Sang et Marine were once Liege’s top club but have been in exile for two decades

icon groundbuy18 July ~ Wednesday, July 15. RFC Liege have been waiting for this moment for 20 years. That’s how long since the legendary Stade Velodrome, in the Liege borough of Rocourt, was deemed unfit for professional football, forcing the Sang et Marine – once the city’s top club but long since surpassed by Standard –  to play their home games in several other places. The fact that the club had to rent Standard’s stadium in order to finish the 1994-95 season did not make the next two decades any more palatable.

But after untold name changes, demotions, political shenanigans and financial setbacks the wait is over: Wallonia’s oldest club, who won the first ever Belgian league title back in 1896, are coming home. Except they are not quite. The old Stade Velodrome is now a cineplex and the club’s permanent new stadium won’t be ready until 2017. In the meantime, a deal has been agreed with local authorities and the football league, allowing RFC Liege – now in the fourth-tier Promotion D – to play their home games on one of their youth academy’s astroturf pitches, in front of two tubular stands with a total capacity of 2,250.

What makes the game a homecoming of sorts, however, is the fact that it takes place in Rocourt, home to the Velodrome and the future stadium. The visitors come in the shape of fellow sleeping giants Union Saint-Gilloise who, back in 1921, played the inaugural game at the Stade Velodrome – albeit against Standard Liege.

The choice of Union Saint-Gilloise goes beyond historical landmarks: RFC Liege and Union are twinned at supporter level. Together with fans of Cercle Brugge, Liegeois and Unionistes have a special bond based on respect, friendship and positive values. Tellingly, the three clubs come from the country’s three official regions (Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia). Supporters groups visit each other throughout the season and even, as in this case, for pre-season friendlies. Cercle are, of course, represented.

The match, which – not that it matters much – ends RFC Liege 3-4 Union, is a symbolic and emotional affair first and foremost. Three thousand supporters singing their hearts out and drinking the place dry, meeting up hours before kick-off. Even if it’s one kilometre away from the Velodrome, this was a homecoming all right. There will be bigger celebrations when the new permanent stadium is inaugurated. Chances are, it won’t take place on a school night. PM Doutreligne

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