Tracing football club histories in the United Kingdom has generally been a simple enough business. Most of our clubs formed in the late 19th century, most are still playing with their original name and kit colours and most are still recognisable as the same sporting entities they were a century ago. Some clubs have come and gone of course, but there has never been much of a culture, nor appetite amongst supporters or administrators for new clubs being formed at the expense of existing ones – via takeovers or mergers. The few exceptions have caused huge controversy.
Football in mainland Europe has a very different history in this respect; vastly complex sporting or politically inspired mergers, renamings and geographical relocations have long been an accepted, if hardly loved, part of the scene across the continent for as long as football has been played. The current club scene in many cities is greatly different to that of even half a century ago. The Football Cities Of Europe is a regular series on BTLM attempting to visually map, city-by-city, these changes that have evolved clubs over the decades to what we know them as today.
We thought Brussels was a good place to start as few countries have embraced sporting merger culture with as much gusto as the Belgians. In fact, give them a few more decades and BTLM boldly predicts there will be but one single professional club in the country – the natural end product of a merger of every single other professional club that ever existed. It will probably be known as FC Belgium.
Brussels football has a rich history, not least when it comes to some of its wonderfully descriptive club names like Skill, Daring and even Scaring. Our Brussels map proved to be more complicated to compile than we expected: the current FC Brussels club for instance has no fewer than 13 other defunct clubs as part of its DNA, three of those former national champions. The map reads loosely left to right with clubs that are currently in existence on the right hand side and the extinct clubs, (the majority of them,) marked with an x in front of their name.
A quick round-up of the clubs still in existence. Union Saint-Gilloise were the dominant pre-war giants of the Brussels game and Anderlecht became the dominant post-war giants starting from the 1960s. History might have been different: Constant Vanden Stock was an ardent Union fan who was rebuffed throughout the 1950s in his attempts to take control of them. He invested instead in Anderlecht and the rest is, as they say, history.
RWD Molenbeek was a curious construct of multiple mergers in the 1970s. They briefly looked like they could be the next force in the city when becoming national champions in 1975 with a team that included the veteran Anderlecht legend Paul Van Himst. Decline was steady after that and their stadium, and D2 League place, was taken a decade ago by the newly formed FC Brussels. This is the club that had ambitions to be the dominant Brussels force of the 21st century, but it hasn’t worked out for them at all. On the map is one current club who technically don’t play in Brussels. In the 1970s and 80s, Racing Jet Brussels played in the Heysel Annexe and reached the top flight club for a couple of seasons in the late 1980s. Struggling for supporters, in 1988 they moved lock, stock and barrel 30km outside the city to the town of Wavre and were renamed Racing Jet Wavre.
Anderlecht is the only current top flight Brussels club. FC Brussels and White Star are Second Division, Union are Third Division, Royal Leopold are usually around Promotion D (Fourth Division) and Racing Jet Wavre are in the Provincial Fifth Division. The fan-reformed amateur versions of Racing Club Bruxelles and RWD Molenbeek are further down the pyramid.
League champions from Brussels
- 31 – Anderlecht (last in 2012)
- 11 – Union Saint-Gilloise (last in 1935)
- 6 – Racing Club Bruxelles (last in 1908)
- 5 – Daring Club de Bruxelles (last in 1937)
- 1 – RWD Molenbeek (last in 1975)
Cup Winners from Brussels
- 9 – Anderlecht (last in 2008)
- 2 – Union Saint-Gilloise (last in 1914)
- 1 – Daring Club de Bruxelles (last in 1935)
- 1 – Racing Club Bruxelles (last in 1912)
European participation by Brussels clubs
- 53 – Anderlecht (1956-2013) European Cup Winners Cup 1976, 1978 Winners; UEFA Cup 1983 Winners
- 7 – RWD Molenbeek (1974-97) UEFA Cup semi-finalists 1976/77
- 5 – Union Saint-Gilloise (1960-65) Inter-City Fairs Cup semi-finalists 1960
- 2 – (Royal) Daring Club de Bruxelles (1966-69) Inter-City Fairs Cup First Round
- 1 – Racing White (1973) UEFA Cup First Round
Other active Brussels clubs
- Atlas Bruxelles is a team for Turkish immigrants and is alive and well in the amateur Leagues.
- Sport Club Maccabi Bruxelles is a Jewish sports club and football team in existence since 1953
- SC Etoile Bruxelles is a Moroccan community club playing at Fourth Division level
Other defunct Brussels clubs
There’s dozens of other extinct Brussels clubs who do not feature significantly enough in Brussels football history to make our map:
- Rapidtas FC de Molenbeek (1870 – 1897)
- Cercle des Regates (1878 – <1926)
- Union FC Ixelles (1892 – 1901)
- Sporting Club Brussel (1894 – 1897)
- Athletic & Running Club de Bruxelles (1896 – 1909)
- Union Sports Club (1900 – <1926)
- Atheneum VV Stockel (1901 – ?)
- Albert Club de Bruxelles (1902 – ?)
- Scaring FC Ensival (1902 – ?)
- Olympia Club Brussel (1902 – ?)
- Royal Excelsior Sports Club (1904 – 1935)