The last Belgian club to lift a European trophy, KV Mechelen have been enjoying top-flight football since 2007 after nearly going out of business altogether.
Formed, like city rivals Racing, in 1904, Football Club Malinois gained their name from the French rendering of Mechelen, Malines. It was only as late as 1970 that the club switched to the Flemish Mechelen, by which time it had long gained the royal seal of approval signalling 25 years of activity. Thus Royal Football Club Malinois became Koninklijke Voetbalclub Mechelen, or KVM. In common parlance, Mechelen are the Malinois or, as Flemings prefer to differentiate from the French, ‘Malinwa’.
Based at Achter de Kazerne since 1911, the club first made the top flight in 1921 but didn’t make an impression until the arrival of defender August (‘Gust’) Hellemans and forward Bert De Cleyn. Hellemans played in both Belgium’s matches at the 1930 World Cup, including the defeat by USA on the opening day of the inaugural tournament.
With De Cleyn scoring nearly as many goals as the 455 matches he played in, RFC Malinois won a first title in 1943, another in 1946, then a third in 1948.
Both these Belgian internationals lived long enough to see the now renamed KV Mechelen reclaim the glory days in the 1980s. Behind the revival was John Cordier, who had reaped huge rewards with Leuven-based telecommunications giant Telindus he set up in 1969. Ploughing many of the profits into moribund Mechelen from 1982 onwards, Cordier first oversaw the club’s return to the top flight under Breda legend Leo Canjels. He then convinced coach Aad de Mos to leave Ajax, where he had just won three Dutch titles, for an underachieving club in Flanders.
The results were immediate. Arriving in 1986, de Mos signed top Belgian internationals Michel Preud’homme and Leo Clijsters, as well as Alain De Nil and Paul De Mesmaeker from cash-strapped RWDM. PSV Eindhoven linkman Erwin Koeman was another big signing. In the first full season under de Mos, Mechelen finished runners-up behind Anderlecht in the league and won the 1987 Belgian Cup with a 1-0 win over Standard Liège.
Again missing out on the Belgian title by two points, this time to Bruges, European debutants Mechelen were provided passage through the Cup-Winners’ Cup thanks to vital goals from incoming striker Eli Ohana. The Israeli international hit a brace at St Mirren when the Paisley side had the upper hand in the Second Round, an opener at Dinamo Minsk then another against Atalanta in the semi-final.
Pitted against Ajax in the final in Strasbourg, Mechelen had been well briefed by de Mos, former coach at the Dutch club. A solitary strike from Piet den Boer after half-time sowed panic in the Ajax ranks, who quickly brought on a teenage Dennis Bergkamp but to no avail. With Preud’homme solid in goal, the Belgian underdogs had won a European trophy at their first attempt.
A loser that day, Ajax striker John Bosman then signed for his old boss de Mos and helped Mechelen to a Super Cup win over PSV with two goals.
Preud’homme proved the vital factor the following season, too, when KVM only conceded 20 goals in 34 games to lift their first Belgian title in 40 years. With a young Marc Wilmots added to the squad, as well as fellow Belgian international Bruno Versavel, de Mos had the strength in depth to vary the midfield. Again, Mechelen impressed in Europe, overcoming Anderlecht then Eintracht Frankfurt, both with goals from Wilmots, in the defence of their trophy. KVM then fell to Gianluca Vialli’s Sampdoria in the semi-final after taking a 2-0 lead in the home leg.
Anderlecht then gained revenge of sorts by poaching de Mos against a backdrop of financial uncertainty at KVM, Cordier’s telecommunications company under pressure from the computer boom. Hiring Dutch legend Ruud Krol in his first coaching post, Mechelen still had the core squad to challenge in the league and take an outstanding Milan side to extra-time in the San Siro in the quarter-final of the European Cup, their only appearance in the premier club competition.
With Preud’homme still between the sticks, KVM were never going to concede goals easily, but now lacked edge up front. Cup finalists in 1991, KVM also lost out the following year to Antwerp after a marathon penalty shoot-out that saw Preud’homme score but captain Clijsters miss the vital kick.
It was a sad end to a successful, if short, era. Cordier, already offloading players rapidly, pulled out. Preud’homme left for Benfica and Mechelen sank down the table. Relegated in 1997, KVM needed two seasons to get back up. Further relegation two seasons later, and the subsequent lack of revenue, nearly finished the club, rescued by a fan-backed initiative that saved KVM but forced their demotion to the third flight – and a new entity to be formed, Yellow-Red RFC Mechelen.
A couple of months later, the club was KVM again and, starting out with a nine-point penalty, spent two seasons in the Derde klasse, reviving the Mechelse Stadsderby with Racing.
Promoted in 2005, KVM hired former Racing Mechelen goalkeeper Peter Maes as coach and regained the top tier in 2007. Loyal fans were further rewarded in 2009 when KVM won a penalty shoot-out over Cercle Bruges at the Achter de Kazerne to reach the Belgian Cup final.
After an early red card for defender Jeroen Mellemans, KVM struggled against Genk, eventual winners 2-0. In the league, Mechelen maintained a steady presence, so far unable to make the promotional play-offs, missing out by one point in 2016-17.
In place for well over a century, the Achter de Kazerne takes its name from the barracks that once stood nearby – although sponsors such as Scarlet, Argos and, currently, AFAS, have added their brands to its official title in recent years.
Opened in 1911, the ground gained a new main stand in 1926 and a replacement one in 1952, at the end of the club’s most successful era. In those days, Racing were also at their height, so crowds would pack in for the Mechelse Stadsderby.
With the arrival of moneyed chairman John Cordier and a new wave of success in the 1980s, a modern press area was installed and big European nights included the visits of PSV Eindhoven, Sampdoria and Sporting Lisbon – although the tie with the great Milan side of 1990 was switched to the national Heysel stadium.
Mechelen’s recent revival has allowed wooden seats to be replaced by plastic ones – these latest improvements have seen capacity shrink from 18,000 to just under 17,000.
The new stand, Tribune 3, opposite the main one of Tribune 1, opened at the start of the 2016-17 campaign, seats 2,000, set above a pitchside terrace of 3,000 standing places. In a sadder development, the legendary chalet where drinks were served from 1911 onwards, was demolished in 2007. The small stand that replaced it was also knocked down in the rebuild of 2016.
Home fans remain in Tribune 2, aka Telenet, also with standing places at the front. Visiting supporters are allocated two sectors, Z1 and Z2, at the furthest end of Tribune 3 from the KVM faithful.
The ground is a 10-15min walk from Mechelen-Nekkerspoel station – follow the river along Frans Halsvest, turn right up Populierendreef, left at the end then first right up Kleine Nieuwdijkstraat. Nekkerspoel connects with mainline trains from Brussels – usually with one change at Mechelen’s main station.
You can also take bus Nos.550, 551 or 552 that set off at 15min intervals from Perron 1 by the main station, taking 10min to reach the nearest stop to the ground, Caputsteenstraat, via the city centre. From the bus stop, turn right into Caputsteenstraat itself, then first left into Kleine Nieuwdijkstraat.
There are advance sales (voorverkoop) from the Ticketshop (Mon, Wed, Fri 9am-6pm, Tue & Thur 9am-12.30pm, 1.30pm-7pm, match-day Sat 10am-noon) behind new Tribune 3 at the ground. There is also an online option.
Ticket windows open 90min before kick-off.
Average gates are around 10,000, so availability shouldn’t be a problem except for the visits of Anderlecht and Bruges.
For all ticket enquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best seats are €27 in sectors A and B of the main stand and H1 of Tribune 3 opposite. It’s €22 to sit in the home end in E1-E3 and G, €19 at the opposite end, Tribune 4. Note that the €5 discount offered to under-19s in these sectors is only available online and not from the Ticketshop or windows.
To stand (sectors C/D in the main stand, F in the home end, I in Tribune 3), it’s €17, €10 for under-19s and free for under-6s.
The KVM Fanshop (Mon-Fri 10am-12.30pm, 1.30pm-6pm, match days 90min before kick-off, for 45min after final whistle) is now behind Tribune 3.
Amid the mass of red-and-yellow stripes (away kit is black with red piping), you’ll find a range of gear with a 1904 theme. Coffeemugs emblazoned with ‘Proud to be a Kakker’ refer to the nickname for Mechelen fans.
Surprisingly, for a populist Belgian club in place at the same ground for over a century, the KVM ground has no bars near it. All you’ll find is the pre-match chippie, Bij Theo & Vicky, at Kleine Nieuwdijkstraat 5.
Fortunately, there’s a decent stadium bar behind the main stand, De Nieuwe Kantine, with one of those wonderful Belgian league ladders on one wall and photos of classic KVM moments on the pillars.
A more recent innovation, and an indication which way the club is heading, is the Resto Martinique, serving contemporary international cuisine to all-comers during the week, and to skybox holders on match days.