Life and death of Excelsior

I started this text in 2007. I was far, at the time, to suspect that I was writing about a future dead football club... My passion for football has long been wiped, I do not never finished it.
But the events of late 2009 and the visit, late last year, of my football friend of the time convinced me to finally complete it. I thank Mickaël for his help in writing this article.


Difficult beginnings

Royal Excelsior Mouscron The Royal Excelsior Mouscron was founded in 1964. It is a merger between the Royal Athletic Association Mouscronnoise and the Royal Stade Mouscronnois. This merger was to provide the city with an ambitious club capable of playing at the highest level. Alas, the results don't follow and the Excelsior isn't much better than its predecessors. Anonymous club of Division 3, it will fall until 1st Provincial in the 70's. His only feat is an eighth of final of the Belgian Cup in 1964.
But in 1990, the providential man finally arrives at the Stade du Canonnier : Walter Elleegeert is replaced during the season by André Van Maldeghem. The latter had a certain prestige (notably trainer in Kortrijk and Waregem in D1) and accepted the challenge launched by the then president, François Sénéchal. To raise the Excelsior in Division 2 at first, and then, to maintain it there. The club also wanted to work in the long term by keeping his coach as long as possible. The bet seemed unlikely but the miracle took place.

The beginnings in the second level were nevertheless laborious but little by little, the Reds & Whites find their marks and maintained without problem. From year to year, the Excelsior becomes a safe bet in the second national. The club even paid the luxury of eliminating the great Standard Liège managed by Robert Waseige in the Belgian Cup, before falling with the honors against KV Mechelen.
In 1994, the number 224 finished - totally unexpectedly - second overall and best attack all national divisions combined (92 goals). With this ranking, the club qualifies for the first time for the final round. During this mini-tournament, Mouscron continues its momentum and is at the gates of the D1. Remains a match to play against the Beerschot, already eliminated. Eight thousand spectators (for a stadium of 7,000 places...) in a trance are waiting for the final whistle.
Olivier Baudry opens the scoring and triggers a real madness in the stands. The Excelsior is about to reach Division 1. Alas, seven minutes from the end, the Beerschotman Rachin Wurie crucified the keeper Marc Bourgeois at close range : 1-1, final score. A dead silence reigns in the spans of the stadium, the players are shot down.
The Excelsior will not go that year to nirvana. Eendracht Aalst takes the place of Mouscron in D1.

Royal Excelsior Mouscron

It was said at the time that, ultimately, this failure would only be beneficial for the club. Indeed, it was absolutely not ready to access the D1, both sporting, infrastructure and organizational aspects. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm generated by this final round will give good ideas to some...
During the 1994-1995 season, Jean-Pierre Detremmerie, already mayor of Mouscron and MP, became more and more essential in the life of the club. Before, he was content to be president of the youth school and then honorary president. He ousted Sénéchal and placed one of his men at the head of the club, Filip Verbeke1. Businessman from East Flanders, having, among other things, taken over a textile factory in Roubaix, France.
That same season saw the Excelsior club finish once again in the places of honor but totally misses its final round. André Van Maldeghem arrived at the end of the cycle, his authority was no longer effective on the group. The assistant coach, Daniel Besengez, is acting during this mini-tournament but fails. Harelbeke's neighbors are more regular and access the national elite. Caramba, still missed !


Division 1

The club matured further during the 1995-1996 season with the arrival of Georges Leekens. The latter remained on a bitter experience at Sporting Charleroi and wanted to rebuild a moral health in a simple but ambitious club. The Reds & Whites will be led by an iron fist in a velvet glove and the results arrive immediately. Less show than before but a flawless organization.
And, finally, the consecration : the Royal Excelsior accedes to the Belgian elite for the first time, triumphing, always in the final round, with the Beerschot, Ostend and Kortrijk, three former members of D1.
Its first season in Division 1 creates a real surge of sympathy around this small club from nowhere. The Reds & Whites have even almost finished champion at the end of the season. But the Belgian Federation has lured Georges Leekens - who will qualify, against all odds, Belgium for the 1998 World Cup.
Following this unfortunate episode, Verbeke "resigns" and is replaced at short notice by Detremmerie.
No matter the final result (3rd place, with a qualification for the UEFA Cup), the Excelsior could become a real propaganda machine for the local power.
Bread and games.

In seven years, the Excelsior will have a budget of one billion Belgian francs, play the Champions League and will have a stadium of 15,000 places.

Jean-Pierre Detremmerie in 1997

To retain the public and sponsors, the club must keep its sporting level. For this, the club hires Hugo Broos (double champion of Belgium with Club Brugge, just that...) and inaugurates a policy of high salaries to attract the best players in the kingdom. But Mouscron is a small club without a solid financial base, or powerful or stable financial partners, and with a rather limited pool of supporters (the pool, not the fans ...). And that's where the problem lies.
The club will have as main sponsor successively:

  • Monument Hainaut (renovation and restoration of buildings),
  • Cuisines Hans Verkerk (Dutch company that will go bankrupt during its sponsorship for Mouscron),
  • Toff2 Furniture (local furniture store located in Dottignies),
  • The Post,
  • Toff returns on the jerseys.

About the stadium, the tribune built in1991 is extended over the entire length of the pitch, the stand on the railway side is transformed into a platform for the Kop and the old stand of 1934 is demolished and gives way to a new construction that can accommodate 4,000 people. The total capacity goes up to 10,830 places. The stadium is modern and relatively comfortable (except for away fans !).
But the Canonnier Stadium is trapped in a neighborhood of villas and can't be enlarged. Yet until the 80's, the stadium was located in the middle of countryside. But Mouscron likes to cover all its territory with residential buildings (or industrial zones)3.

Jean-Pierre Detremmerie

Jean-Pierre Detremmerie

But why worry ? Detremmerie, president-bourgmestre-deputy then has all the powers. He doesn't hesitate to appoint the alderman of finance (the socialist Jacques Fervaille) to the post of treasurer of the club, which will facilitate a lot of things. Similarly, dozens of communal employees will now be exclusively attached to the club, the gas bills, water and electricity will be paid by the City, players will be housed in social housing of the City... The list of club abuses is long.
To summarize, it is the taxes paid by the inhabitants of Mouscron that allow the club to live largely beyond its means. It isn't useless to recall the catastrophic budgetary situation of the City (put under guardianship of the CRAC4 twice, all taxes to the maximum to try to fill the deficit, seizure of the IEG5 in the communal management, waste of the communal heritage, etc.)...


The end of Hugo Broos era

After a stay of five years in Mouscron, Hugo Broos joins Sporting Anderlecht. His sporting record cannot be more positive, including a final of the Belgian Cup, a new qualification for the UEFA Cup and a regular presence in the top 6 of the D1. The Excelsior is, at that time, considered a safe bet for the D1 and the matches in the Cannoneer are never synonymous with pleasure.
But these sports successes will leave an indelible mark in the finances of the clubs. The number 224 is obliged, year after year, to sell his most beautiful jewels in order to keep his head out of the water.

It’s at this moment that the Belgian Federation introduces the licensing system : each club wishing to play in Division 1 must provide proof of being financially and legally in good standing (legal status, financial arrangement, payment of wages, social welfare, etc.) and to have infrastructures that meet a series of relatively strict criteria (minimum capacity, number of seats, lighting, security, professional medical office, car parks, access, etc.).
We see appear from then the first problems. The very lucrative sponsorship deal with The Post isn't renewed and the communal political opposition (MR-Ecolo, headed by Liberal Philippe Bracaval) begins to disclose the unclear relations between the club and the City, to the great displeasure of the majority PSC/CDH-PS. The opposition is immediately demonized to want to prevent the club from fiddling.

Canonnier Stadium

The Canonnier Stadium during a match against Standard Liège in 2007.
Against less famous teams, the stadium is much less filled.
The main grandstand equipped with skyboxes and business-seats, since the Spion Kop.

Another sign that does not deceive the instability of the club : while the Excelsior didn't have the habit of changing coach regularly, since the departure of Broos have succeeded between 2002 and 2009 no less than eleven coaches : Lorenzo Staelens, Georges Leekens (for one season only), Philippe Saint-Jean, Geert Broeckaert, Gil Vandenbrouck, Paul Put, Ariel Jacobs, Marc Brys, Enzo Scifo, Miroslav Ðukic and Hans Galje. The changes of sports directors followed the same path. Stability is only a memory...


The "withdrawal" of Detremmerie

All of a sudden, a colossal debt appears (several million €), the Walloon region sum the City to disengage the communal workers working for the club, which has more and more difficulties to obtain the license. The intercommunal IEG then proposes to turn the debt into sponsorship (which must have been very pleasing to all societies in difficulties, with a magic wand, we erase the debts).
Feeling the wind turn, the mayor begins (finally!) to prepare his succession. After a sham vote, a triumvirate is set up and is composed of :

  • Maitre Edward Van Daele, former club lawyer,
  • Francis D'Haese, a close to Detremmerie and former director of the City's stewards,
  • Roland Louf, sports director having worked in Mons and La Louvière (with more than mixed results).
The change in continuity seemed appropriate but Van Daele does not see the future of the club under this eye. He takes the risk of rowing against the current by proposing to gather around the club all the forces of the region to save the club from bankruptcy. At the same time, Detremmerie, although officially off the club, also had a plan to "help" the Excelsior.
Van Daele being quickly put on the side for his attempted coup, the club is found now without an official commander. The opportunity will be too good for the mayor to return to the charge and present his recovery plan with his contacts very unsavory...

Canonnier Stadium

The new main stand (1999), located Rue du Stade


The Kazakh adventure, the mirage and the fall

In 2006, the big boss of Mouscron then proposes to give the club management to a group of Kazakh investors, led by the president of the national federation of Kazakhstan. The filming of the movie 'Borat' is now underway and the whole City believes in a joke of the leader of the socio-Christian. Especially since no one is fooled : Kazakh money smells bad and an end of non-receipt is politely addressed to Detremmerie.
The club sails then in troubled waters before appearing in April 2007, as a messiah, Philippe Dufermont.
The man has a pretty reputation : starting from scratch, he founded the holding Dufermont and has business in Spain and China. The man is active in real estate and selling bathrooms. Born in Mouscron, honest and rich : the ideal mix. Being very little present in Mouscron and knowing nothing about football, he will delegate to his right arm, Benoit Roul, all powers. Moving from the status of president to patron, he will invest 9 million € in the club, in pure loss...
Via his real estate company, he bought the Sarma building in the city in the city center to develop luxury apartments. This chancre rotted for almost 20 years ... Unfortunately, the operation turns out to be a rude trick between the club and the City. While the sale involves an amount of € 660,000, the money will finally end up in the coffers of the Excelsior. The City is once again depleted by the football club.
From then on, the days of the club are counted : Detremmerie is pushed out of the communal administration, Dufermont places his brother Jean-Pierre in the presidency of the club and the inevitable arrives...

On October 30, 2009, against the Standard Liege, the large crowd gathered at the Canonnier Stadium for what will be for the ultimate match. The game is weak and ends with a sad 0-0. But in the stadium's stands, the sad reality is no longer in doubt. Like a funeral oration, the Kop stays more than an hour to sing while the rest of the stadium is empty and the floodlights have gone out. It was the last session. A last 'You Never Walk Alone' sounds and...
In truth, other matches will still take place but the encephalogram is flat. Therapeutic relentlessness has been futile. The last opponents will be Racing Genk, Sporting Lokeren, SV Roeselare and KV Mechelen.
Supporters of the latter club will also show their support to the Excelsior's fans who had made the trip to the Mechelen stadium. It must be said that the prestigious Malinois Club had experienced the same situation as the Excelsior. But the KaVé has managed to cope...
During a SV Roeselare - Excelsior of sinister memory, it is the young of the Esxcelsior that will play on the lawn. Pro players preferred not to take any risk and declined the invitation (that of the insurance in case of injury, salary, etc.). We cannot hold them against them, of course. The match ended with a victory for Excel. A very last sporting victory.
On December 28, 2009, the Extraordinary General Assembly of the club voted voluntary liquidation, the club forfeits the last three championship matches and the employees are fired. All the results of the club are canceled for the 2009-2010 season by the Belgian Federation. The Excelsior finished last with 0 points and the club was struck off June 2010. An agreement with the federation still allows the youth teams to finish the season.
But the number 224 is no more.

The Kop, after the match against Standard in 2009
Video found on Youtube

Same, but from a different angle
Also visible on Youtube


What do I think of it

Hard to take sides for me.
Indeed, during the period 1991-1998, I was what we can call a real fan.
Present at all matches (both in the league and the Belgian Cup, not to mention the friendly) and making most trips (Aalst, Anderlecht, Beerschot, Beveren, Charleroi, Kortrijk, Genk, Harelbeke, Ingelmunster, La Louviere, Lierse, Ostend, RWDM, Standard, Tongeren, Villeneuve-d'Ascq and I forget), I was proud to wear the colors of my club and my city. Finally, Belgium could locate Mouscron on a map.
When Detremmerie took power, and even if the club went from victory to victory, I had already left the club. Being fundamentally against the City's policy, I could no longer tell the difference between the City and the Excelsior. I spent at the time to be a bad citizen... Football in general, I also turned away. Only the national team still made me vibrate a little. But given its results, as much to say that football enthusiasm had become a rare commodity...
My scarf remained for many years in the back of the closet so much that I had forgotten its existence. I even wanted to see the Excelsior perform the tumble in D2. But from there to imagine his disappearance...

Yet in October 2009, I did what I thought was a thing of the past : I attended this famous match against Standard. A decade of absence to the Canonnier Stadium but immediately all my memories resurface. Nostalgia when you hold us...
Since the creation of RMP-thing, I attended a few matches. But nothing more. I go there as some go to Ikea on Sunday. To kill time.


Failed rebirth

Royal Mouscron-Péruwelz If the club is only old history, the infrastructures still exist.
A modern stadium and a renowned training center, the City could not leave its heritage abandoned. A solution was quickly found : moving the club of Péruwelz (also struggling) in Mouscron, change of Royal Racing Club Péruwelzi to Royal Mouscron-Péruwelz and a club plays back on the field of the Canonnier Stadium.
But all this is artificial. We try to erase the memories of the past but nothing helps. The 'Excelsior' coat of arms still adorns the walls of the stadium, the players are decked out in magnificent blue and red jerseys meaningless, the previously loyal and friendly public is no longer the same.

Royal Excel Mouscron The ghosts of the Mpenza brothers, Broeckaert, De Vreese, Baudry, Besengez, Bourgeois, Dauwe, De Koeyer, Delbeeke, Dugardein, Dupont, Ewane, Gaziano, Huyghelier, Jestrović, Kasperek, Lemoine, Lenie, Martić, Mestdagh, Moock, Pieroni, Pierre, Raes, Thibaut, Van Durme, Vidovic, Vanderhaeghe, Vandooren, Verbeeck, Verschelde, Verspaille and Vlcek6 will long haunt the empty spans of what was an impregnable place feared by the tenors of Belgian football...


Some pictures...

To end in beauty this evocation of the Excelsior, some views on the stadium of the Canonnier Stadium.
All the photos were made by Mickaël (both those of 1998 and 2007).

Canonnier Stadium

The former main entrance, dating from Division 3 (1998).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The training ground and the old grandstand (1998).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The stands of 1947 (left) and the tribune of 1932 (1998).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The "La Pastorale" refreshment bar, as well as the visitor's cage (1998).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The east tribune, just after the installation of the seats instead of the Kop (1998).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The rudimentary stand of the Kop (1998).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The same stand, seen from the other side of the field (1998).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The old-fashioned charm of the old grandstand (1998).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The main entrance, rue du Stade (2007).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The main stand dating from 1999 (2007).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The "old" tribune, built in 1991 and enlarged in 1996 (2007).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The main stand, seen from inside the stadium (2007).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The Spion Kop, built in 1998 (2007).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The former Spion Kop, in the tribune of 1991 (2007).
© Mickaël Lamoot

Canonnier Stadium

Canonnier Stadium

The cage reserved for visitors, as well as the scoreboard (2007).
© Mickaël Lamoot

26

October 2011

Return


Notes

  1. Strangely enough, Filip Verbeke's legal wrangling has never been publicized by the club, although the latter has remained president for several years. He was finally sentenced by the Criminal Court of Lille to three years in prison suspended and 150,000 € fine for fraudulent bankruptcy and abuse of corporate property. He was on the run in Germany...
  2. The boss of the furniture Toff seems to get along so well with the City that it was able to build a branch without a building permit (rumor of the time).
  3. I will come back to the results of the Detremmerie years in Mouscron... Later.
  4. Regional Center of Assistance to the communes, mission and organization on the website of the Walloon Region.
  5. Intercommunal Study and Management, grouping Mouscron, Comines-Warneton and Estaimpuis, cf. the website. This intermunicipal company owns, among other things, part of the stadium and Futurosport, the club's training center. Since the end of the Excel, the stadium no longer appears on the website.
  6. I would be remiss not to also put in the pantheon of local football Ban, Bassegio, Casto, Claeys, Čustović, De Vleeschauwer, Feys, Grégoire, Seynhaeve, Tanghe, Teklak, Vandendrieesche, Vidovic, Volders or the Żewłakow brothers.

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