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  • Writer's pictureRichard Fleming

What is Vines stepping into with a move to The Great Old?

Think of Belgian football, and you’d be forgiven for only considering the modern maestros such as Hazard, Lukaku, and De Bruyne.

A golden age for the nation still ranked number one in the world, with Courtois, Kompany, Vertonghen, Vermaelen, Fellaini, and Dembélé all past or present players. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, live league football was rare, and so the World Cup was the opportunity -once every four years - to soak up this most spectacular of sports. And so, my first taste of what Belgium had to offer came at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Many Englishmen still remember it for the ‘Hand of God’ goal from Diego Maradona, for Argentina against England.

For me, there was another name which stuck with me from that tournament, and I was fortunate to interview him years later while with the BBC. That man was Jan Ceulemans (pictured). He was a giant of a man, towering at six-foot-three, who helped Belgium reach the semifinals of the ’86 affair. I often get asked who is the most famous person I’ve interviewed. That’s a rather subjective question, but I can tell you there was a tingle of excitement ahead of that chat with Ceulemans, who shone alongside other top talent of the day, including goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, defender Eric Gerets, midfielder Enzo Scifo, and striker Nico Claesen. The modern face of football was altered by a Belgian. He was a player, though not in the same class as those mentioned above. His name is Jean-Marc Bosman, and his challenge to the European courts in 1995 changed the transfer rules forever. He fought against what he saw as a restraint of trade, and won, thereby allowing a far greater freedom of movement for European players.

Royal Antwerp, the club Sam Vines has recently signed for, is the oldest club in Belgium. They may not have the trophies of Anderlecht or Club Brugge, or even Union St. Gilloise, but they have history. Formed by English students around 1880 - just four years after Colorado joined the Union in the United States - they were in the second tier as recently as 2017, regaining their status among the country’s elite for the start of the 2017-18 season. They have won the league title only four times, once each in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Their last league success was 1956-57, allowing them to qualify for only the third edition of a new competition known as the European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League). Known as The Great Old, Antwerp flirted with European glory, reaching the final of the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup in 1993, losing 3-1 to Italian club Parma at Wembley Stadium. Most recently, they lifted the Belgian Cup with a 1-0 win over Club Brugge last August. Under the guidance of former Denmark international Brian Priske, Antwerp plays at the Bosuilstadion, which was opened in 1923 with a friendly between Belgium and England (2-2), and is currently undergoing extensive renovation. As well as Vines among their number, Royal Antwerp has recently signed Björn Engels from Aston Villa, Johannes Eggestein from Werder Bremen, and Viktor Fischer from Copenhagen. The squad also includes former Leicester City defender Ritchie De Laet, plus ex-Young Boys and Fenerbahce striker Michael Frey (the scorer of all five goals last weekend at Standard Liege). For most Colorado Rapids fans Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world, has quite the gem in Sam Vines. He may have his chance to shine this Friday, when Antwerp makes the 85 mile trip south to Charleroi.

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