Again an unexpected football history in Belgium! This time we found one in Brussels (Uccle to be exact) and we'll dive into the history of the old and glorious Hippodrome of Boitsfort.
Oddly enough the stadium carries the name of the neighbouring village Boitsfort and not from Uccle where it's situated. The main reason behind this is the fact the hippodrome was built next to the already existing station of Boitsfort. The name already gives it away, this wasn't built for footballing purposes. This was in fact a project started up by king Leopold II (a huge horse race fan himself) to give the growing bourgeoisie in Brussels extra entertainment. The hippodrome in Ostend gave inspiration to have plans put together to build one in Brussels in 1875, proposed by the king himself.
Quickly the plans were approved and the same year construction started. Well, a part of the Sonian Forest was disowned and the actual construction started in 1877 and construction of the royal grand stand started in 1878. This one was reserved for the Beau Monde of Brussels. The average Joe was allowed to enjoy the races as well, but they had to take place on the grass field/pitch surrounded by the race track.
It became a huge success and not long after (in 1900) a second small stand was built as well as a weighing place and a tower for announcers. In 1920 a monumental entrance gate was added as well. Due to the successes it was decided to start renovation works during WWII. They started in 1942 and were only finalised in 1951. Sadly enough the interest in horse racing dropped quickly and new solutions were sought. We believe this must have been more or less the time when Royal Racing Club de Boitsfort started playing in this stadium. The very first football moments!
How do we know this? Well after Racing Club de Bruxelles left the Stade des Trois Tilleuls (due to high renting costs) the owner of the stadium was looking for a new team. It was only recently built so it needed new activities. RRC Boitsfort was asked but they refused. They didn't want to step into a project that was too high demanding and could mean their downfall. They stayed in the neighbouring Hippodrome.
It isn't 100% sure how long they stayed there exactly, but several online Brussels sources confirm non league teams in local FAs played in the Hippodrome as well. The more years passed by the less horse races were organised. It seemed like football was taking over. But midway the 80s RRC Boitsfort underwent several mergers and ended up moving to the Stade des Trois Tilleuls after all. In 1987 the last horse race was held and by then the stands had already lost most of their pride and glory.
In the beginning the buildings were used by restaurants and discotheques. At one point football disappeared as well and the grass pitch was taken over by the Brussels Golf Club. It went from bad to worse in the years thereafter. All restaurants, bars and discotheques closed and the buildings and stands were left to decay. By 2005 it was that bad a demolition came up. The local people and politicians stopped that and started a project to renovate this place.
That renovation started in 2013 and by 2016 the area has a brighter future. The entrance gate has just been renovated. Besides the Brussels Golf Club, better known as Brussels Drohme Golf Club, there will be other sports activities (sadly enough no football) and several bars and restaurants. When walking through the stands you definitely get a bourgeoisie feeling, ideal for horse races as they were intended to be held. Not so much a football feeling, so it most have been very exceptional to have seen any football there at all. A hidden football treasure in Brussels, definitely worth a visit!
If you want to enjoy our articles in Dutch, you can read them here.