1 November 1960 – the truth about Antwerp vs Arsenal unearthed.

According to some history books Arsenal played Royal Antwerp on 1 November 1960.  Since Untold Arsenal and the Arsenal History Society has its own regular correspondent in Antwerp (who once took me on a tour of all the football grounds in Antwerp, which included all of us getting locked inside one of the grounds) it seemed an ideal moment to resolve the issue of what actually happened when Arsenal played Antwerp.

So here is Antwerp vs Arsenal. 1 November 1960

By Walter Broeckx

Royal Antwerp FC, as the fans call it, is the oldest football club in Belgium.

It was founded in 1880 although no exact date that year can now be found. It is a club that is very proud of their number 1 status in Belgian football, granted for being the first club in the country.   It was founded by young English students in fact, and started off as not just a football club but also as a club that played rugby, cricket and tennis.

They played in the highest division in Belgium from the start of a regular league in Belgium until 1968. It was the longest serving club in the highest league at that moment, but all things come to an end. In that period they had won 4 league titles and 2 Belgian cups – although the last cup win was in 1992 during the period when they came close to real success again.

Antwerp plays in an old stadium called “De Bosuil” which once had a 60.000 capacity. But as the club faded a bit the old stadium crumbled and some parts were torn down and the new stands that were build that were much smaller.

At the moment safety inspections are taking place after some part of the stands gave way during the last league game they played. The current capacity (with all stands open) is around 14.000.  But it could be reduced at any moment. In its glory days this stadium was called the ‘Hell of the North’ and was the venue where many international matches between Belgium and Holland was held.  It was one of the stadiums where the European championship games were played in 1972.

They now play in the second division in Belgium (the second tier in football in Belgium). Their club colours are red and white but in the first season they played in yellow and black but then changed to red and white for an unknown reason. And when they are high in the league table, they still attract large crowds (by Belgian standards) of some 6.000 to 10.000 people.

Their current manager is the well known Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, former Chelsea player amongst a few other English clubs. The club is always starting with high ambitions but usually fall flat on their faces at the end of the season and they have been stuck in the second division now for 10 years.

But for a few reasons it is a very historical club in Belgium. Like I said the oldest club. And also the club that in 1993 was the last club from Belgium to play in a European final in the Cup Winners’ Cup.

Indeed after having won the Belgium cup in 1992 they had a remarkable road to the final. I even went there for the semi final against Spartak Moscow to see them win it with 3-2 in aggregate.

So up they went to London as the final was played in Wembley. But the day ended in a 3-1 defeat against the Italian side Parma. The Antwerp crowd (who in general have had a bad name for their aggressive behaviour for many, many years) was rather nice that day. And even when 3-0 down they supported their club and just enjoyed the day.

And so when being well beaten rather early in the game they started singing the Monty Python song ‘Always look on the bright side of life’. And the story is still doing rounds in Antwerp that if the stewards hadn’t ordered them out after the game they still would be sitting there singing to their team.

An old traditional club, the club of the working people, but now with a very bad reputation that their supporters have brought over them with fighting and destruction on far too many occasions.

On a personal note: being from Belgium, being from Antwerp and supporting a local rival club (Berchem Sport) I feel disappointed that Arsenal didn’t beat Antwerp  But we played them in what was going to be one of their last big days in the top division at the time. They then were one of the best teams in Belgium.

Now as the official site of Antwerp doesn’t mention this game in their history site (which I have to say isn’t complete at all) I explored the issue of what was generally known a team called in Dutch as the “Antwerpse Entente”. And you’ll notice the word ‘Entente’ is French as in Dutch it would be “Antwerpse Verstandhouding” or in English the ‘Antwerp Understanding”.  We could also call it Antwerp United.

This Antwerpse Entente team only played exhibition games against strong and famous teams from all over the world. It was formed by the best players of the 3 big teams in Antwerp: Antwerp FC, Beerschot and last but not least my local team Berchem Sport. They played in the stadium of Antwerp FC as that had the biggest capacity.

So in a way, preparing this article is really adding something to my Arsenal experience. It means that I now know that even though only some of the players of my local favourite team were in Antwerpse Entente, they have played against Arsenal. And they even didn’t lose the game. I’m speechless.

It was a moment where all the fans of the big clubs from Antwerp were together and supported the football of Antwerp. Which in those days was filled with only local players as professional football was not really practised in Belgium at that time. Well at least not on paper. In reality some clubs had professional players but that was hidden by giving them a job in one of the directors’ companies.    They didn’t have to work but could train all day.

Alas, the history of the Antwerpse Entente is not really written down by anyone as far as I know. A shame in fact as it was very famous in Belgium in those days and attracted large crowds most of the time.

But now at least it is recorded here on the Arsenal History Society site.   As for the game itself, Andy Kelly of the Society has found a cutting from the Daily Mirror which offers a very short report on the game.  It records the local team as “Combined Antwerp” and says that Len Wills was sent off in the 62nd minute for slapping an Antwerp player with both hands.  Mel Charles scored both Arsenal goals.


The books…


2 Replies to “1 November 1960 – the truth about Antwerp vs Arsenal unearthed.”

  1. The Arsenal handbook 1961-62 interpreted the opposition as “Entente Royale Anversoise” – a bit odd.

    The ref was Mr Raeymaekers of Antwerp. So that’s why only an Arsenal player was sent off!

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