Known across the world as one of Europe’s original footballing nations, Belgium and Belgian football has had a much tougher time of it in recent decades. Nowhere is overseas ownership of football clubs a hotter topic at present, at least in western Europe, and the concern over locally owned, poorly governed clubs isn’t too far behind as a going issue.
SD Europe celebrates 10 Years in 2017. To mark this milestone, we are recalling some of the stories, successes and challenges from across the SDE network that has made this movement so dynamic and meaningful. We started with the story of FORAS and Cork City FC followed by details of the movement in Poland with AKS Zly and Socios Gornik, with further articles to follow in the coming weeks.
One club doing things their own way, however, is YB SK Beveren. Walk around their home pitch on match day, and there’s a real welcome to be had from everyone involved. Founded in 2011 following the merger of struggling KSK Beveren and KV Red Star Waasland, it plays its football in the Second Provincial East Flanders having been promoted as champions from Third Provincial E in the spring of 2017, and calls the town of Beveren – west of Antwerp – home.
Eskabee 1935 is the non-profit organisation behind the club and the objectives for both entities clear and very apt in today’s world. Alongside the key aim of keeping the history and traditions of two-time Belgian champions KSK Beveren alive and cherished, the club operates on a ‘one member one vote’ principle with a distinct social and community focus to its off-pitch efforts.
YB SK Beveren was the first – and so far only – club in Belgium to be 100% owned by its supporters. It has four key administrative pillars – democracy, transparency, good governance and inclusiveness – and has been working with SD Europe since September 2010 to build and spread these ideals across Belgian football and further afield. As with many clubs forging a better way forward for their supporters, Eskabee has also become a focal point of advice and support for others.
YB SK Beveren operates on principles similar to many other 100% fan-owned clubs. Members pay an annual fee (€25) and are invited to regular meetings of the association. The members choose their board, with elections held every four years. The board then oversees day-to-day operations of the club and also lead member meetings in discussing all club-related matters and future plans.
Supporters are – rightly – proud of their club and association’s link with the local community. Not only is Eskabee present at key events in the town’s annual calendar, it regularly contributes to numerous different campaigns and community initiatives within the municipality of Beveren – particularly those that support the inclusion of children through football.
It hasn’t been an easy journey at times though. The Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA) denied the club’s request to be registered under the name ‘Supporterskring Beveren’ in 2011 – allowing ‘Yellow Blue Beveren’ instead and, despite positive discussions initially, the club was forced to play their first season of fixtures in the neighbouring city of Sint-Niklaas rather than on home turf.
The club did eventually return home and on August 5th (2012), YB SK Beveren played its first official home game in Beveren courtesy of the East-Flanders Cup on a former training field of KSK Beveren near their former home, the Freethiel stadium. Promotion, relegation and promotion followed, before clinching the 3rd Provincial title in style in April 2017.
While preparing for life in the 2nd Provincial, another boost and connection with tradition was confirmed – in August (2017), the Belgian Court of Arbitration for Sport (BAS) announced its decision to allow YB SK Beveren formally include ‘Supporterskring’ in its name, in spite of continuing objections on the part of the RBFA. It argued the name would create ‘confusion’ with the club formerly known as KSK Beveren and that ‘Supporterskring’ or ‘supporters circle’ was inappropriate for a football club. Both arguments were rejected by BAS.
At the time, the board of YB SK Beveren said: “As a club we are obviously very pleased with this statement, which means nothing but justice. It is a recognition that is earned after years of hard work for a better football future.” They also expressed the wish that future relations with the RBFA occur through dialogue rather than an arbitration process.
“From the early beginning, it was clear that our club would become a people’s club embedded in its local community. But we didn’t have a clue what fan ownership was about until we got in touch with SD Europe. With their advice, guidance and help, we created the club we had in mind,” said board member Jim Van de Vyver.
“By 2020 we hope to have our own ground, double the number of our youth teams, create even more activities in Beveren, and be promoted to the national leagues. We also aim for the entire local community to be proud of our club and its role as a trailblazer in Belgian fan involvement.”
Eskabee 1935 represented Belgian interests in SD Europe‘s ‘Improving Football Governance‘ project from 2012 to 2013, producing a handbook for anyone interesting to developing fan involvement in the country.
YB SK Beveren’s roots are firmly planted in the motto: Trots, Traditie en Toekomst (Pride, Tradition, and Future), and there’s plenty more to come from this corner of Belgium!