Belgium, and Belgian football, would be unthinkable without beer
Think of Belgium and you think of beer, ales steeped in monastic tradition, drinks in kaleidoscope colours, superstrength brews to blow your trainers off along with your socks.
Belgian football bars are things of beauty. While the match-day experience over the border in Holland or across the Channel may differ little from any visit to a megaplex (a Belgian invention!), hostelries in this charming little country brim with tradition and character, multicoloured league ladders dutifully updated by the bar, varied beers on tap and by the bottle.
Some of Belgium’s illustrious stadium bars also operate during the week, so if you’re passing, pop in and talk football with one of the savvy, friendly regulars.
Before we start, a couple of honourable mentions.
Avenue Théo Verbeeck alongside Anderlecht was once lined with great drinking spots – now only a couple remain. Bars near Standard Liège buzz before any game, though the actual stadium outlet is a bit meh. Oh, and Zulte-Waregem have the best pre-match bar nowhere near the stadium – take a bow, De Karekiet!
Right, enough pre-match analysis – someone get ’em in!
5 KV Kortrijk/de Kouter
Match-day bar at the Guldensporenstadion, named after a medieval battle and home of KV Kortrijk, De Kouter is equipped with that essential accoutrement as kick-off approaches: a ping-pong table.
Alternatively, of course, if De Kerels have lost (a seven-time occurrence here in 2019-20 before the Covid shutdown), KVK fans can replay the match over the table-tennis net.
The sign above the door reads: ‘Kerels know why’. Obviously!
4 KAS Eupen/Café penalty
OK, this is cheating a bit as KAS Eupen is practically in Germany, and the Penalty, Panenka-like wonder that it is, isn’t physically part of the Kehrwegstadion, rather in a house an Elfmeter kick away.
Plus (groan!) Eupen is all Qatari-owned. Set against that is Eupener beer. There. Argument won! Oh, and the sausage grill sizzles and fans gather for away-match screenings.
3 club Bruges/FCB Kaffee
You can’t really run a feature on football bars in Belgium and not include Club – you’d be lynched! Actually, there are two supporters’ pubs at the groundshare Jan Breydelstadion, one for Club, the other for Cercle, on the same side of the stadium.
The FCB Kaffee is a treat though, with a bar counter the length of ’t Zand, lined with scarves from fabulously obscure European visitors. Can you imagine the lagoons of Jupiler Ružomberok fans must have swam through?
As the Club motto says, ‘No Sweat, No Glory’.
2 KV Oostende/club 31
Drum roll, please! ‘No Sweat, No Beer’ is Ostend’s answer to the boys from Bruges, an apt riposte plastered over the door of this quite magnificent stadium bar.
OK, there’s a holiday vibe to factor in, as you’re probably three minutes’ walk from the beach – where L’Empereur is an equally tempting pre-match choice. You’re also whisked here by the swish Kusttram, running parallel to the sea.
But, taking all that into account, for atmosphere, photographic decoration (a pictorial history of KVO) and careless imbibing, Ostend it is. If it was good enough for Marvin Gaye…
1 Union St-Gilloise/USG clubhouse
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.
Home of the Union St-Gilloise, 11-time Belgian title winners in the early 1900s, Forest occupies a leafy swathe of south-west Brussels. Here three matches were played as part of the 1920 Olympics and, quite honestly, not so much has changed since.
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. In extra twist to the story, a resurgent USG came close to winning the title in 2022. With the subsequent European qualification – think Old Carthusians in the Champions League – the bar staff may have been somewhat trepidatious after decades of dealing with smaller crowds.
Alas, the game with Rangers was switched to Leuven, no mean drinking town in itself, but not a patch on this time-worn gem.