We usually don't visit first division teams, but some of them are really worth visiting. The Luminus Arena in Genk is one of those beauties. A fairly new stadium, we must admit. But it has gained a lot of history, soul and passion over the past two decades.
But to dive into the history of KRC Genk is actually to dive into the history of two other teams. Let's start with Waterschei SV Thor. In 1919 Waterschei's Sport Vereeniging Thor was founded. Originally the Thor stood for 'Tot Herstel Onzer Rechten', as a complaint against the French linguistic oppression in the mining industry, which was big in the Genk area. Team colours obviously became yellow and black as well. The Belgian FA didn't agree to the actual name, so the team later changed the meaning into 'Tot Heil Onzer Ribbenkast'. In 1925 the team joined the Belgian FA and across the years the name changes were only subtle. First it became Waterschei Sport Vereeniging Thor. Later on Waterschei Sportvereniging Thor, before changing into K Waterschei SV Thor, and finally it became K Waterschei SV Thor Genk.
It would take until 1954 before the team managed to reach first division. Apart from one year, the team would be a steady first division team during the 50s, but in the 60s they experienced their very first bad image. In 1961 they relegated to second division and in 1963 they were found guilty of match fixing after they bribed a former player who moved to Tilleur. The Belgian FA punished them by relegating the team to third division. Thor Waterschei would quickly return though. The rest would be an up and down between third and second division.
In 1974 finally they won third division and they had a non losing streak of 43 games in a row! That streak, ironically enough, was ended by Tilleur. In 1978 finally they returned to first division and a miracle period started. They won the Belgian cup in 1980 and 1982 and also in the European leagues good results were noted. In 1983 they eliminated PSG in a fabulous quarter final, only to be eliminated in the semi finales by later winners Aberdeen. But then in 1984, little over 20 years after the first hit, they got caught for match fixing again. Standard had given Thor Waterschei players money to not go to the fullest in the last game of season 1981-'82. The chairman was suspended for life and coach Raymond Goethals and a couple of Belgian internationals were suspended for a couple of months.
In 1986 the team relegated to second division and they would never really recover from the second match fixing hit. In 1988 finally, they merged with KFC Winterslag. Waterschei SV Thor Genk was no longer, but at least they provided the stadium, which was later rebuilt in the current Luminus Arena.
Which brings us to the second team... Football Club Winterslag was founded in 1923 (so later than Waterschei, although their matricule number is higher - this is explained by the fact Winterslag immediately joined the Belgian FA, whereas Waterschei only did this in 1925.). The team started playing in red and black and their nickname was "de vieze mannen" (the dirty men), probably alluding to the mining industry. During the war they first reached the national leagues, in 1946 already second division followed and that's where they stayed for a number of years. During the 50s (and the rise of Waterschei) Winterslag would fall back to fourth division. It wasn't until the 70s the team started promoting again, all the way up to first division in 1974.
Limburg ruled in the 80s as Winterslag als managed to reach the European leagues and they even knocked out the big Arsenal. Between 1983 and 1987 second division followed, but just before the merger KFC Winterslag came back to where they belonged, first division. Waterschei SV Thor Genk and KFC Winterslag became KRC Genk in 1988. The Noordlaan stadium from KFC Winterslag was used by the youth teams in the beginning, but was demolished in 2004 - sadly enough.
In the beginning the merger wasn't a success and the team quickly relegated to second division. It wasn't until Aimé Antheunis was hired as coach the real come back started. In 1998 they won the Belgian cup and in 1999 they became the champions for the first time ever. In 2000 another cup win followed and in 2002 yet another championship. Ever since KRC Genk can be considered as one of the top teams in Belgium, winning more cups and titles afterwards. This year they seem to be on a roll again.
We can't even begin to sum up the big players who have ever played for Waterschei, Winterslag and Genk. To name a few though: Lei Clijsters, Marc Emmers, Jos Heyligen, Dirk Medved, Ronny Gaspercic, Luc Nilis, Patrick Teppers, Robert Waseige... and this is even leaving out the bigger players from KRC Genk.
We mentioned the stadiums before already. The Noordlaan stadium is completely gone and nothing remembers of KFC Winterslag anymore. The old Waterschei stadium is gone as well. They used to play in the André Dumontstadion, but after the merger this was completely rebuilt. The name was changed into Thyl Gheyselinckstadion. The biggest changes came afterwards and in 1999 the name was changed into Fenixstadion. Still the name a lot of fans use to this day, although sponsor deals throughout the years made the name into Cristal Arena and Luminus Arena.