The last time Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht failed to qualify for Europe, it was 1963. In 2019, 56 years later, Les Mauves finished bottom of the Belgian Championship play-off after being humiliated in the Belgian Cup at home by modest Union St-Gilloise, top team in Brussels before the war.
Enter Vincent Kompany, who started out at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium before a stellar career abroad.
After scoring the decisive goal to keep the Premier League title at Manchester City, Kompany rejoined his alma mater as player-manager, looking to reclaim the Belgian crown for Anderlecht after the last win of 2017.
Behind the scenes, there have been big changes too, the Vanden Stock brewing dynasty passing ownership to pharmaceutical billionaire Marc Coucke in December 2017. The former chairman of KV Oostende was the object of supporters’ derision during the fiery protests when defeat followed defeat in 2019. Kompany will be given more leeway should results turn sour in 2019-20.
Anderlecht represent the namesake sombre and otherwise non-descript area of south-west Brussels.
Founded in 1908 at the Concordia café on rue d’Aumale, near their long-term home of Parc Astrid, Anderlecht have been in the top flight since 1935.
A decade later came success thanks to Belgium’s first real star, Jef Mermans. Apparently Anderlecht officials came to the Antwerp suburb of Borherhout brandishing a blank cheque for him. Mermans led Les Mauves to league titles in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Anderlecht suffered major defeats in early European campaigns – including a 10-0 drubbing by Manchester United – before the emergence of the great Paul van Himst. Les Mauves provided all eleven of the Belgian team who finished an international against Holland in 1964.
Six years later, Anderlecht beat Arsenal 3-1 in the home leg of the Fairs’ Cup Final, only to lose the return 3-0. European silverware came with the Cup-Winners’ Cup win of 1976, key players Rob Rensenbrink and François van der Elst scoring the goals in a 4-2 win over West Ham in Brussels. Rensenbrink scored two more when Anderlecht won the same trophy two years later.
By now, at the helm was Constant Vanden Stock, who had played alongside Mermans and whose family ran the Belle-Vue brewery. Appealing to the French-speaking local business community, Stock investing a fortune modernising the Parc Astrid, the first stadium on continental Europe with executive boxes. Success was crucial.
Having won the UEFA Cup in 1983, Anderlecht overcame a semi-final deficit against Nottingham Forest the next year. It has since been proved that Stock bribed Spanish referee Emilio Guruceta to help them gain a 3-0 win in Brussels. It did them little good in the final, losing to Spurs on penalties. A precocious Enzo Scifo kept Anderlecht in the running for major honours but a 1990 Cup-Winners’ Cup defeat to Sampdoria was their last European final.
Constant’s son Roger assumed chairmanship in 1996. After his father’s chicanery came to light, Anderlecht faced an image problem – exacerbated by the perception that RSCA represented French-speaking Belgium in a ever-divided country. In fact, in Brussels itself, Les Mauves can count on Walloons and Flemings in their fan base.
With traditional rivals Club Bruges off the pace, Anderlecht won three titles in a row up to 2014, the last a close-run thing. Standard Liège led the league for most of the season, only to lose to Bruges, who had themselves just lost to a ten-man Anderlecht. With young Serb striker Aleksandar Mitrović scoring the goals, and Silvio Proto stopping them, Les Mauves just nicked the title at the death.
In Europe, Anderlecht barely improved upon their poor record in the Champions League: bottom of the group in seven campaigns.
Though treading water at home, RSCA at least put a decent European run together in 2016-17, vital goals from Ghanaian international Frank Acheampong pushing Anderlecht into the quarter-finals and a tense, extra-time defeat to Manchester United.
With sublime performances in midfield by Belgian teenage international Youri Tielemans, Anderlecht won a record 34th league title that May. Tielemans duly left for Monaco for €25 million, the Vanden Stock family also parting ways after 46 years at the helm.
Kompany’s surprise arrival in May 2019 attracted for Manchester City teammate Samir Nasri to join him as Anderlecht looked to reverse their recent decline, unprecedented in modern times.
Anderlecht’s Parc Astrid, renamed the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, owes its business-like look to a rebuild instigated in 1983 by the former club president who later lent the venue its name. Before this, the one-time Stade Emile Versé was a simple ground dating back to World War I.
Today’s arena has a capacity of 28,000, allowing for nearly 7,000 standing places. This is reduced on European nights by all-seater requirements, though plans are afoot to add an extra tier to the two that currently ring the intimate stadium.
Home fans gather behind each goal, particularly standing in tribune 4 (green), with the neutral best seated in red tribune 3. Away fans are allocated places in tribune 1 (purple), accessed through gate 5, round the corner from the RSCA club shop. Sectors are given letters after their compass points, S1-S17 and N1-N17 behind each goal, E1-E17 and W1-W19 along the sidelines. The main entrance, club offices, ticket offices, shop and old public urinals are all on avenue Théo Verbeeck, along with a couple of quite wonderful football bars.
The nearest metro is St-Guidon, on line 5 directly linked with Gare Centrale. Bus No.49 also runs from Gare du Midi to St-Guidon. From the metro station, turn right, then first right again up rue de la Procession – it’s about ten minutes altogether to the stadium.
Alternatively, bus No.46 calls at St-Guidon and, one stop later, De Linde, right alongside the ground. Note that away fans are sometimes requested to use the Aumale metro stop for security purposes.
Such is the modest capacity of the Constant Vanden Stock that tickets are not always available for each game – the club website will have information. Usually a limited number are on sale from the Ticketing RSCA office (Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-noon) on avenue Théo Verbeeck, a short walk between the club shop and the main stadium entrance. For an average league game, these range €22-€29 in price, €11 for under 16s. ID must be produced upon purchase.
The club shop (Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-2pm, match days from 4hr before and 1hr after the game) is at the north-west corner of the stadium where place de Linde meets avenue Théo Verbeeck – which is to say pretty much the first thing you come to walking from St-Guidon metro. Branded beach shorts and Norwegian-style woolly hats can be found amid the sea of mauve and white. Latest accessory is, of course, a Vincent Kompany Anderlecht scarf.
Around place de Linde close to the stadium are standard bar La Mi-Temps (rue de la Procession 145) and Le Penalty, its large interior filled with RSCA flags – there’s a terrace too.
Further along avenue Théo Verbeeck, competition has reduced a busy row of bars to Le But, Green Park, filled with signed and framed players’ photos, and Le Fair Play (No.73). Don’t miss the incomparable La Coupe (No.55), a cornucopia of Anderlecht adoration in the form of a colourful league ladder, fading pennants and Mermans-era line-ups.
At the stadium opposite, there’s a match-day bar by the press entrance, to the left of the club offices, and certain ticket holders have access to the in-house Saint-Guidon restaurant.