The surprise package of the 2015-16 season, the Kustboys of KV Oostende haven’t played much top-flight football until recently.
VG Oostende, founded in 1904, and the more prominent AS Oostende, founded in 1911, spent most of their histories in the lower reaches of the Belgian league ladder.
Even after these two clubs merged in 1981, the newly formed KV Oostende needed a decade to clamber out of Division 3.
A debut campaign in Division 1 in 1993-94 saw KVO finish seventh, just out of the European placings. Two subsequent top-flights stints culminated in relegation.
It was only when former KVO midfielder Frederik Vanderbiest stepped up as player-coach in 2011 that things started to happen. A product of the RWD Molenbeek youth system, Vanderbiest had had a much-travelled career around Belgium’s lesser lights and was in his early thirties when he accepted the post.
KVO made the Division 2 promotional play-offs in 2011-12. A season later, with goals from Laurent Depoitre and Yohan Brouckaert, they won the league by ten points.
Vanderbiest’s Kustboys not only performed creditably in the regular season of their first top-flight campaign but stormed the Europa League play-offs. Young midfielder Michiel Jonckheere scored in both legs as KVO twice held Kortrijk 2-2 for the right to play in Europe. Jonckheere saved the day at KVO’s Albertparkstadion with a 92nd equaliser. It came down to a penalty shoot-out, ending in a 7-6 victory for the Kustboys.
But it had all been for nothing. Even before the second leg, KVO chairman Marc Coucke had tweeted the news that coach Vanderbiest’s lack of a UEFA Pro Licence would prevent the club from competing in Europe. ‘Our day will come’, he hash-tagged, determinedly.
Coucke, a successful pharmaceutical entrepreneur, had taken over at the start of the season. At the start of the next, 2014-15, he could still count on Jonckheere, Cameroun striker Sébastien Siani and South African international defensive midfielder Andile Jali.
Keeping Vanderbiest in charge, Coucke subsequently oversaw a less dramatic campaign and duly brought in former Anderlecht midfielder Yves Vanderhaeghe as coach for 2015-16.
The results were immediate. In August, in front of a near-full Albertpark, KVO beat Vanderhaeghe’s former club 3-1, the goals coming from Knowledge Musona and Gohi Bi Zoro Cyriac. A week later, Musona and Joseph Akpala put paid to Standard – in Liège.
As these African strikers, Zimbabwean, Ivorian and Nigerian respectively, claimed 30 goals between them in the regular season, KVO spent two-thirds of it in Belgium’s top three, 12 rounds at the top of the league.
At the back, Jordan Lukaku, younger brother of Everton’s Romelu, is a Belgian international while goalkeeper Didier Ovono is approaching 100 caps for Gabon.
Together, they kept KVO in with the contenders in 2015-16 but a poor showing in the championship play-offs means that European football remains elusive.
Shortly before the deciding league round, KVO were forced to moved out of their home ground and play home games at the Stadion Schiervelde, home of second-division SV Roeselare.
The modernised Albertpark will be ready for the 2016-17 campaign.
Enjoying its first major overhaul since 2007, the Albertparkstadion closed in March 2016 and will reopen before the 2016-17 campaign. For the last games of 2015-16, KVO set up camp at SV Roeselare, 40km away.
Opened in 1934, ‘Albertpark’ had rarely witnessed top-flight football before the KVO’s current surge.
It was previously the home of AS Oostende, the more prominent of the two clubs who merged to form KVO in 1981 – the new boys just had to move in.
With a capacity of 8,000, including 5,000 seats, the Albertpark meets the minimum requirements for the Jupiler Pro League but the building of the E-Tribune the spring of 2016 will create more seats, at the away end (gate/poort 5) nearest the sea.
This also means it’s nearest the Kusttram line, making KV Oostende one of Europe’s most convivial groundhops – although here the tram skirts inside the seafront a block away.
Home fans congregate in sectors C1-C3 on Leopold van Tyghmelaan, gate/poort 1 and 2.
Albertpark is an easy ride on the Kusttram from Ostend station. From the stop Perron 1 alongside, take the tram heading towards De Panne for four stops to Northlaan (every 15min, journey time 14min). You’ll see the stadium floodlights to your left as the tram arrives at the Northlaan stop.
For the last games of the 2015-16 season, supporters’ buses were laid on from the Albertparkstadion to Roeselare. A train from Ostend to Roeselare (€8) takes around 1hr 20min, changing at Bruges. From Roeselare station, take bus No.1 to Smedenstraat (journey time 15min). The stadium a short walk along Schieveldestraat.
The ticket office behind C-Tribune at the stadium opens Mon 2-5pm, Tue, Wed, Fri 10am-5pm, Thur 10am-7pm, Sat of a home-game weekend 10am-noon.
For major games, derbies and championship play-offs, ID is required.
Prices are €30 for a seat in the Zitplaats tribune E-I, €15-€20 for admission to the Staanplaats in sectors J-M. Under-16s are charged €10.
Online sales require a log-in.
The club shop is in the same building as the ticket office (see above) and operates the same hours. The best souvenirs are €3 sunglasses, in red, yellow or green, ideal for the beach.
Albertpark is surrounded by bars and restaurants, particularly on the nearby tram-lined main road.
On one side of the Northlaan tram stop, a row of venues includes Dijk 152, the Casa Del Mar, De Golf, Restaurant Den Artisjok and the Restaurant Boucquez. All put focus on serving quality food to people spending the day at the nearby golf course or beach a block away. None have any football affiliation but would be happy to serve you a beer or glass of wine – Casa Del Mar is more suited to an informal crowd.
On the stadium side of the main road, El Rey is not stuffy either, serving beer, wine and €12 weekday lunches. Lobster is the speciality – there’ll be a tank full of them. Erwin and Mireille have been running the place with a friendly touch for the last 25 years.
On the beach itself, the only nearby bar and best pre-match choice is L’Empereur, at the corner of Luxemburgstraat and Zeedijk. With TVs in each corner and decorative snatches of Anderlecht mauve, it’s football-oriented, its Cristal beer best sipped on the sea-facing terrace.
At the ground, the spacious Club 31 behind the main stand on Leopold van Tyghmelaan is a great, great stadium bar, decked out in atmospheric colour photos from KVO’s history. Note, too, the sticker on the door, ‘No Sweat, No Beer’, a local take on the ‘No Sweat, No Glory’ motto of Club Bruges down the road.