1 July ~ This year’s Jupiler League had more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel, books beloved by many Belgians. When the dust settled, Racing Genk emerged as champions by half a point: a suitable end to a chaotic, unbelievable and, finally, incredibly exciting season. Very few people outside of Belgium, and only a handful inside the country, fully understand the Jupiler League play-off system. In brief: the top six at the end of the "classic" season enter a mini-league called Playoffs-One (PO1); crucially, the six clubs start with just half of the points gained in the season proper.

The top three in the mini-league then qualify for Europe (Champions League and Europa League qualifiers). But there’s more. The teams that finish in positions seven to 14 ("classic" season) go into two groups of four (PO2). The top team in each group then play each other to determine who meets the team finishing fourth in PO1 with the prize being a Europa League place. Finally, the teams finishing 15th and 16th play each other five times. This is PO3 – a new feature in 2011 – to determine the relegation positions.

Anderlecht – supported by Genk, Ghent and Club Brugge, the so-called G4 – had engineered the system’s approval back in 2009. The motivation was more games between "big" clubs, more cash from TV and gate receipts and suspense (in theory) until the end of the season. That had not worked in 2009-10 but this time it did pay off. There was a hiccup in December 2010, when the Jupiler League’s 16 clubs met and voted to return to the classic championship with 18 teams and no play-offs. But no – intensive lobbying took place and several Anderlecht players were loaned to smaller clubs; media rumours were rife that these were sweeteners to get the votes changed. At one stage, the G4 even agreed to relegation being decided on the basis of the last three years’ results – but that was finally and thankfully rejected.

A few days later, the decision to go back to 18 clubs was reversed and for the next three seasons, it will be status quo, even to the extent of the points being halved ahead of the PO1 play-offs. Anderlecht agreed to that, perhaps because they thought they would win the league regardless of the format. There was something for everyone: a typical compromis à la belge / Belgisch compromis.

The regular season finished with Anderlecht on top (65 points), one point ahead of Racing Genk and a full 16 points ahead of Standard Liege. Then the play-offs kicked in. Standard scraped into the top six on the last day, thereby immediately cutting the gap with Anderlecht to eight points. Anderlecht proceeded to sell Mbark Boussoufa (responsible for half of their goals) to Anzhi Makhachkala in Dagestan for lots of roubles, which proved to be an error. Leading up to the final day of the season, Standard – motivated by Jelle van Damme returning from an unhappy spell at Wolves – had taken a remarkable 25 points from nine games compared to Genk’s 18 and a Boussoufa-less Anderlecht’s 11. Standard and Genk now had 50 points and Anderlecht just 44; the mighty had fallen.

The final game was, as the scriptwriters wanted, between Racing Genk and Standard at Genk’s Cristal Arena. In a pulsating atmosphere, Standard took the lead, then their winger Mehdi Carcela was caught full in the face by Liverpool’s on-loan Chris Mavinga (broken nose and multiple fractures). Genk equalised late on through substitute Kennedy Nwanganga and took the point they needed. Standard perhaps deserved more on the night but over the season, Genk, a young side with Kevin de Bruyne in the engine room, were worthy champions. It was sweet revenge for Genk coach Franky Vercauteren who was sacked by Anderlecht after they had promised him a job for life.

And the victory by half a point! That’s because those who have been following carefully will understand that Standard Liege had been given half a point when their 49 points had been halved to 25, so they had (genuinely) 49.5 points as opposed to Genk’s 50. Hence a draw was enough to give Vercauteren’s men the title. An absolutely perfect finish to a surreal season. Magritte would have been proud. John Chapman

Comments (12)
Comment by English Republic 2011-07-01 10:44:37

Does Belgium still exist then?

Comment by dannycat 2011-07-01 13:25:56

Only just.
But what can you expect from an artificial country established by
the super powers of then (1830)?
England, in the first place...

Comment by Janik 2011-07-01 13:40:06

"Finally, the teams finishing 15th and 16th play each other five times. This is PO3 – a new feature in 2011 – to determine the relegation positions."

Finally we'll need some sort of play-off for relegation as well. Preferably over a number of games to generate revenue.
But there are only two teams left, Boss...
Well, they'll just have to play each other again-and-again, won't they!

Comment by Dalef65 2011-07-01 17:00:23

Truly bizzare from start to finish...

And who would have thought that Belgium would have a big 4 that doesnt include Standard Liege....

Go figure...

Comment by StephL 2011-07-01 23:37:08

It's because Standard did not agree with the play off system in the first place (despite being the principal beneficary in the end), while the 4 others "big" clubs wanted it (AA Gent are in it despite never having won the title, only a handful of cups).
And yes, Belgium still exist, in theory. In reality, we live in 2 seperate countries for most of the things.

Comment by HarryWainwright 2011-07-02 15:45:48

The relegation play off series is spectacular and evil. In England, would this have meant a five match play off between Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers?

One has to marvel at the dark imagination of whoever came up with this sick idea.

Comment by jonmid 2011-07-03 11:33:09

good riddance to bad rubbish Van Damme waste of time, money and efort

Comment by FCKarl 2011-07-03 11:44:01

Perhaps StephL can comment to help enlighten us (well, certainly me) over things in Belgium -- both things footballing and otherwise.

It appears that the northern Belgian Flemish teams dominate and wish to dominate greater financial spoils. The southern teams (Walloons)struggle more -- with the exception of Standard Liege.

Yes, it very much seems like you have two countries. We know this. There is a "massive?" cultural and political divide. And this translates over into sporting matters as well?

Can the football leagues and the country survive this state of affairs much longer?

This is a historical anecdote from years ago: Back when Enzo (Vicenzo) Scifo was a star player, it was well rumored that at team meals, the room was well divided. The French speaking to themselves. The Flemmish to themselves. And Enzo (Italian heritage) eating alone. Surely such fractiousness has improved over the many passing years?

Comment by dannycat 2011-07-03 19:40:06

It's not a question of Flemish dominating the Walloon football clubs.
The divide lies between the so called G5 (incl.Standard) en
the smaller teams.
The little clubs were at first against the reforms planned by the G5
to generate more money (and broaden the gap), but eventually
agreed (read: were compensated by more TV-money....)
At the moment there's no consensus of the Flemish forming
a league of their own.
As the national team concerns, linguistic differences
appear (press, players, etc...)when results are bad.
That might be (again) the case when Belgium fail to qualify
for the Ukraine/Poland tournament next year.

Comment by StephL 2011-07-04 17:10:19

Re PO3 (the one where the two bottom teams meet a hundred times to decide one of the relegated teams) : when the (silly) play-off system was implemented for the 2009-2010 season, this did not exist.
Number 15 in the table after the "classical" phase, ending in mid-March, had to wait until the beginning of May to play again, in another play-off serie involving #15 of division 1 and 3 division 2 sides to decide the second promotion place. And number 16 in the stand had their season terminated full stop, so being relegated and not playing a game until the next season.

For that 2009-2010 season, it was completely irrelevant, as by mid-December 2009, Excelsior Mouscron was declared bankrupt and expelled from the league, the classical phase thus ending with 15 clubs. #15 back then was to be KSV Roeselare, who did not win the promotion/relegation serie (Eupen did) and so were relegated to division 2.

To avoid this happening again, ie two teams having to wait months before their next game, they came up with that crazy idea of PO3.

More info can be found on this OTF tread :,com_kunena/Itemid,73/func,view/catid,27/id,437783/limit,20/limitstart,140/#543849

Re Belgium's big divide : I'll stick to the football aspect of it, as for the rest, I would have to spent days of writing, and it is well documented elsewhere. Let's just say that the cultural and political differences are getting bigger and bigger, almost by the day.

There is also a big divide in football, on the club scene at least. For next season, 2011-2012, there will only be two clubs from Walloonia in the top flight : Standard of course and RAEC Mons (they won the promotion/relegation play-offs, relegating Eupen in the process - Eupen had won PO3 vs Charleroi).
Gross mismanagement is chiefly responsible for this sad state of affairs in the South of the country. A few years ago, there were more Walloon clubs in division 1 but Mouscron (as earlier mentioned) and La Louvière (who won the Cup in 2003) have now disappeared, while Charleroi have now been relegated
for the first time since 1985, mainly because of bad management and the use of a crazy amount of coaches (among them former Hearts coach Csaba Laszlo).
The picture is not better in the lower division, where RFC Liège (the first champions of Belgium and European regulars in the 80s) are stumbling along in the 4th division, and most of the other teams from the region are merely surviving in front of meagre crowds and often gross mismanagement.

In the North, the picture is better but the treatment from the (national) football authorities towards clubs is somewhat different : while La Louvière never recovered from their involvement in the Chinese maffia betting/match fixing scandal from a few years ago, a club like Lierse who were heavily involved and were found guilty of match fixing was never
concerned by sanctions. Also heavely in debt, they always were granted their licence by the FA, until they were taken over by an Egyptian businessman 2 years ago, who wiped off all their debts.

This is because most of the man in charge at the FA and at the Pro League are Flemish and the consequences are felt by this two matters/two laws attitude.

For the moment, the only bright spot is provided by the national team, who despite not really getting results are once again popular. I went to the last two matches, away in Austria (we won 2-0) and at home vs Turkey (drew 1-1) and it has been a very very long time since I witnessed such a passion from the crowd towards the team, and fans came from Flanders, Walloonia,
Brussels and the German-speaking part of the country. The team is a balance of Femish, Walloons and 3rd generation migrants. But if they don't qualify for Brazil 2014 (Euro 2012 looks dead), I fear that this found again enthusiasm will not last.

As for the Scifo being ostracised story, I have never heard about it. True, there was a North/South divide in the team but Scifo was always well welcomed by the the Walloons. Despite being from Italian origin, he was always considered (and still is) as a Walloon. At Mexico 86, the team started to (miraculously) perform once coach Guy Thys sent troublemaker Reneé Van der Eycken home, after the second match vs Iraq. The atmosphere in the camp changed and the rest is history!

As for myself, I was born in Brussels and still live in Brussels
(unfortunately), I'm French-speaking from Flemish origins, my wife's from Walloonia and my son goes to a Flemish school (in Flanders) - and my daughter to a French-speaking school (in Brussels)...

Comment by FCKarl 2011-07-07 01:40:35

StephL, thank you for the very informative update on many things Belgique. It is much appreciated. I watched both the matches versus Austria and the home match versus Turkey. I really thought that Belgium was better and could have (should have) carried three points from that Euro 2012 qualifier. If they would have won, they would have eliminated Turkey's chances. Even on the TV, one could sense and hear the Belgian crowd behind the team. Good! StephL, please keep the Flanders & Walloonia updates coming when other WSC articles appear. It is sad, odd, at times awkward, and equally fascinating. How does a country connect itself? What defines it? (Belgium pops these questions in my head) A few years back I was a frequent visitor to your country for various reasons. (and the good food helped) One could/I could palpably sense the "differences" when travelling by car or sometimes by bicycle from one part of the country to the other. I could "sense" the divide. Although, I would like to point out, as a harmless, smiling foreign traveller/visitor, I was never met with any awkward moments aside from some of the more dodgy neighborhoods around Brussels. THAT is another big problem. One big sporting memory I will always keep is being at a final match when FC Brugge won the season title. That was a very fun day. Thank you for posting. Merci. Karl

Comment by mistajohn 2011-07-07 11:34:23

As author of the piece, I'd like to say thanks everyone. Belgium does still exist and is doing ok despite not having a government. It's been surviving "artificially" for over 180 years and I can't see the country or the football leagues splitting up any time soon.
The playoffs system is universally disliked but the league suffers from a lack of cash and the clubs cannot compete with those of the super powers. As mentioned, there's a big five in the Jupiler League - the G4 of the article plus Standard Liege. The latter tends to do it's own thing but they've recently been bought by Roland Duchatelet, whose parents came from both sides of the language divide. Next season should be very interesting.
As for the national team, it looks very healthy and the ambiance in the squad seems fine too. I've seen them training and playing and it looks that way; reports say the same thing. Many of the squad speak three or more languages fluently (Inc. Kompany, Defour and Lukaku) and the days of French and Flemish enclaves are long gone.
If I can make a small plug, I write about Belgian football at @belgofoot on Twitter and it often has links to my blog.
Good stuff there from StephL by the way, cheers, John

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