Ten times champions of Belgium, Standard Liège are a populist club revered in the industrial heartland of French-speaking Wallonia.
Few clubs look forward to their season’s visit to Sclessin, the grey area of Liège down by the Meuse where Standard have been based since 1909. There at the Stade de Sclessin, les Rouches (‘les Rouges’ in local dialect, the Reds) run out to a sea of red – and there have Standard have upset a few big European names too.
The stadium, backdropped by the mines that worked here until 1980, is officially called the Stade Maurice Dufrasne, the chairman who arranged a regular home for the club here after a decade of playing in various parts of Liège.
Standard had been formed in 1898 by local students who wanted to emulate the feats of Standard Athletic Club in Paris, inaugural French football champions in 1894.
However it was city rivals Liège Football Club who won the first Belgian championship – in fact, Standard didn’t win anything until after Dufrasne lifetime.
It wasn’t until Standard hired a professional coach, former Toulouse striker André Riou, in 1953, that the club started to go places. Winning their first trophy, the Belgian Cup, a year later, Standard went on to win the league in 1958.
By the next title win of 1961, they were captained by Belgian international Denis Houf and coached by Géza Kalocsay, a globe-trotting Czech-Hungarian who had been involved in two World Cup finals, as a squad player for Czechoslovakia in 1934 and an assistant coach for Hungary in 1954.
With goals from a young Roger Claessen and Derry-born Johnny Crossan, Standard beat a very good Rangers side to reach the European Cup semi-final of 1962. The Real Madrid of Puskás and Di Stéfano then proved too much for the Reds.
While Crossan went on to star for Sunderland and Manchester City, Claessen stayed on to score nearly 200 goals for Standard. Today his iconic image is displayed as part of the stadium façade. The Reds won another title in 1963 and cups in 1966 and 1967.
By 1968, international midfielders Léon Semmeling and Wilfried van Moer were driving what is considered by many to be the best Standard side in history, who won three consecutive titles from 1969 to 1971.
The next great Standard side came a decade later, created by master coaches Ernst Happel and Raymond Goethals. Captained by the tenacious Eric Gerets and featuring goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme and Dutch midfielder Arie Haan, Standard at last made it through to a European final. Days before they were to meet Barcelona in the final of the Cup-Winners’ Cup – at the Nou Camp – Standard won the league with an easy win over Waterschei. Too easy. So as to field a full side in Spain, Standard paid Waterschei’s players to sit back for 90 minutes.
Two years after Barça had reversed a 1-0 scoreline to beat Standard 2-1, the bribe came to light. Though most star players had already left, Standard’s staff received bans.
Coaches, such as former players Semmeling, Haan and Jos Daerden came and went but it took Preud’homme to turn things around at Standard. With midfielder Steven Defour, appointed team captain when still a teenager, and Serb goalscorer Milan Jovanović, Standard recaptured the glory days by winning the title in 2008.
With Preud’homme tempted to Gent, the managerial seat was taken by former Steaua Bucharest star, Hungaro-Romanian László Bölöni. Standard retained the title after a tense play-off with Anderlecht.
Making a first-ever and so far only appearance in the Champions League group stage in 2009-10, Standard slipped back in the league. They wouldn’t challenge domestically again until 2013-14, by which time Roland Duchâlet had bought the club, now part of his Europe-wide empire. Standard narrowly lost out to Anderlecht in 2014 and went through a succession of managers before settling on Ricardo Sá Pinto, who had played out his career at Standard.
A run of scoring form by Renaud Emond allowed Standard to claim the Belgian Cup in 2018. Sá Pinto’s side also rose above Anderlecht to take the runners-up spot in the league that spring. A high-scoring defeat to Ajax in the Champions League – despite a stoppage-time equalising penalty by Emond in the home leg – led to an underwhelming appearance in the Europa League group stage.
Old boy Michel Preud’homme replaced Sá Pinto to keep Standard in Europe in 2019, though he’ll have to do without promising young Romanian international Râzvan Marin, who impressed Ajax in the 2-2 draw of 2018.
Arguably the most atmospheric ground in Belgian football, the Stade Maurice Dufrasne sits in a bend in the Meuse, still surrounded by the bleak clutter of industrial Wallonia. This is Sclessin, south-west of central Liège – the stadium is still referred to after its surrounding locality.
Standard moved to what was Sclessin farmland, overlooked by slagheaps, in 1909. The chairman who found them this affordable location, Maurice Dufrasne, then created a modest stadium here in 1925, shortly after the club gained promotion to the First Division.
Developed from a small single stand as the club found success after the war, the Stade de Sclessin saw its capacity rise to 40,000 by the early 1960s.
Floodlights ushered in the new European era. As the industry around it declined, so Sclessin gradually modernised, more domestic success and European TV revenues providing the funds for more seating and increased roofing.
With a new main stand built in 1985, Sclessin was ready to play its part in hosting Euro 2000 – sadly for three low-scoring, unremarkable games.
Current capacity is 27,670. Home fans – Hell Side 81, Ultra Inferno 96, Publik Hysteriek Kaos 04 – make a fire-red commotion in Tribunes 3 and 4 behind each goal, allowing for a constant call-and-response of chanting. Away fans are allocated 1,332 seats in four sectors – A4, B4 and C4 – of the Quai Vercour, the end nearest the Meuse.
Press and the older group Supporters du Standard are placed in Tribune 1 alongside rue de la Centrale, where you’ll find the main shop, the clubhouse, busy kiosks and bars.
Standard has its own bus stop on rue Ernest Solvay, diagonally opposite the stadium. On non-matchdays Nos.2, 3, 9, 27 and 58 lines run directly from Liège-Guillemins station to Sclessin Standard, journey time 10min.
From 90min before kick-off, these lines are diverted away from rue Ernest Solvay and buses stop close to a bridge on the Meuse, where you follow the crowds to the stadium.
Note that Sclessin rail station, 10min nearer to town, is only used on school weekdays.
Since 2017-18, the only way to buy a ticket for Standard, unless you’re an away fan arranging admission through your own club, is to obtain a Member Card. These are free of charge, Gold for season tickets, Red for occasional matches, but can only be issued in person from the billetterie (Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm) behind Tribune 2. You can try and ask the club (email@example.com) if it’s possible to arrange remotely before your visit.
With an average gate of 23,000 in 2018-19 and a capacity of 27,600, including 1,300 visiting supporters, pay on the day is no way guaranteed. If you’re there on spec, you could hang around the kiosks on rue de la Centrale and see if anyone is selling on use of their friend’s season ticket for that match.
If you’re able to buy online, prices are set at €16-€20 in Tribunes 3 and 4 behind the goals, €20-€32 in 1 and 2 along the sidelines. Under-18s pay €6-€10 less, under 12s an average of €7 around the stadium.
For top matches, ie Anderlecht, Bruges, Genk, Gent and Charleroi, prices rise by up to €11, discounted admission set at an average €12-€15 across the board.
The stadium has two main outlets: the store (Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm, 2hrs before kick-off, 1hr after final whistle) on rue Ernest Solvay and the spacious match-day shop (2hrs before kick-off, 1hr after final whistle) behind the main stand on rue de la Centrale.
Key accessories include a data stick fashioned into the shape of a little footballer, neckties and own-brand Belgian beers, all presented in Standard red, of course.
Little surrounds the ground but busy bars. Some prefer to avoid the crowds by a pre- or post-match beer at quieter places such as Le Château and the Café du Centre, set towards town where rue Ernest Solvay meets rue de l’Avenir and behind on place Ferrer.
Closer to the ground at rue Ernest Solvay 222, the Bois d’Avroy is a large standard bar/restaurant with a beer garden in summer and packed on match days all season long.
Key spot is The Cup, right on the corner, with mural paintings of Standard iconography and booming music inside. Frites and beer kiosks line rue de la Centrale, where you’ll also find the Hell Side fans’ bar, generally friendly to neutrals.
Where Ernest Solvay meets rue de la Centrale by the stadium, kiosks and bars are mobbed pre-match. Payment by tokens is no more – everything is done through your Member Card, just top up from your phone via cashless.standard.be.
At the stadium itself, beside the club store on rue de la Centrale is a busy clubhouse with a terrace, beers and snacks also sold by a cashless system.