Only two clubs have won more Belgian titles than Union St-Gilloise: Anderlecht and Club Bruges. The last of their 11 championships, however, was won in 1935 and a trip to Union’s World War I-era Stade Joseph Marien is essential for any football romantic.
Can there be a more atmospheric venue in all of Europe? A football venue from the 1920 Olympic Games cut into an expanse of wild urban green, the Stade Joseph Marien is in the district of Forest, bordering leafy, crumbling St-Gilles. A clubhouse steeped in football history completes the picture.
Around St-Gilles, Marolles and other traditional neighbourhoods, many a bar sports the yellow and blue of Union, considered the Brussels club.
Successful pioneers in early regional tournaments, Union dominated the Belgian championship in the early 1930s. With Belgian World Cup goalkeeper André Vandeweyer, also their post-war manager, Union went a record 60 league games unbeaten, between January 1933 and February 1935. Spells in Europe in the early 1960s preceded a long period of yo-yoing between the second and third divisions.
Most recently, Union narrowly missed out on promotion from the third after winning through to the play-off final – only to lose 3-2 to Patro Eisden Maasmechelen.
The Stade Joseph Marien has barely changed since Union St-Gilles last topped the league in 1935. Opened in 1919 with a gala match against Milan FC (today’s AC Milan), the ground had an original capacity of 25,000. The changing rooms were in the woods, the players having to run through the crowd to get to the pitch. After reconstruction in 1926, the stadium was said to be the finest in Belgium, the Art-Deco touches to its façade still visible today. Current capacity is 8,000.
Union have their own stop on the Nos.32 and 82 tramlines, both six stops from Gare du Midi. Alighting from the tram, cross avenue Van Volxem and head up rue des Glands – the stadium will be on your right once you reach the top of the street.
The ticket windows are in a small hut just before you reach on chaussée de Bruxelles. It’s a standard €12 for home fans seated in blocks B-D and away ones seated in block A.
A few souvenirs are on offer in the ‘Supporters Shop’ at the ticket office on match days. Otherwise the main club shop is down near the parvis de St-Gilles, rue de Rôme 4 (Wed, Thur, Sat 11am-4pm, Sun 10am-noon), where shirts, scarves and hats are to be complemented by reproductions of archive photographs once a modest club museum is opened in the basement.
The first port of call should be the parvis de St-Gilles, five stops on tram No.97 from Union. There, on one corner, the Brasserie de l’Union (No.55) is a favourite meeting place, with notices for away trips amid the classic bohemian décor.
At the stadium, the Union’s Taverne on the corner of rue du Stade and chaussée de Bruxelles contains a jukebox and plenty of football talk.
Pride of place goes to the Club House, a wood-and-brick palace of football memorabilia, worth the trip alone to Forest, even on non-match days. As well as Union paraphernalia – the team of 1932-33, the plaque to Jef Valise, the ‘eternal Unioniste’ who used to carry his uncle Jacques’ kit bag to home games – there are decorative nods to the great Torino side who perished at Superga, pennants of obscure Greek sides, even West Ham get a look-in.
The back door leads out to the main stand, the pitch, and a they-play-here? backdrop of forest greenery.