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Official Review by Peter Miles, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Royal Antwerp were formed as Antwerp Athletic Club in 1880 by English students living in the city. It is generally accepted that the club is the oldest in Belgium so when the Royal Belgian FA introduced its matricule system, the revered inventory of registration and hierarchy, Antwerp were awarded the coveted matricule No.1.
The mythical Bosuilstadion has been home to the club since 1923. Prior to this the Reds played at another substantial ground called the Stadion Broodstraat which had been opened in 1908 and was used as a primary football venue for the 1920 Summer Olympics held in the city.
The Bosuilstadion has held many famous matches including the 1964 Cup Winners Cup final between Sporting Club Portugal and MTK Budapest as well as numerous international matches for the Belgian national team. Markedly there have been no Belgian internationals played at the venue since 1988.
The stadium is something of an oddity. The two ends are relatively modern with one being a glazed VIP stand, opened in 1991, for those with enough money to want to watch live football minus any semblance of the atmosphere. The structure has been branded “the fishbowl” for obvious reasons. The atmosphere at the Bosuilstadion is so legendary that it became widely known as the “Hell of Derne” such was the intimidating environment for visiting teams. At its peak the Bosuil (Dutch for “Tawny Owl”) could accommodate some 60,000 spectators.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
As with many Belgian grounds the provision of high quality draft beers is a must and is a lucrative revenue stream. Antwerp don't come up short here with a good array of draft beers available on stalls behind the stands and also in the clubhouse. In keeping with nearly all Belgian stadiums you have to buy drinks tokens (in this case stickers) of denominations of two euros from a kiosk and then these are exchanged for beer.
The main stand has a large van parked behind it which sells a good selection of Belgian fare such as Cervelat (sausage), Gehaktball (meatballs) and Frikandel (a hot dog made from minced meat) and Braadworst (a peppery sausage usually made of pork or veal). The outlet also sells global staples like hamburgers, chiliburgers and fries.
The draft beer option is Maes Pils which is very refreshing. Soda brands available are Coca-Cola, Coke Light, Coke Zero and Fanta. Bottled still water is also available.
The Braadworst is extremely tasty and compliments a glass of Maes extremely well. When it comes to beer in Belgium, you really cannot go wrong!
The majority of "the Great Old" season ticket holders are housed in the magnificent curved Tribune 2 opposite the main stand, replete with original bench seating. It is, however, in a pretty poor shape and the top right hand corner is fenced off due to safety concerns. The noise from this tribune, however, is immense and a veritable sonic boom erupts when the players enter the field or Antwerp find the net.
The two sides of the stadium have ancient edifices, both in some considerable need of renovation. The poor state of repair meant that the stadium was not considered as a host venue for Euro 2000 although the new stand behind the goal is testament to failed plans for a total renovation in readiness for an application. In more recent years the two ancient stands have deteriorated further, with signs being put up that read "do not jump, danger of collapse." It took an injury to a supporter in the vintage 1923 main stand to provoke some work to the interior of this old leviathan.
This is now the most expensive area of the stadium in which to sit, VIP area excluded. A small and unused terraced paddock area has been created underneath the seating but looks awkward and incongruous with the rest of the stand. Typically the renovations look like they have been done cheaply rather than investing properly for the future. The stand is still hampered by a leaking roof, temporary toilet facilities and a lack of lighting on the way out. Music is played before the match and the PA announcer keeps the crowd informed of team line ups, substitutions and goals.
For big games seats in Tribune 2 are hard to come by as the club have around 10,000 season ticket holders. For a less expensive seat the Tribune 3 (de Vic Meestribune) is your best bet though if you're feeling flush the renovated main stand has a good view if you avoid the first four rows or so which are obscured by a handrail running the length of the stand.
Antwerp has a long history of being a center for diamond trading and is also the birthplace of the world famous Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens. The city has a reputation for having a liberal approach towards the use of drugs and while I saw this openly happen on several occasions, it did not make me feel threatened or uncomfortable.
At the upper end of the scale Het Pomphuis serves international dishes and fusion food in luxurious surroundings. In a similar vein De Peerdestal has a fine reputation as well. The Grote Markt area also has some fine Turkish, Malaysian, Thai and Indian restaurants.
The area around the historical center is stunning and boasts major tourist sights like the Grote Markt, Cathedral of Our Lady and the Stadhuis. The old Flemish architecture is really worth seeing.
Antwerp is a sizeable city so you are not short of choices. I recommend the Antwerp Harbour Hotel which is great value even without the discount for being employed in a maritime profession! Rooms are ideal and are even soundproofed so you should be guaranteed a good night's sleep.
The Antwerp fans are magnificent, vocal and intimidating; it must palpably lift the home players when they emerge onto the field. The fan graffiti and artwork around the stadium is superb.
The stadium now has a capacity restricted to just over 16,000 and despite a lengthy spell in the second tier, attendances hold up well and 10,000 plus are not uncommon at the Bosuilstadion.
Antwerp have an ultras group called "Storm" and they are very vocal and use pyrotechnics during the game. On the occasion of very big games, Storm will walk together en masse in a "corteo" to the stadium. It is an impressive and intimidating sight.
The Bosuilstadion is located in the suburb of Deurne, approximately four miles to the east of the old city. Egress around the stadium is not the greatest - a long walk around the perimeter roads is needed to go from the main stand to the stand opposite.
If arriving by public transport the best choice is to take tram 5 from Antwerp Central station going in the direction of Wim Saerensplein. The Bosuilstadion has its own dedicated stop called Deurne Antwerp Stadion.
The stadium is easy to reach by car from the E34/E313 motorways. The club open a huge field behind the old main stand and this is where most people park. There is no charge for this and most of the surrounding streets also offer free parking.
Tickets are bought from kiosks before being scanned at the turnstiles. Security checks are in place for all fans. They seem to be only searching for pyrotechnics (even though many were let off during the game) and I saw cannabis being openly smoked in the stands.
Once you pass the turnstiles you cannot move to any other stand. Due to the age of the main two tribunes I saw no special facilities or access points for disabled supporters.
The fans make the stadium and the experience in all honesty. Their verve and loyalty is truly admirable as their grand old stadium crumbles further with every passing season. For a great footballing atmosphere it is worth the entry price, no question, but don't expect top notch facilities.
Anderlecht aside, Antwerp's match day ticket prices are the most expensive I have come across in many trips to this wonderful country. I cannot fathom how the prices relate to the facilities on offer and can only conclude it's well and truly a case of old-fashioned supply and demand, the club charging what they feel they can get away with. The central seats are €60 while modern plastic seats to either side can be yours for €25 a piece. Had I remained in my allocated seat both goals would have been totally obscured by a rail barrier from the old configuration of the stand. Avoid the front four rows at all costs.
I could not find any savings to be had on pre-purchase or any other way to reduce the cost of attending.
A superb A4 glossy matchday program sells for two euros from stands just beyond the turnstiles.
So what to make of the Bosuilstadion? Old school stands, massive floodlights (albeit only 3 of them since one blew down in a storm), and terrific support tick many people's boxes. However, expensive tickets, quite frankly dangerous infrastructure and a lack of direction of the future of the stadium must be a concern. The previous board of the club seemed content to plod along knowing they could rely on the unswerving support of the fans yet offering them little in the way of creature comforts. Hopefully the more progressive board now in power will provide the magnificent fans of this club with the kind of future they absolutely deserve.
Member Review by sanderkolsloot on Jan 13, 2014
The ‘Bosuil’ is the home of the Royal Antwerp Football Club, the oldest football club in Belgium. The club is nicknamed ‘The Great Old’ and has known a lot of success in its long and lasting history.
The most recent accomplishment dates back to the early nineties, when the club reached the Europa Winner’s Cup final in Wembley Stadium, London. They lost the game against A.C. Parma from Italy, which has since also gone on a decline as well.
Since then, the club has had a lot of problems staying in the highest league and unfortunately relegated about 10 years ago and hasn’t returned since. They have a friendly bond with Manchester United, resulting in Antwerp getting some of the young talents for their squad, who can ripen in the lower Belgian League.
Although the club has been in decline on the field, the club still has one of the largest fan bases in Belgium, frequently selling out their Deurne home, anxiously called the Hell of Deurne by opponents.
Bosuilstadium was built in the 1920’s and was a state of the art, round stadium, to the likes of the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam.
In the early days, it could hold 38,000 spectators and for national matches against The Netherlands, the capacity was raised to 60,000.
It’s one of the stadiums in which The Dutch have played the most of their country matches (all of them being against Belgium).
The stadium was partly covered on all ends and had been in good shape until the 1980’s and 1990’s. At that time, the walls were coming down and the stadium had to be closed several times by the city of Antwerp. The stadium was then renovated, tearing down the two short sides, replacing it by a totally closed business seats area (capacity 800) and a modern family stand, providing 3,000 seats to spectators, mostly families.
The total capacity is now 16,649, amongst the bigger stadiums in Belgium.
In October/November 2013, the problems with the stadium have been back, due to bad maintenance and lack of sufficient funds. The main stand had to be closed for a couple of weeks, due to loose pieces of concrete and lackluster foundation. For now there’s no sight of a new home for the Great Old, so expect more of this in the coming years.
Renovation is needed and has started with the renovation of the two shorter sides. If the city and the state can get together and find some decent financing, the dream of a new stadium might be accomplished.
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