First-time Belgian title winners in 2015, KAA Gent surprised everyone by finishing second in a tricky Champions League group, beating Lyon in France and leaders Zenit St Petersburg and Valencia at home. The first time a Belgian team had qualified for the group stage since Anderlecht in 2000, this achievement set Gent up against Wolfsburg, who just edged it.
A year later, KAA fared better against Tottenham in the later stages of the Europa League, stealing a 1-0 win in Ghent and gaining a 2-2 draw in front of 80,000 spectators at Wembley.
The home legs took place at Gent’s smart Ghelamco Arena, unveiled in 2013. The first Belgian new-build since 1974, the Ghelamco replaced the Jules Ottenstadion, where the club had played since their old ground opened for the Antwerp Olympics of 1920.
Before then, La Gantoise, as they were known, had mainly operated in the shadow of their then bigger city rivals Racing. Formed in 1900, part of a sports association that had been created in 1864, La Gantoise topped the Second Division in 1913 but didn’t make an impression on the First until the 1950s.
Nicknamed after a Buffalo Bill cowboy show that came to town in the early days, De Buffalo’s first put in a serious challenge for the title in 1954-55. With Belgian international striker Maurice Willems, La Gantoise stayed just behind the likes of Anderlecht, Antwerp and Liège in the table for a decade or more. Stalwart keeper Armand Seghers also made the Belgian national side through the 1950s, and was still between the sticks when De Buffalo’s won silverware at last, the Belgian Cup of 1964.
Having made their European debut in the Fairs’ Cup in 1963, La Gantoise lost narrowly to Bobby Moore’s West Ham in the Cup-Winners’ Cup of 1964.
Officially known as the Flemish KAA Gent from 1971, the club suffered a disastrous run of form that even led to a stint in the third flight. Gent bounced back in the 1980s, winning the cup in 1984 and making a welcome return to Europe.
In 1990, with the arrival of international strikers Erwin Vandenbergh and Dutchman Eric Viscaal, Gent stepped up a gear, just missing out on a first Belgian title then reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup.
League and European form remained inconsistent until a succession of coaches – Georges Leekens, Trond Sollied and Michel Preud’homme – added steel. It was the former Belgian international goalkeeper Preud’homme who led Gent to runners-up spot in the league and a cup win in 1990-2000, a season that saw Norwegian striker Ole Martin Årst scoring nearly a goal a game.
Though Årst was quickly snapped up by Standard, Belgian international goalkeeper Frédéric Herpoel remained in place to keep Gent in contention in the early 2000s.
With Gent’s higher profile and the Benelux 2018 World Cup bid in mind, attention turned to a new stadium, proposed in 2003, to replace the ageing Jules Ottenstadion. Set by the trade fair centre and ring road south of the city, the stadium, originally named after medieval statesman Jacob van Artevelde, was due to open in 2006.
With the economy in crisis and 2018 eventually lost to Russia, the project stalled, to be revived in 2010. Construction firm Ghelamco was also awarded with the stadium name.
After moving into the Ghelamco Arena in 2013, Gent began to see a settled side established, starting with the signing of a young goalkeeper from Lierse, Matz Sels. Six months later, coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck arrived from Kortrijk and midfielder Sven Kums from Zulte Waregem.
Though Gent trailed Club Bruges during the regular season, a vital 3-2 win at Bruges during the championship play-offs reversed the positions. De Buffalo’s then won a first ever title with a 2-0 win over Standard Liège at a sold-out Ghelamco. Team captain Kums capped a fine season by scoring the opening goal.
And it was Kums who reliably converted a penalty against Valencia at the Ghelamco to gain Gent a first Champions League victory – in the fourth game of the group stage. De Buffalo’s then snatched a last-second win at Lyon thanks to a brave header from Malian striker Kalifa Coulibaly, before Moses Simon ravaged the Zenit defence in the last group game against St Petersburg.
A year later, a run in the Europa League brought KAA up against Tottenham, and two of the most memorable nights in the history of the club. Striker Jérémy Perbet scored in both legs as Gent snuck a 1-0 win at home before battling for a 2-2 in front of a record crowd for a Europa League fixture, 80,000 at Wembley. An estimated 10,000 Gent fans hit the roof once Perbet put away a rare chance ten minutes from time.
There was perhaps an even greater shock when Gent fell to a 5-2 home defeat to compatriots Genk in the next round. Three consecutive appearances in the same competition have seen little to write home about, although the Buffalos remain a potent force in the domestic game.
The first football stadium to be built in Belgium since 1974, the Ghelamco Arena was a long time in the making.
With Ghent overlooked as one of the four Belgian cities to host Euro 2000, it was obvious that Gent’s venerable Jules Ottenstadion was obsolete for modern-day use.
A new stadium site, south of the city ring road near the Trade Fair, had long been chosen. What hadn’t been anticipated were the cash-flow problems and bureaucracy wrangles that beset this project for the best part of a decade.
Completion dates (2006? 2008?) came and went. Eventually 2012 was agreed upon – then moved to 2013. Ghent electronic legends 2manydjs were brought in to perform as part of the curtain-raising activities that July, Stuttgart providing the opposition on the pitch.
With its Michelin-star restaurant, Horseele, the Ghelamco is a cut above any other stadium in Belgium. The home end (Spionkop/T2), accessed through main gates C and D, sits opposite the Telenet/Familientribune/T4, gate H. Alongside, away fans (‘Bezoekers’) are allocated sectors 421 and 422, gate G, set next to the Officebox/VDK Tribune/T3. Opposite are the business seats of main Maes Pils Tribune/T1.
At the start of the 2019-20 season, the free shuttle buses from Woodrow Wilsonplein by Gent Zuid station to the stadium were suspended – it’s not clear if/when they will start up again. For the time being, regular city bus No.8 leaves Gent Zuid perron 9 every 20min for the terminus at Arteveldepark by the stadium, journey time 15min.
From Gent-St-Pieters, on the concourse to the left of the station as you exit, city bus Nos.19 sets off every 20min from platform 11. Journey time to Arteveldepark is 15min.
For both routes, services run back to town after 10pm.
With an average gate often close to the capacity of 20,000, availability is not a given. During the regular season, tickets for league games go on sale six weeks in advance. Online ticketing requires registration.
Tickets are distributed from the offices (Mon-Fri noon-6pm, Sat 10am-1pm, midweek match days 10am-12.45pm, 2pm-kick-off, weekend match days 5hrs before kick-off) facing the bus terminus at the stadium. For most matches, you’ll need to provide an ID card/passport to purchase.
A seat in the home end, Spionkop/Tribune 2, is €20, €10 for under-16s, €15 for under-16s for a high-risk match. For away fans, it’s €20/€25 and €10/€15 for under-16s. For neutrals, a seat in VDK/Tribune 3 is €25-€45, €10-€15 for under-16s. Adult prices are €30-€50 in main Tribune 1, €10-€15 for under-16s.
The Fanshop (Tue-Fri noon-6pm, Sat 10am-5pm, match-day Sat 10am-noon, 2pm-kick-off & 1hr after game, Sun closed, match-day Sun 3hr before kick-off & 1hr after game) is by the ticket office, accessed through the main entrance on non-match days and match-day entrance outside to the left when there’s a game on.
Alongside the Native American headdresses, first-team shirts are blue and white, and change strip yellow and third kit white with sky-blue trim for 2019-20.
There are no bars around the stadium. For a while after the Ghelamco Arena opened, some fans still met near the former Jules Ottenstadion at the Buffalo bar at the far end of Bruiloftstraat – though this tradition may have died out.
Outlets at the new stadium range from a snack bar, the Buffalo Sandwich Club, on the ground floor of the main stand, to the Michelin-starred Restaurant Horseele, with a perfect view of the pitch from four floors up. Both operate weekday lunchtimes. On match days, you should reserve for the Horseele, while the BSC doubles up as a modest bar.
Also open weekday lunchtimes and match days (you’re advised to avoid the long queues by arriving 2hr 30min before kick-off), the Buffalo Bistro between Tribunen 1 and 2 (gate C) serves standard dishes, beers and hot drinks.
The only other option in the vicinity, the Chess Café on Ottergemsesteenweg Zuid where fans gathered in numbers pre-match, closed in 2019. Ambitious hospitality group MTM replaced it with the Zwart restaurant, only open weekdays until 5pm.