Bosuilstadion

From Hell of Deurne to a sanitized theater.
From the prestigious stadium, which hosted the replay of the 1964 Cup Winners' Cup final, the Euro 72 and innumerable Low Countries' derbies, there is only one grandstand.
But for how long ? Indeed, the old stadium of Deurne is more and more threatened.

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The oldest Belgian club without a fixed address

Royal Antwerp FC Founded in 1880, the Royal Antwerp Football Club will take more than forty years to find a final home.
Moving five times, the Reds and Whites have successively played on the following grounds : Wilrycksche Plein in the district of Kiel (1880-1893), Transvaalstraat in Berchem (for two years), on a field near the velodrome Zurenborg in Berchem (still during two years), in this same velodrome (1897-1903), Kruisstraat in Kiel (1903-1908) and finally in the stadium of Broodstraat, still in Kiel (1908-1923). It is amusing to note that three times the Sinjoren have played in the neighborhood of their historical rival, the Beerschot.
Although Antwerp FC played no significant role before the war, the number 1 was supported by a growing crowd. It was high time for the club to anchor in a large stadium to retain the public who will not let go of the club anymore.
It was done in 1923 when the management buys a plot of 30 hectares in the town of Deurne. This purchase, at a price defying all competition, has been at the origin of a discord that will become an endemic problem to Antwerp. While only 8 hectares were needed for the construction of the stadium, several administrators felt that it was better to buy a larger piece of land to encourage the emergence of a commercial activity around the club, something that was strictly forbidden at the time by the Belgian Federation ! The amateurish trend against professionalism has continued until the explosion that has leaded Antwerp into lethargy for a few years. At the same time, a new amateur club was founded (referred to simply as "the Antwerp") and took the place of the RAFC in the stands of Bosuil. Fortunately, the various eventually fade and the club could calmly celebrate his first title of Belgian Champion in 1929.

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60,000 places

The Bosuil was inaugurated on 1 November 1923 during a friendly match between Belgium and England (2-2). The designers of the time have not forgotten the aesthetics of the stadium : the tribune 1 has small accents of Art Deco and an elegant Greek colonnade dominates the tribune 2. This last has disappeared in 1930 and will be replaced by a roof covering the tribune 2.
Of the 38,000 places of origin, the stadium was quickly adapted in 1936 to accommodate up to 50,700 people. This expansion is justified by the holding of the annual derby of the Low Countries. Each year, Belgium receives its Dutch neighbor for matches that have rarely been peaceful. It was at this time that the stadium earned its nickname "Hell of Deurne".
The stadium consists of a main sitting grandstand and a series of tiers surrounding the pitch on three sides. Tribune 1 can seat 7,000 people in seating, tribune 2 13,000 and the two ends hold about 32,000 standing places.
At that time, only the Heysel stadium has an equivalent capacity in Belgium.
In 1956, the capacity will increase again with the construction of the third floor of the end stands. The maximum capacity is then reached : 60,000 places.

In the meantime, three new national titles have awarded to the Great Old Club (1931, 1944, 1957).
The latter title allows Antwerp to take its first steps in the new continental competition created by UEFA : the Champions Clubs' Cup. By way of introduction, the Antwerp has been more than spoiled as they face neither more nor less than the great Real Madrid. This first match has been the record attendance for Antwerp : 55,000 people. If the resistance of the Antwerp allows to be beaten only on the wire (1-2), the return match in Chamartin has been a real punishment : 6-0.
Subsequently, other big names will come to rub shoulders with the infernal atmosphere of Deurne in the context of European competitions, with various fortunes for the Antwerp.
The good quality of the facilities and the reputation of the atmosphere have leaded the UEFA to designate the Bosuil as part of the replay of the final of the Cup Winner's Cup 1964. If the first round (played at the Heysel) between Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) and the MTK Budapest (Hungary) ended with a 3-3, the second has seen the Lisbonists triumph by 1 to 0. Unfortunately, this final has been followed by only 18,000 spectators.

Euro 72 In 1972, the final phase of the European Football Championship (now known as the Euro) has been organized in Belgium.
In the company of the Bosuil, the Heysel, the Parc Astrid (both in Brussels) and Sclessin (Liège) will host the seven matches of the competition.
The semifinal between Belgium and West Germany has set the record attendance for the stadium : 56,000 spectators. But this match has also been synonymous with elimination for the Red Devils (1-2). The Belgians have nevertheless obtained a third honorific place after a 2-1 win against Hungary in Sclessin.
As for the final, it has opposed the Federal Republic of Germany to the USSR at the Heysel (3-0 for the Germans).

Royal Antwerp FC Concerning the Antwerp, Deurne has become famous as the place of "Miracle of Vitosha".
During the 1989-1990 season, Antwerp reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. After a 0-0 against Vitosha Sofia in Bulgaria, the Reds and Whites had taken an option on qualifying for the next round. Alas, the game at Bosuil quickly turned to confusion and the Antwerp will be led 1 to 3 10 minutes from the end of the match.
Adding to the demobilization of Belgian players, the Antwerp was reduced to 10 after the injury of Captain Francky Dekenne (the three changes had already occurred). Miraculously, the referee added 6 minutes into the game and the unthinkable happened : Nico Claesen brought the score down to 2-3, then the madness caught the Bosuil. Three new goals were scored up in the cage of the unfortunate Bulgarian goalkeeper (by the inevitable Claesen and the veteran Raphael Quaranta). Final score 4-3 ! Doped by this unexpected result, Antwerp has kicked out of the competition Dundee United and VfB Stuttgart.
In the quarter-finals, FC Cologne was too strong the Antwerp. Nevertheless, the result against Vitosha had made the tour of Europe. From now on, Antwerp had its place on the map of European football.

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Decrepitude

If the sporting aspect was relatively good for Antwerp, the infrastructures suffered from a total lack of maintenance.
At the end of the 80s, the upper (and therefore the most recent) of the end stands has worrying signs of fatigue. The upper tiers are closed and the capacity will inevitably go down.
On May 14th, 1991, Antwerp played its last game in a Bosuil having its historical form (friendly match against the Moroccan club of IRT Tangier). The next day, bulldozers demolished the tribune side Deurne (the one on the right during the televised matches). Four months later, the Atrium Complex was inaugurated with 800 business-seats.
In addition, the hooliganism was wreaking havoc at that time and a serious subdivision of supporters was applicable in the stadium. As a result, the capacity fell to 20,300 places.

After a few bland seasons, the Antwerp is on the front of the stage (both Belgian and European) by winning its second Belgian Cup in 1992 (the first was won in 1955). After a fierce final against Club Malinois (22 shots on goal were needed to name the winner), the Coupe des Coupes found the valuable Great Old. After disposing of Glenavon FC clubs, Admira Wacker, Steaua Bucharest and Spartak Moscow, the Antwerpers have crossed swords with the Italians of Parma. The final, that year was held in the legendary Wembley, London seeing, for the occasion, the landing of 20,000 RAFC's fans. But Parma was too strong and the Antwerp returned to the Bosuil with a 3-1 defeat in the suitcases.
This final has been the last played by a Belgian club... The golden age of the Antwerp was at the same time behind it.

If some matches of Intertoto Cup have still taken place at the end of the 90's, the Antwerp has slided irremediably towards the problems.
The year 2000 should have been that of renewal for the Bosuil. The Euro 2000 was organized jointly by Belgium and the Netherlands and logically, a city like Antwerp had been associated with the project. Unfortunately, internal quarrels between the club and the city have pushed the organization of the Euro to eject Antwerp. Plans had been drawn but never work will start.
Royal Antwerp FC Worse, the end tribune (Merksem side) is closed by the city, forcing the Reds and Whites to play the first games of the 1997-1998 season away from home. This chaotic start of the competition has been fatal to the club and a fall in Division 2 hasl awaited the Antwerp at the end of the season. The next season in D2 has seen the stadium be amputated from the tribune. Fortunately, the Antwerp goes back immediately in first division.
But the rot set in : the finances are in the red and several closures of the stadium intervene (fall of part of the roof of the grandstand, collapse of a lighting pylon after a storm, fences of non-compliant security). A new stand of 3,000 seats is nevertheless built behind the goal. Subsequently, a new sporting relegation pushes the Antwerpians out of the D1.

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In Division 2

Between 2004 and 2016, the glorious Antwerp club stayed in D2.
Between power struggles and financial worries, the Antwerp still manages to live seasons quiet on the sporting level, with from time to time a qualification for the Final Tour.
This forced stay at the second level of the competition forces the club to have to stay with this stadium become frankly obsolete. A small refreshment took place in 2008 but the illusion did not last long.
And yet... If the amateur of football wanted to discover the last true stadium in Belgium, it is indeed with the Bosuil that he would have found it. Here, the traditions are still more than alive, we feel that the place has a great experience and the atmosphere of match is still hot.
Despite overall disappointing results, the RAFC was able to count on an average of 6,000 spectators. Not all D1 clubs can say the same.

In terms of infrastructure, a closure of the main grandstand has felt in 2014.
Only the parts under the bleachers (cloakrooms, refreshments, offices) were still accessible but the bleachers and the electrical installation were declared dangerous. In addition, the roof was no longer one.
Immediately, the club takes things in hand and renovates block E, reserved for visitors. Unfortunately, the authorities still don't allow the reuse of the main stand : a renovation of the building in depth became a necessity. Rather than demolish everything, the club has a solution for the least original : the walls are preserved, the roof renovated but the concrete steps are demolished and replaced by a metal structure.
The inauguration took place in April 2015. The aesthetics of the new stand could lend a smile but no matter, the Antwerp recovered the use of its venerable main stand. The capacity of the stadium drops to 12,975 places.

The centenary of the stadium arrived slowly and we could hope to celebrate in the original facilities, which would have always been a unique case. Unfortunately for the old walls, the sport level was rising again and the return to D1 of Great Old could finally be celebrated at the end of the 2015-2016 season.

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Demolition of a newly renovated tribune

The season 2016-2017 sees the return in Division 1 of the dean of Belgian clubs. Finally !
But the Antwerp wasn't free from its infrastructure concerns. The authorities did not grant permission for the use of the main stand, which had been freshly renovated. An aberration !
The Antwerp had no choice but to say goodbye to his relic and demolish everything. In just 20 weeks, a brand new (and huge) stand out of the ground : 5,600 seats, skyboxes, business-seats and a 700-seat restaurant. Once inaugurated, the project of rebuilding the three other tribunes appeared quickly.
Given the presence of skyboxes and business-seats in the new main stand, the Atrium Complex has become superfluous : it has been demolished in 2019. Then remain the stand built in 2001 and finally the venerable tribune 2, the soul of Bosuil. Once the latter has disappeared, the Hell of Deurne will be nothing more than a memory and the Antwerp fans will have to settle for a modern arena as there are hundreds of others.
The era of football stadia is over, place to sanitized theaters.

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Velodrome Zurenborg (1897-1903).

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Broodstraat Stadion, capacity of 5,350 places (1908-1923).

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Beginning of the construction of the Bosuil in 1923. This structure will remain standing until 2015.

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The Bosuil at its inauguration, in 1923.

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The main stand, and its pond.

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The grandstand, built in "artificial reinforced stone".

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A long facade with some suspicions of Art Deco.

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The monument erected in honor of members of Royal Antwerp FC who died during the two world wars. Scandalously demolished in 1980.

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Aerial view of the stadium in 1930, shortly before the first expansion. The colonnade has already disappeared.

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Expansion work in 1936.

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The capacity increases from 38,000 to almost 50,700 places.

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Just after the first extension works, in 1937.

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Gymnastics Festival organized by the Antwerp Catholic Youth on June 11, 1949. There were up to 20,000 participants.

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The stadium of Deurne during Belgium-Netherlands (2-0) on April 16, 1950 with 45.432 spectators present.

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One of the traditional Belgium - Netherlands in 1956 (0-1).

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During a match in 1957. The third floor of the stands has just been built the year before.

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The massive structure of the stadium since the Jan Welterslaan.

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On October 11, 1961 the lighting is inaugurated. This modern and powerful installation (500 lux) will remain in operation until 2017.

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Another traditional Belgium-Netherlands derby in the 1960's. The last derby will be played here in 1977 (0-2).

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The Bosuil ready to welcome Euro 72.

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The new scoreboard, installed in 1977.

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In 1987, and for the last time, the big crowd rushes to Bosuil to attend the victory of Antwerp against Anderlecht (2-0). There were about 40,000 people in the stands.

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One of the last views of the Bosuil fully operational.

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At the very end of the 80's, the end stands partly closed. This is the beginning of the end for the Bosuil.

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The main stand, unchanged since 1923.

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The Merksem side stand 3. After the 3rd floor closed, it is the turn of the second to be condemned. The state of the stadium is deteriorating more and more.

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Stand 3 from Oud Bosuilbaan.

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The south stand 4 just before it was demolished in 1991. The stadium has lost its historic form at that time and the capacity has fell to 20,300 places.

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In a few months, the Atrium Complex is open. Home to 800 business-seats, this building has disfigured the Bosuil for 28 years.

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Atrium Complex durint the 2000's.

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Demolition of former grandstand 3 in 1999. Only the two side stands remain from the original stadium.

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The stand 3, built in 2001 and can accommodate a little less than 3,000 people. The Bosuil can accommodate from that moment about 16,500 people.

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The age-old main grandstand of 1923.

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Block E, reserved for visitors. This part of the main grandstand has been renovated for the first time in 2014 but hasn’t been used.

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Block E renovated and never used, to then be replaced by a metal structure in 2015 to finally be demolished in 2016.

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Facade of the main stand.

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The huge tribune 2.

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With a capacity of between 11,000 and 13,000 seats, this is where the most ardent supporters of Antwerp meet.

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The intricate internal structure of the grandstand 2.

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The central tunnel dating from 1923.

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Rear facade of the grandstand 2.

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Beginning of the renovation of the grandstand 1 in 2015. The roof has been renovated while old concrete stands worn by time has been demolished.

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The main grandstand freshly renovated.

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It was believed at the time that this venerable construction would remain standing for a long time...

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In 2016, total demolition of the ancient grandstand 1.

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The new ultramodern grandstand.

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The Bosuil is now a modern stadium.

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Fortunately, the RAFC retains its traditions, in default of being able to keep its home.

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Place to modernism...

5

April 2015

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Notes

  • This article comes from my former website foothisto.be and was published on April 5, 2015.
    It has been somewhat modified and updated lately.
  • • Pictures belong to their respective authors.

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