Sint Truiden – Passion on the street; soulless in the stadium

There were quite a number of CAS Trust members present in Sint Truiden on Saturday to join the march from the centre of town to the stadium in protest against Roland Duchatelet's ownership of Charlton Athletic. Most expressed their sadness at being there and said that they would much prefer to be in Northampton adding their loud support to a football club that they could subscribe to with full heart and soul. Everyone on the march seemed to be taking the long term view - that it was more important on this occasion to publicise the fact that the life blood is being sucked out of the club rather than to spend ninety minutes cheering on the current team.

Nevertheless, there was no doubt that people cared greatly about events at Sixfields. Footage of the game was screened at the pre march buffet - transmitted, we assumed, by someone holding up a mobile phone from behind the goal. It wasn't a superb quality high definition production. It was wobbly, sometimes grainy and peoples' heads kept getting in the way. Even so, it provided a good sense of camaraderie with fellow fans in Northampton. With a few minutes of the match remaining it somehow happened that Charlton's first half goal was shown again and everyone thought we had equalised. A big cheer went up drowning out the band. Gradually, the realisation dawned that the score was still 1-2 and that the team were about to be beaten for the fourth consecutive time. There was a collective groan.

Just before the loud and colourful march set off the assembled protesters stood together outside the bar for a passionate (and word perfect) rendition of both verses of The Red Red Robin. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as the passion and humour of generations of Charlton fans echoed in the evening air. I couldn't help thinking that most people singing were conscious of singing not just for themselves but for lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends. A few tears were undoubtedly shed.

It took half an hour to reach the Sint Truiden stadium and not for a second did the chanting and singing cease. At one particularly vibrant rendition of "Please sell our club" the local chief of police turned to me and said: "I so love this British football passion".

Contrast this with the experience of the Charlton fans who decided to round off their trip by attending the match between Sint Truiden and Eupen later that evening. Here is one CAS Trust member's chilling account:

"There is literally no atmosphere whatsoever. People sit around with a general hum of conversation being the overriding noise. There was house music all the way through being piped into the concourse area. It was somewhat annoying. I decided to phone home so was late to the second half. Walking through the concourse there were hundreds of fans still there eating, chatting not caring about the game that had already started. When I returned to my seat STTV had already scored a second, I heard no roar/reaction at all in the concourse so had not realised.
The ground is awful. It is just not a football ground. A very poor mans Leyton Orient with flats in the corner and commercial usage around.

There is no passion from fans, completely lifeless. Behind the goal is where their more noisy fans sit. I reckon there were 4-500 of them at most and this number would have been swelled by 40/50 Charlton fans who joined them.

It really was so different from a UK football experience and one that I hope they will never replicate in the UK with us.

Worst bit? Just after half time in the concourse bar under the north stand at STVV. There were a couple of hundred of their fans still in the bar as the second half kicked off, no one rushing to go back out for the game, dance music still playing. STVV scored within a minute or so to go 2-0 up and not one of them cheered, nothing! They just carried on drinking and chatting while the music played. Roland's vision in all it's chilling, soulless glory! This will be our future if we don't fight tooth and nail to rid our club of Duchatelet. We need to keep turning the screw"

To which another member commented:

"That business in the concourse below the stand. Could not agree more. The guys I was with were all so cold and knackered that we decided we would stay down there for a while. We got beer and hot dogs but never even realised ST had gone two up until we sat down near a monitor. The bloody music had drowned out the "roar" of the crowd.