Under the motto of ‘Grensverleggend’ (‘Groundbreaking’), Zulte-Waregem have certainly shaken things up in the Belgian game since winning the Second Division in 2005.
Formed from a 2001 merger between KSV Waregem and Zultse VV, ‘Essevee’ as they are universally known, have been regular top-six finishers and twice Belgian Cup finalists, once winners.
The red-and-green have yet to claim a league title – but, given their early form in 2016-17, this might just be a matter of time.
Playing at the Regenboogstadion, former home of KSV Waregem, feisty European competitors in the 1970s and 1980s, Zulte-Waregem needed four years to reach the top flight after the merger and have stayed there since.
Under Francky Dury, coach at Zultse VV through the 1990s and Zulte-Waregem through the 2000s, the Essevee reached the Belgian Cup final in 2006. Pegged at 1-1 by Mouscron, Z-W sent their 16,000 fans home happy from Brussels when Tim Matthys fired in a stoppage-time free-kick.
Matthys popped up to score vital goals in the club’s impressive debut campaign in Europe, beating Lokomotiv Moscow to overcome Austria Vienna and Sparta Prague in the group stage then fall to Newcastle in the first knock-out round.
Z-W lost their way after Dury’s departure in 2010 but revived with his return in during the winter break of 2011-12. The following season, Dury trusted his midfield to key young players Thorgan Hazard, brother of Eden, and teenager Junior Malanda, in sensational form as the red-and-green went 17 games unbeaten.
Hazard, on loan from Chelsea, became Player of the Season in Belgium while Malanda was signed by Wolfsburg then loaned back to Zulte-Waregem for their European campaign. He would later die in a car crash in Germany when only 20.
At the climax to Hazard and Malanda’s seminal season of 2012-13, the Essevee took Anderlecht in the title decider, the main square of Waregem packed for the broadcast from Brussels. Ahead thanks to a goal from former Z-W youth player Jens Naessens, the Essevee then conceded a deflected free-kick, and the point was enough for Les Mauves to pip Zulte-Waregem to a first title.
Swept aside by PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League qualifying stage, Z-W had a patchy debut in the group stage of the Europa League, beating Wigan but twice losing to Rubin Kazan.
Long-term rumours of the club merging and/or moving had hardly generated confidence and Z-W fared little better in the same tournament the following season.
In 2014, construction started on a new Regenboogstadion, to create a 13,000-capacity arena with a shopping centre and bowling hall. This process has been continuing through 2016-17, as Dury remains in charge of activities on the pitch.
Zulte-Waregem won six of their first nine league games in 2016-17, captain M’Baye Leye, another of the 2012-13 heroes, back on form, and young Danish midfielder Lukas Lerager emerging as a real talent.
Currently being rebuilt over a four-year period due to finish in 2017, the Regenboogstadion (‘Rainbow Stadium’) was named after the cycling road-race championships it was first built to host, in 1957. Its lakeside setting in pretty parkland harks back to a more innocent time, before malls and multi-storey car parks were invented.
First home to KSV and then passed on to Zulte-Waregem, the stadium has seen more than a decade of domestic league action but hardly any European games, as these have been staged in Bruges, Ghent and Brussels. This is a situation that should change from 2017.
Present capacity is 12,300 – this was 20,000 plus when there were terraces behind each goal in KSV’s day.
The first part of the new redevelopment was the opening of Stand 4 nearest the lake in November 2014. It accommodates nearly 1,000 visiting fans in sectors 408 and 409, segregated as they arrive by a walkway over the water into an access tunnel. The away section usually displays the colours of the visiting team.
Some 2,000 home fans occupy Stand 4, entering by a different route.
Stand 2, the home end, opened in 2016 and remains a standing terrace, which might alter should Waregem host European games again. All-seated Stand 3 nearest the lake is also being unveiled during 2016-17 while main Stand 1 is slated for rebuilding in 2017.
In the last part of the development, the corners will all be closed off, bringing the overall capacity to 13,000.
The stadium is a 20min walk from Waregem station, bearing right along Noorderlaan immediately outside, and following the main road all the way round to Zuiderlaan. Cutting through town, via Stationstraat or Olmstraat to Markt, but be a little quicker. From Markt, it’s an easy 5-10min walk, either through the Stadswinkel shopping centre or round it.
Buses options from the station include the Nos.58 and 85 to Renbaan by the park area or No.75 to Markt and walk. At weekends, these services are quite infrequent.
With a capacity at just over 12,000, availability is sometimes a problem if the visitors are from one of Belgium’s big club. For the home game with Bruges in October 2016, for example, Stands 2 and 4 behind each goal were sold out, with only few hundred tickets available in Stands 1 and 2 along the sidelines.
Ticket offices close on match days – you have to purchase beforehand.
Tickets usually go on sale a fortnight or so before each game. They are distributed from the ticketshop (Fri 10am-5.30pm, Sat 9am-noon) at the stadium. There may also be sales weekdays through the Fanshop (see opening times below). These outlets are in a red hut behind the main stand.
Note that each purchase requires ID on a one-ticket-per-ID basis – you can’t buy for other people with just one ID.
It’s also worth asking at any of the bars recommended in the Bars section below.
Flemish-only online sales require registration.
Prices range from €25 in sectors 101-109 in the lower tier of the main stand, to €30-€40 above and in the stand opposite. Standing places are usually taken by season-ticket holders and seats behind the goal opposite are also quickly snapped up.
Discounted rates for under-16s are €10-€15 in the lower and upper tier of the main stand/Stand 3 opposite.
Prices drop by €5 for non-category A (‘Niet-Toppers’) – currently ‘Toppers’ are Anderlecht, Bruges, Standard Liège, Genk, Kortrijk, Ostend and KAA Gent.
Behind the main stand, the bright-red Fanshop (Tue & Thur 10am-12.30pm, 2pm-6.30pm, Wed & Fri 10am-5.30pm, match-day Sat 9am-noon, 90min before kick-off, 1hr after final whistle) sells pennants, flags, playing cards and sweatbands, all in red and green.
Hidden away in a quiet residential area about 1km from Zuiderlaan near the stadium, De Karekiet at Bessemstraat 20 is not only the definitive Z-W bar in town, it’s one of Belgium’s best football hang-outs. Also known as the Supporterslokaal De Funvrienden (‘The Fun Supporters’ Bar’), it’s exactly that, with everything done out in red and green, not least the barstools created from old seats from the stadium, framed signed shirts and logo’d glasses. It’s also party-minded and welcoming to visiting neutrals. Supporters’ buses set off from its expansive forecourt.
In the immediate vicinity of the stadium, the Taverne Half Time is a busy spots on match days, fans filling the terrace on the busy main road of Westerlaan, at the junction with Henri Lebbestraat, just across from the stadium complex.
On the other side of the park from the stadium, overlooking the lake, the Boothuis suits a more discerning, moneyed supporter, but this upscale brasserie isn’t shy about its Essevee support – a framed Z-W shirt dates from the time the venue opened in 2011.
Further round from the lake, the Taverne Regenboog on Meerstraat is another classic fans’ bar, Z-W scarves and a current league table ranged around a large room also containing a table for Belgian billiards. Just behind, older regulars meet in De Treffer, a bar attached to a municipal swimming pool. There’s a lakeside view from the terrace.
Part of the stadium’s ongoing redevelopment programme, the Essevee Café is where business clients are entertained within the main stand.