Belgian Cup winners in 2012 and 2014, Sporting Lokeren have enjoyed several campaigns in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, most notably when filled with experienced internationals in the early 1980s.
Formed as Racing in 1923, merged for the last time 80 years later, Lokeren have gone through a number of changes but rarely won silverware.
Managerial talent has not been lacking – Lokeren was an early posting for later national team supremo Guy Thys and the Tricolores have twice hired two-time Belgium coach Georges Leekens.
As Racing, Lokeren hardly bothered the statisticians, monetary constraints forcing a merger with local side Standaard in 1970. Things then began to improve under Ladislav Novák, captain of the Czechoslovakia side who reached the World Cup Final in 1962. With goals from Wlodzimierz Lubanski, all-time top scorer for the Polish national side, and Belgian international René Verheyen, Lokeren made a bright start in European competition. Johan Cruyff scored the vital goal that just saw Barcelona pip the Belgians in a memorable night at the Daknamstadion in the 1976-77 UEFA Cup.
Four years later, Lokeren beat decent Dynamo Moscow, Dundee United and Real Sociedad sides in the same competition, losing out to eventual finalists AZ Alkmaar. By then, Lubanski had been joined by compatriot Grzegorz Lato and fellow World Cup star Preben Elkjaer Larsen. Czech Karol Dobias, a Euro winner in 1976, was another of their foreign stars.
This Lokeren side made league runners-up spot behind Anderlecht in 1980-81 – their highest placing to date.
Coaches came and went – Lubanski himself, later national team coach, ex-Lokeren defender Aimé Anthuenis three times – but Lokeren slipped down the league ladder.
A merger with nearby Sint-Niklaas in 2000 saw an improvement in fortunes, Lokeren returning to Europe in 2003-04 only to lose narrowly to Manchester City.
Lokeren youth product Killian Overmeire hadn’t yet risen to the first team, but he soon made the defensive midfield position his own, gaining a Belgian cap and becoming current team captain.
He and Croatian Ivan Leko helped man the midfield when Lokeren won their first trophy, a 1-0 win over Kortrijk taking the Belgian Cup in 2012. Tunisian international Hamdi Harbaoui, goalscorer that day, also led the line in the cup victory of 2014. Ivorian goalkeeper Boubacar ‘Copa’ Barry, an ever present for the Elephants at the last two World Cup Finals, also won two domestic cup medals.
The subsequent intrepid Europa League run of 2014-15 saw wins over Hull City and Legia Warsaw but goal difference proved Lokeren’s undoing. Returning to his old club soon afterwards, former Belgian national team coach Georges Leekens seems to be struggling to keep Lokeren in with the challengers.
Opened as a municipal stadium in the early 1950s, the Daknamstadion hosted various sports events including athletics, football and greyhound racing. A modest stand was built in 1956. This was the home of Standaard Lokeren – Sporting Lokeren moved in when the two clubs merged in 1970.
Three new stands were put up in the coming decade, before Lokeren hosted the likes of Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona, Benfica and Dynamo Moscow.
The home North Stand was roofed in 1997, with capacity later reduced to 9,500, roughly half standing, half seated. With Lokeren’s recent cup wins, and more European football, 8,000 new seats were installed for an overall capacity of 12,000.
Home fans gather in sectors 2 (standing) and C (seated) in the North Stand, Tribune II, with visiting supporters in a separate sector, B2 sitting, B1 partly standing. The main stand, Tribune I, houses press and VIPs, accessed from Daknamstraat. Tribune III offers decent seats along the sidelines. Tribune II is behind the south goal.
Bus services to the stadium are infrequent. The nearest stop (No.58) is on Van Duysestraat, the street at right-angles to Daknamstraat opposite the nearest bar, De Mierennest – but the No.27 and Belbus No.270 are not even hourly. The walk from the station – exit left, left again under the railway bridge, then right on the main road and left at the Q8 garage – is about 15-20min. A taxi is easiest, about €10-12.
Tickets are sold at the ticket office beside the stadium before the match, payment by cash or Belgian Bancontact cards only. Games with Anderlecht, Standard Liège, Bruges, Ghent and Genk (‘Topwedstrijden’) carry a modest levy.
The best seats are in A1 and A2 in Tribune I, €35-40. A decent seat in Tribune III opposite is €18-25. The cheapest places are standing in lower sectors 3 and 4 of Tribune III and sector 2 in Tribune II. Visitors in Tribune II pay €18-20 in sector B2, €12-15 in B1.
The club shop (Wed 2.30-5.30pm, Sat 10am-noon, match days) is beside the Foot & Fun Café behind the main stand on Daknamstraat.
De Mierennest (‘The Ants’ Nest’) is right beside the stadium at Daknamstraat No.67. Owners Daisy and Diego are turning it into a real football café, with match scarves from the 2012 Belgian Cup Final decorating the bar counter.
Behind the main stand, the Foot & Fun Café is a family-friendly outlet open on match days.