoted to the highest division. Also, in their first months under the new name, they were drawn against big neighbours and rivals Anderlecht for the Belgian Cup. I attended this game , Brussels took a shock lead but would eventually lose 1-5. But the public turnout and the ticket sales alone were reason enough to celebrate. Brussels was winning the sympathies of many former RWDM fans.
However, not all embraced the new club. For a small number of die-hard fans only a club using the initials RWDM could really claim the legacy of the old RWDM. They founded a new club and named it RWDM (to avoid an exact copy of the old club’s name they made it Racing Whitestar Daring Molenbeek, a small difference and the initials remained the same). They bought the rights to use the logo of the old RWDM and considered their club to be the true successor of the old RWDM. The plan was to start playing in the lowest league (8th level) but try to rise quickly, and play at the second pitch of the Machtensstadium where the old RWDM had its home. The latter never happened, leading to the new RWDM having to play at the extremely small pitch (no stands whatsoever) of the Stade Verbist in Molenbeek.
The club received matricule 9449. In 2006, three years after the start of this new RWDM, the club de facto merged with ZD Hulsbeek-Geetbets, from a town near Leuven. In fact this was only a merger de jure. De facto, ZDHG disappeared and RWDM took their vacant place in the highest provincial league, which is 5th division overall. This way RWDM promoted straight from the lowest to the highest provincial division. Games started to attract more people and RWDM seemed to be on their way back. Especially because FC Brussels could not save themselves from relegating back to second division, the new RWDM hoped it would continue to rise and make claim to be the real continuation of RWDM. However, the club took a leap a bit too far. Organisational and structural issues were torturing the club and their stint in the highest provincial level lasted just one year. They relegated twice in a row and would eventually relegate back to the lowest division, where they still play today. Meanwhile, they had changed their name to RWDM 2003. However, the expirement was not a success, and public turnout was very low. The club also had to switch between different grounds several times, currently being based in Ganshoren (neighbouring St-Jans-Molenbeek). Their reserves even have to go as far as Vilvoorde to play and train. Family of the players aside, nobody is attending their games anymore.
Meanwhile, FC Brussels was also going from bad to worse. Financial problems grew, and number of fans dropped more and more. Currently at the time of writing, the stadium with capacity over 15000, receives below 1000 people for the average FC Brussels home game. The club has now accepted an investment group from Dubai who want to invest in the club. It is a question mark whether this will turn around things for the better or not. The club still has a great youth program with a big multicultural touch, but one of the frustrations of FC Brussels is that the most talented youngsters are often taken away by other clubs just before they were close to reaching the first team of FC Brussels. At the time of writing FC Brussels struggles to survive in second division, after narrowly avoiding relegation also last year.
One other team from Brussels is doing great: White Star Woluwe FC. This club with matricule 5750 has risen to the second division (where FC Brussels also play) and this season won the first play-off ticket for possible promotion to the highest league. The club suddenly lost their most important financial resource but apparently they found a solution and look forward to playing the playoffs for promotion. The club has nothing to do with the ancient RWDM though. The club was founded in 1948 as FC Kapelleveld (a quarter whose pitch is literally up the hill above the Stade Fallon) and chose to play in amateur football. The club even played in Evere despite the name Kapelleveld. In 1950 the name was changed to Woluwe FC and 4 years later the club left the Labourers amateur league to affiliate with the Belgian FA proper. They initially played at the Stade Fallon but due to disputes with the community moved to the Kapelleveld district. In 1972 they moved back to the B pitch of the Stade Fallon, and one year later (when RC White merged with Daring Molenbeek) the main pitch of the Fallon complex became available. Woluwe FC had meanwhile become White Star Woluwe, adopting the White Star name after the initial White Star merged to form Racing White. Since then the club is on a steady rise and currently one of the better teams in second division.
There are however complaints. White Star Woluwe has a lack of fans and the old RWDM fanfare showing up now and then doesn’t really attract more fans to the Stade Fallon. The Stade Fallon, with its athletics track and relatively small stand, also doesn’t meet the criteria for top division football. The stadium of FC Brussels is perfect, but FC Brussels struggles on the pitch and fans of the old RWDM abandoned the club one by one. The RWDM 2003 initiative proved to be a total failure.
Former Belgian international Michel De Wolf still hopes to revive RWDM as the second big club in the capital district. We make a move away from the capital and head towards the border with Luxembourg, over 200 km away from Brussels and in the very southern tip of Belgium. There, a local team from the small village of Bleid, was rising rapidly since foundation. The club FC Bleid had matricule 9026 and with the help of a Luxembourgish investor climbed the hierarchy of Belgian football. The fact they initially had no ground in Bleid itself and had to play in neighbouring St Mard, proved no serious problem. FC Bleid in rapid tempo reached the third division. Then problems started, on the pitch but also finnacially. In 2011 the club announced it would go into administration. At the last moment though the club changed its mind and continued on their own rule. The name of the club was changed to FC Bleid-Gaume, refering to the Gaume area in the very southern point of Belgium.
One year later, in 2012, financial issues proved too much to handle and the club decided to disband. To recover some money they offered the matricule number 9026 for sale. The club buying this number would take over their position in third division. Michel De Wolf saw some big opportunities here and purchased the matricule. He then moved the club about 200 km away from Bleid and installed it into the capital city. It was too late to request a name change with the FA so the name FC Bleid-Gaume remained, but everyone (fans, media, …) call the club FC Bleid-Molenbeek. The colours were changed to the red and black of the old Daring Molenbeek and the intention remains to rename the club RWDM 47 at the end of this season and thus become the true heir of the old RWDM.
Of course this new incarnation of RWDM required to play in Molenbeek. An initial agreement to use the 3rd pitch of the Machtensstadium was eventually broken. The club thus had to play its first games as a homeless team. The first home game of FC Bleid-Molenbeek took place in Wemmel, the second home game was played in the stadium of Rebecq, and for the third home game no stadium was appointed in time, leading to a 0-5 forfait defeat. The club from the very start faced a lot of issues but the determination of Michel De Wolf remained intact. After some negotiating with the city council, the club was offered to play this season on the B pitch of the Stade Roi Baudoin in Laeken. The "Kleine Heizel" as it is sometimes called has 3 serious stands, and was already used by 5th divionist multicultural club Etoile Bruxelles Capitale (formerly known as Etoile Marocaine). Etoile however didn’t mind sharing the stadium with FC Bleid-Molenbeek. So for this season, Bleid had its home, but Michel De Wolf made it clear he hopes to find a new home stadium in Molenbeek for next season when the namechange to RWDM 47 will be made. During this name change the RWDM 2003 amateurs in the lowest provincial division, would be annexed by RWDM 47 (or FC Bleid, as you wish).
But FC Bleid-Molenbeek (let’s use this name as anyone else does) is undergoing a very tough maiden season. Large defeats followed in rapid tempo, and the club soon found itself bottom of the table in third division. The first ever victory was in the derby against neighbours Union St Gilloise: 2-0. The next weekend the return game at Union was already played, and despite the team doing quite well they’d eventually eventually lose 2-1 to Union. What was remarkable though: the public attendance. There were a lot of Bleid fans, some coming by bus, some walking to the Union stadium. The number of Bleid-Molenbeek fans was surprisingly high for a third division team which (ignoring the incarnation as FC Bleid in the Ardennes) is totally new and was struggling on the pitch. However, the fans didn’t seem to care. They were large in numbers, and important: they all wore RWDM flags and banners. While the number of fans going to FC Brussels is dropping dramatically, FC Bleid-Molenbeek immediately managed to attract a lot of fans of the old RWDM, and they also really used their RWDM banners and flags during the game. This could be an indication that despite the uncertain future, they consider FC Bleid-Molenbeek to be the new hope of a real RWDM revival.
While the public’s enthousiasm must be pleasing Michel De Wolf, the team kept on losing game after game and at the time of writing is bottom of the table with just 13 points. Possibly they will lose 7 or 10 of those points for putting a suspended player on the pitch, although the protest against this punishment is still awaiting an outcome. If they drop back to 3 or 6 points relegation to 4th division is a fact, even if the punishment would be overturned it will require a bit of a miracle to save the club from relegation. But Michel De Wolf remains optimistic: old RWDM fans seem to embrace the club, and next season the club name RWDM 47 should make the statement "we are the continuation of RWDM" very clear. De Wolf said to remain optimistic, even if the club would relegate.
So summarised: RWDM 2003 was a big failure, FC Brussels made a promising start to replace the old RWDM but meanwhile has few fans left and their financial survival may rely on the money the investors from Dubai promised, and FC Bleid Molenbeek seems to do attract and charm the old RWDM fans despite being in fact a club that was moved 200 km to Brussels after the people in Bleid decided not to continue their club there. But with big ambitions, with a name change to RWDM 47 coming up, and with the approval of many fans of the old RWDM, maybe FC Bleid-Molenbeek has the biggest chance to somewhat revive the RWDM feeling. But without knowing which stadium they’ll play in next season, question marks remain here as well.
The one club in this story that does well is White Star Woluwe, but they in fact have no relation to the clubs that used to form the original RWDM.
Under the idea to create a second big club in the capital and revive RWDM properly, fans of Brussels and White Star have been discussing the idea of a merger between their two clubs and FC Bleid-Molenbeek. It would unite the fans scattered across the three clubs, the financial means would be bigger if they’d merge, the club could continue playing in the Machtensstadium and the name RWDM or some small variant could be used. It sounds like a realistic plan rationally, for sure.
However, Michel De Wolf made it clear FC Bleid-Molenbeek already made their future plans and will not be considering mergers. Relegation to the 4th division won’t change this. So with the club attracting a fair part of the old RWDM fans stating they are not supporting the idea of a merger, the plan would be reduced to FC Brussels and White Star Woluwe alone and in that situation it is doubtful if a merger would make sense. On top of that Johan Vermeersch now found new financial investors in Dubai and is very keen on nobody touching the FC Brussels youth program. So it is doubtful if he is really supporting the idea of a merger.
So it seems in the end nothing will change and all three clubs have their own specific problems and with the fans of the old RWDM divided more and more across the different clubs that claim the legacy of RWDM. The situation is so sad to see that maybe we should wonder if it would not be more respectful to let RWDM rest in peace rather than risk to soil its heritage. But who knows, if Michel De Wolf is serious with his plans and doesn’t let a relegation scare him off, maybe there lies potential there. Finding a ground in Molenbeek itself may be the biggest obstacle for now.
To add to the confusion, Vincent Kompany (captain of the Belgian national team, ex RSC Anderlecht, currently with Manchester City) is willing to invest in a club in his native Brussels because he wants to offer a quality football education for the youth of the city. He first negotiated with WS Woluwe but apparently no agreement could be made. I am unaware if FC Brussels has been approached yet by him, but he certainly did talk to FC Bleid-Molenbeek. Michel De Wolf called the proposal and the idea of a financial injection from Kompany interesting enough to continue negotiating, and apparently shared Kompany’s concerns on assuring a good youth football program for the youngsters of the capital city.
In the margins of all of this, some other clubs existed with a remote connection to RWDM or its ancestors:
in the nineties an amateur team under the name Sporting Daring Club de Bruxelles existed. The team had matricule nr 9211 and to my knowledge played at the Vogelzang pitch in Anderlecht. The club only played amateur football in the lowest leagues though, and was short-lived.
The name Racing White de Woluwe was for a brief period also re-occuring: this was in fact the reserve team of White Star Woluwe who wanted to enter a normal league rather than a reserve teams’ league (in those days reserve teams were not allowed in regular leagues as it is now). So the reserves of White Star Woluwe were branded RC White Woluwe and given their own matricule nr 9432. They played on the B pitch of the Stade Fallon. To my knowledge, this initiative ceased to exist within the year. Still existing though but not really connected to RWDM in any way, is the women’s team FC Femina WS Woluwe, who play under matricule nr 9358 on the second pitch of the Stade Fallon.
The name RRC Bruxelles has also revived by a totally new club. In 1985 a new Racing Club Bruxelles was founded with matricule 9012. The club would after a few seasons merge with SK Watermael (matricule 7759) and finally in 1991 also with RRC Boitsfort (matricule 556). The notorious Racing Anderlecht (notorious for a never-seen-before-in-Belgium nr of goals against them, losing each game with scores going as high as 41-0) was annexed as well but that club would cease to exist anyway. The merger with RRC Boitsfort, who played in the Trois Tilleuls, means the new RRC Bruxelles was now also playing in the same huge stadium where the initial RRC Bruxelles played until approx 40 years earlier. Of course, despite the name and location, this is a totally new club. The club meanwhile has changed names again and adopted the name RRC Boitsfort again.
In 2005 a club was founded under the name RRC de Bruxelles 1891 (refering to the year the initial RRC Bruxelles was founded). They were given the matricule 9473. To my knowledge they disbanded within the year. I am unaware who was behind this club and if they played on a side pitch of the Trois Tilleuls or on the main pitch. I am unaware if there was any connection with RRC Boitsfort and why the club folded so rapidly (although this occurs quite often in Brussels that clubs cease to exist after just 1 year. There is even a notorious example of the club CongoSport Bruxelles who applied for FA membership, were given a matricule and were accepted as a member club, but again disbanded before having even played an official league game…)