Stepping off the train at Gare du Midi the rain crashed down – it was cold blotches of rain that stuck to you like glue. An umbrella was no use whatsoever as such was the pace it fell from the sky it found a way through to your clothing in seconds.

At first in this part of Bruxelles you see a somewhat disjoined yet multi cultural city. Scattered with horrible graffiti and mismatched streets that sprout off at all sorts of angles the scene is not wholly welcoming but business, multi culturalism and students mix everywhere.

Bruxelles is big, diverse yet business like.

Nearby trams, buses and taxis roll by and its No.82 tram that I step onto out to Forest or Vorst, one of the 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region, Belgium.

Located in the southern part of Bruxelles this part of the Belgian capital is bordered by Anderlecht, Ixelles, Uccle, and Saint-Gilles, as well as the Flemish municipality of Drogenbos.

Royale Union Saint-Gilloise is a Belgian football club from Saint-Gilles in Brussels.

The resident club was founded in 1897 and has played in Joseph Marien Stadium located on the edge of Parc Duden in Forest since 1920.

The club is affiliated to the Royal Belgian Football Union and play in yellow and blue.

This is a club on the way back eager to restore former glories – reinvented or renaissance if you like.

Before the Second World War, Union was one of the strongest Belgian football clubs, winning the national championship title eleven times.

Previously this was “Stade de la Butte”, given its location at the shoe end of a hilly public park. From above, the two grassy park areas together (Parc Duden and Parc de Forest) look welcoming and small enough to walk around in less than an hour.

Trees line the exteriors of the football stadium and the sun is about to set in around an hour.

Over the years the traditional stands have been renovated and finely tuned to the demands of modern football. The main stand has a prestigious façade which ranks amongst the finest architectural heritage located in this part of Bruxelles. 

On the upper side of the art deco façade, renowned Brussels sculptor Oscar De Clerck created seven bas-relief panels in 1926. In part this is a dedication to a stadium where football – as part of the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp – was held.

At first glance this is not a stadium benefitting a club now competing in the later stages of UEFA tournament football. Unsurprisingly then those who govern football in Nyon have decided that the tournament matches of the club are played elsewhere – in Leuven or at the Parc Astrid of neighbors Anderlecht.

Union themselves know that the stadium is not fit for purpose. The sun is setting on its open, expansive little stadium. The feeling is things are overly cramped and they are conscious of the impact on local residents of big matchdays against Anderlecht, Ghent, Genk and Club Brugge.

However, a muted renovation depends on support from the local municipality and of course consistent success on the football field. They are after all a club in revival – only promoted back to the Belgian top tier in 2021.

At the club house near Rue du Stade/Stadionstraat a selection of older working class men drink beer and play darts.

Music plays from a jukebox that has its roots in the early 1990’s.

All around the ground sits green space, and there is an open air cafe where young families can sit down for a coffee. Other people stroll along the paths amongst the dozens of fallen leaves.

Parc Duden is a scenic space; a public woodland with lawns, trails and a there is even a castle nearby (Chateau Duden du Parc Duden). There are ambassadorial mansions not far away and an Arts school.

The other castle though – the Joseph Marien Stadium – has seen better days despite all the efforts to spruce it up. It currently looks like a cross between Love Street, St Mirren and something out of post communist Eastern Europe.

Unmodern football trying to be modern.

Peering in the color coding of the seats brings to life a stadium that is now home to a club freshly revived and back taking on the elite of Belgian football.