KVC Westerlo – En Allemaal Samen

When I first saw the name Westerlo my initial thought was the Battle of Waterloo. But the place that the Walloon’s call Waterlô is in fact somewhere completely different – the battlefield of 1815 sits just south of Brussels.

Yes, Westerlo is somewhere else and nowhere near the Belgian capital.

This is the municipality of Westerlo, east of the Flemish city of Antwerp.

One local football supporter I meet outside the Het Kuipje the home stadium of Westerlo – a supporter called Jan – told me that Westerlo ‘is not a city but a town’. The big city according to him was the nearby and much larger Antwerp ‘where me and my friends live and work’. Westerlo he told me is in fact a set of small villages that make up the larger town of Westerlo.

The differences according to him was that the two are completely different places ‘but part of the overall Kempen area’.

In truth his explanation left me more confused than when I arrived but the club nickname De Kemphanen did all of a sudden start to make a bit more sense.

KVC Westerlo the local club sits about 47 km away from the city of Antwerp where Royal Antwerp play football. The club are closer to Mechelen than to Antwerp but this is Belgium’s most populous province with an area of 2,876 km2, and over 1.85 million inhabitants there is room for plenty of football clubs.

KVC Westerlo emerged in 1917, when the club was named Sportkring De Bist Westerlo.

By the start of the next war in the 1930’s they were renamed Westerlo Sport, and by the end of WWII this was Voetbal Club Westerlo.

The Koninklijke royal prefix was added to the club name in the 1990’s and these days it is an ambitious but staunchly regional club – hence the nickname De Kemphanen. The current owners have said that the club strategy 2024 and beyond is an aim to reach out for ‘social and regional dimensions together with national sporting ambitions’.

Outside the small and compact Het Kuipje Stadium it states En Allemaal Samen in blue and yellow the club colors – ‘And All Together’.

The team have certainly displayed a sense of togetherness in recent years.

After consistent performances in the second tier Belgian Challenger Pro League the club were promoted as Champions at the end of the 2022 season. However off the park the challenge of overcoming Belgium’s traditional footballing giants remains a huge one.

The club knows it will need to be realistic financially with average crowds of around 5,600 bringing in only modest income streams. But the fixtures against Anderlecht, Genk and Standard are prize assets to Westerlo seeing the club pull in over 8,000 fans to what are lucrative matchday’s.

What money does come in here is invested in the player academy model and in astute foreign signings.

Via the new Turkish club ownership model at least two Turks have been brought in at Westerlo. Also into the club have come young international players from the US, Costa Rica and Bulgaria.

Assisting with the smooth transition of players to the first team has been Nacer Chadli the hugely experienced Belgian international whom has found a home here after a number of years in England, France and Holland.

Against Standard Liege Westerlo punched well above its weight the challenge of facing off to the big guns has been accepted.

With the evening sun burning down on both fans and players the intelligent runs of Chadli had Standard in all sorts of trouble as the game went on.

The fans from Liege meanwhile brought regional diversity to the occasion – chanting endlessly in French while the Westerloo fans behind the goal threw insults back in Flemish.

Red and white, yellow and blue – the sun in the blue sky. In terms of a football fixture the colors of the evening were wonderful.

The goals – when they came – were things of beauty benefitting of such a glorious night in provincial settings.

Heading back to Antwerp after the event the first people I met were Standard Liege supporters, heading it appeared, back to the Belgian capital where they lived. Westerlo according to them ‘should be a second division team’ and Standard should ‘never be losing to farmers’.

Despite being relatively close to the larger city of Antwerp, Westerlo is one of the more unusual outposts of Belgian football. Getting to the place was a challenge and from speaking to fans of the club its hard to define whether its actually a town in itself or a club named after a larger municipal or regional locality.

In truth Westerlo is a transportation black hole, there was no train station nearby. The nearest train stops are a little bit away and its really only by bus that the place can be reached.

If it sounds like an outpost it felt like one. I was left with a sense of feeling this was a football club that belonged to an area rather than an actual city.

Westerlo calls itself ‘pearl of the Kempen’ and I certainly found it hard to get around the fact that the club are not from a town but what I later found out was a municipality that comprised of seven towns of which Westerlo itself is one.

I was just left wondering if any of the other six towns have a football team?