Usually we don't visit first division teams, unless they are really worth while according to our groundhopping standards. And there are a few. The Freethielstadion is one of those beautiful stadiums. Not that far away from Antwerp city KVRS Waasland-SK Beveren (a mouthful for SK Beveren) plays in a typical Belgian ground, in the middle of the city center. Just like it used to be in the good old days.
Originally the stadium was built for SK Beveren-Waes, but now a completely different team is playing here. A team that followed the footsteps of the old and glorious SK Beveren. This new team started its activities in 1936 already as Red Star, playing in the neighbouring Haasdonk. The team was founded by Robert Waterschoot (who has a stadium named after him as well) and Red Star started playing in the Flemish FA. It wasn't until 1944 (in full war period) they joined the Belgian FA as FC Red Star Haasdonk. In 1948 already Red Star managed to reach the highest regional league. They would remain in the regional leagues however with ups and downs. One of the ups was in 1961 when they re-entered the highest regional league.
The next couple of decades would mean ups and downs again. Finally in the year 2000 Red Star managed to reach the national leagues. And there was immediate success as they won their league and promoted to third division after one year already. But all of that success had a downside as well. Their own Robert Waterschootstadion soon became too small for third division and in 2002 they made a move to the neighbouring Puyenbekestadion. That had become vacant after the downfall of Sint-Niklase SK (a full story on this stadium and this team will follow soon - something to look forward to). That move also implied a name change to KV Red Star Waasland. Not to follow in the footsteps of the old Sint-Niklase SK but to embrace the fans in the Sint-Niklaas area more.
In 2004 Red Star won third division and promoted to second division for the first time ever. Even there the successes kept coming. They reached the playoffs and in the cup they made some good appearances for a number of years in a row. The fans in Sint-Niklaas embraced the team, but the people in Haasdonk were looking for a new team. A group of volunteers founded Herleving Red Star Haasdonk.
In 2010 the neighbouring KSK Beveren experienced financial problems and they even fell back to third division. The same year it was announced there would come an unofficial merger between KSK Beveren and KV Red Star Waasland. Why unofficial? Because if it was to be official the debts of KSK Beveren were brought to the new team to bear. KSK Beveren disappeared and KV Red Star Waasland changed its name into KV Red Star Waasland-Sportkring Beveren. This time it was to follow in the footsteps, unlike their move to Sint-Niklaas. Red Star moved to the Freethielstadion, but kept using the Puyenbekestadion for their B team and their youth teams.
On to KSK Beveren... In 1926 Standaard Football Club Beveren-Waes joined the Belgian FA, but unfortunately they ceased activities in 1931 already. Fans in Beveren still wanted to see football and in 1934 the team was re-founded as Voetbalclub Sportkring Beveren. In 1935 they joined the Belgian FA as Sportkring Beveren-Waes. The team would remain in the regional leagues until 1949 when they first promoted to third division. In 1960 though SK Beveren-Waes relegated to the newly created fourth division.
And then came the 60s. In 1963 they returned to third division. In 1966 and new promotion followed, this time to second division. Thanks to Wilfried Van Moer and Guy Thys they promoted to first division after only one year in second. In 1970 the next step was taken, SK Beveren-Waes reached European football. In the second round they surprisingly eliminated Valencia before being eliminated by Arsenal. After a short spell in second division in 1972-73 they went back to the European shows. In 1978 the name was changed into SK Beveren and the show really started. In 1978 they won the cup and a year later they became champion in Belgium. Even in Europe they had success by eliminating Inter Milan, only being eliminated themselves in the semi-finals by FC Barcelona.
Thanks to these successes and the players they had they were called 'little Anderlecht'. Some of these players were Jean-Marie Pfaff, Wim Hofkens, Jean Janssens and Freddy Buyl. In 1983 they won their second cup and in 1984 they won their second championship with players like Ronny Martens, Filip De Wilde, Julien Lodders and Paul Theunis. In 1984 the name was changed into the royal KSK Beveren, but this time the success began its downfall.
In 1990 KSK Beveren relegated to second division. Johan Boskamp brought the team back to first division, but in 1996 it was over. They relegated back to second division and the financial problems started. After one year they came back, but as of then they had to fight against relegation every year. In 2002 however a short revival popped up. Jean-Marc Guillou became technical director and he turned KSK Beveren into a team filled with players from ASEC Mimosas in Ivory Coast. At the same time a partnership with Arsenal was set up. Especially thanks to the Ivorian players KSK Beveren played better and we all saw players like Eboué, Gervinho, Boka, Romaric and Yaya Touré play at European top teams afterwards.
In 2006 Guillou had to leave the team and one year later the team struggled that hard there were talks with KSC Lokeren to create one big team in that region. Fans protested severely and the deal fell through. Shortly after they relegated to second division. Problems kept on coming in and early 2010 it seemed all over. They voluntarily relegated to third division, but it didn't had to go that far. The unofficial merger with Red Star became a fact.
While old fans wanted to keep the KSK Beveren spirit alive by founding Yellow Blue Beveren, KVRS Waasland-SK Beveren managed to go to first division in 2012. Ever since they are playing first division again, just like the good old KSK Beveren.
The Freethielstadion then. The name is derived from the first owner of the stadium, Frederik Thielemans and he managed to turn the stadium from a cycling stadium into a football stadium. It was already there in the early 1900s but during the 30s the cycling hype seemed to be over. In 1938 it was opened as a football stadium for the fairly young SK Beveren-Waes. In the beginning the stadium only contained hills and a couple of wooden stands. In 1949 the first concrete stand was opened. Throughout the decades the stadium was reformed a number of times becoming more and more modern. Luckily for us there is still one very oldschool stand with amazing terracing behind one of the goals. Even the former main entrance is still there (behind these old terracing) (foolishly enough we didn't take pictures of that old main entrance - so we need to come back one day. It's absolutely AMAZING!).