With its impressive railway station of Liège-Guillemins, a modern architectural delight labelled as a ‘ticket to tomorrow’, the city of Liege is now regarded as one of the biggest train hubs in Europe. Modern high-speed trains pass through Liege regularly connecting Liège to the capital of Brussels in one hour. From Liege its possible to reach Paris in 2h15 and be in Frankfurt in less than 3hours.
With a rich cultural heritage Liège’s stands on the Meuse (Maas) river and was a Prince-Bishopric for more than eight centuries. An important political centre in Medieval Europe this was the birthplace of the Emperor Charlemagne and the writer Georges Simenon.
The cultural centre of Wallonia, with an intense artistic life as well as an important architectural heritage, is also a religious one with eight Roman Catholic collegiate churches or cathedrals built here of which seven remain. These collegiate educational foundations, as we will soon find out, had a central role in the development of football in the city.
With Brussels the centre of commerce, business and government based around the architectural ancient trading centre point of the ‘Grand Place’, Liege has been labelled an industrial city despite a rich architectural heritage. It is a place that became more known for its mines, factories and chimneys with the home of the main football team the Stade de Sclessin a fitting backdrop to such symbols of hardwork.
But while many football teams grew out of work canteen discussions and industrial sports societies Les Rouches (The Reds) Standard de Liege are is no industrial factory team. Instead the club has roots in the the collegiate system mentioned earlier, being formed in 1898 by the pupils of Collège Saint-Servais.
When a desire for a club was established a decision was made to call the club Standard of Liège in reference to the Standard Athletic Club; a team who were one of the first sports associations in Paris. This club had won the first French football championship in 1894 and again in 1895, 1897, 1898 and 1901.
Royal Standard Club of Liège settled into its current home in 1909 within Sclessin, an industrial area of Liège. The present day Stade Maurice Dufrasne holds 30,023 people and is also still known as Stade de Sclessin.
Maurice Dufrasne was the Chairman of Standard Liège from 1909 until 1931 hence his role in the modern naming conventions.
In its early days unsurprisingly it was basic but eventually stands were added as were changing rooms and by 1923 the ground was owned by the club.
Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s Standard were a regular competing club in UEFA competition and the stadium was one of the main venues used for the Euro 1972 championships when it hosted the match for third place between Belgium and Hungary. In 2000 when the European Championships came to Holland and Belgium the stadium held three group matches.
Domestic success came naturally to Standard even when rivals Anderlecht and Club Brugge were dominating in Europe. The club won the Belgian championship three times in a row in 1969, 1970 and 1971 and reached the European Cup Winners Cup final in 1982 only to lose to Barcelona.
From glorious times what emerged was the darkest hour when the Standard v Waterschei bribery case was revealed in 1984. Following the scandal, many players of Standard were suspended and coaches left the club. Reestablishing themselves as a force in Europe and domestically took some time but these days many of Europe’s top clubs come to Liege for UEFA competitive fixtures just as they did during the 1960’s.
As the once thriving industrial face of the Sclessin has declined so the face and symbolism of the Maurice Dufrasne has advanced. It is now a modern 30,000 capacity arena noted for its noisy colourful supporters and high covered stands.
You can see some original images from Liege here.