Home 2012-13 – Burrda
“Belgium is a country invented by the British to annoy France” so goes the famous quote by Charles De Gaulle, quite possibly the Frenchiest Frenchman who ever Frenched and by all accounts every bit as insufferable as that description suggests. He does have a point, though. Belgium is essentially an artificial nation thrown together in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, primarily as a buffer zone to stop France and Germany from tearing into each other, an arrangement that has proved a smashing success, that is if you don’t count the Franco-Prussian War as well as the two most destructive conflicts in human history. Honestly Belgium, you had ONE job. The country is divided into three distinct linguistic regions; Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, French-speaking Wallonia in the south and capital Brussels, headquarters of the EU and home to numerous politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats, all of whom are fluent in utter bollocks.
The city itself has a fairly grim reputation as functional and dull with attractions ranging from the disappointing to the underwhelming, including the Grand Place (which is indeed a place), Mannekin Pis (a statue of a small boy urinating in public) and countless brewery tours, most of which end with the participants mimicking the statue. Belgian cuisine can best be summarised in three words; Chips, chocolate and beer, all consumed in artery-clogging quantities in a mostly futile attempt to get the taste of Brussels sprouts out of people’s mouths. Beer in particular is a national obsession, dating back to the middle ages. As the black death swept a murderous path through Europe, claims abounded that infection spread easier through drinking unboiled water so citizens were advised to knock back a few ales instead, a recommendation the locals unsurprisingly took to with gusto. Today the country produces around 800 different brews, many of which are extremely potent and while the likelihood of another bubonic plague outbreak appears slim, Belgians will tell you – in an increasingly slurred and incoherent manner – that you can never be too careful.
People wise, Belgium is of course famous for not being famous, although in reality this popular stereotype mocking an inability to deliver any noteworthy sons and daughters is something of a myth. Iconic actress Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels, Georges Lemaitre – originator of the Big Bang Theory – hailed from Charleroi and five time Tour De France champion Eddy Merckx is just one of several prominent Belgian cyclists to dominate the sport over, with even Britain’s fuzziest Olympic hero Sir Bradley Wiggins being born in Ghent. On the flip-side they’ve also churned out Jeanne Deckers (an actual singing nun), “actor” Jean-Claude Van Damme (star of rock-brained cinematic treats such as Timecop and Street Fighter) and Manchester United’s walking red card Marouane Fellaini, an evil hybrid of afro and elbows whose aerial challenges usually necessitate a trip to the head trauma ward for any opposition player foolish enough to stray within arm’s length.
Despite this unfortunate habit of dispatching rival players to intensive care, Fellaini remains a key part of a Belgian squad lauded by many as a “golden generation” and, with the likes of Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku amongst their number, it’s not hard to see why. The Diables Rogues (Red Devils) even headed the FIFA rankings for five months between November 2015 April 2016, albeit against a backdrop of lacklustre performances as (now ex) coach Marc Wilmots struggled to mould undoubted individual talent into a consistent, cohesive unit. Despite this Belgium were quarter-finalists at both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 which, given that they hadn’t graced a major tournament for twelve years prior to this, would normally be seen as at least satisfactory, however, expectations being what they are these days, the manner in which they limped out against Argentina and Wales respectively was deemed unacceptable and Wilmots was shown the door. At the time of writing his replacement Roberto Martinez has the team firmly on the road to Russia 2018, and if the squad can transfer their club form to the international stage then Belgium could be a credible threat to go all the way. But, as other nations boasting supposed golden generations can attest (England 2004-06 spring to mind), that’s one mighty “if.”
For those without a thorough knowledge of international football history it would be easy to think that, for such a small country (population just 11 million), this present boom represents an all time high for the national side. In fact Belgium were at the peak of their powers back in the 1980s, finishing runners up to West Germany at Euro 1980 before going all the way to semi-finals at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, beating highly-regarded USSR and Spain teams along the way. Going back much further, the Belgians were also founding members of FIFA in 1904, won Olympic gold at home in Antwerp in 1920 and were also one of only four European nations to travel to the inaugural 1930 World Cup in Uruguay. Not bad for a fake country full of z-list celebrities drinking raspberry flavoured beer.
See, this is why we should all hate Adidas, Nike et al sometimes. This shirt, made by the relatively unheralded Swiss company Burrda, is an absolute beast which was worn in the successful qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup. In Brazil the Belgians were given a new kit, not quite as spectacular as this one but still thoroughly decent. Then….tragedy, Adidas took over the contract and kitted the team out in probably the most boring shirt imaginable (see below), honestly I get drowsy just looking at this picture. Someone please find me the Adidas designer responsible so that I may introduce a power drill to their face. Anyway, let’s focus on the positive, i.e. my shirt. It’s absolutely stunning, brimming with pleasing little details like the flag on the back, the shadow image of the crest woven into the fabric and the twisting black/yellow sash across the front which looks like the Rainbow Road level on Super Mario Kart if it were ported onto the original Game Boy. Marvellous.