Non League Daily

Towners celebrate Belgian link up

Ryman League Enfield Town have been celebrating their unique link up with Belgian side YB SK Beveren, who like the Towners are a "Phoenix Club".

The two clubs share a common bond that takes root in their formation . The Towners were formed after supporters became disillusioned at the owners of Enfield FC and formed a new club, becoming the first supporter owned club in the country and have since flourished.

Not that the same could be said for Enfield FC as the club were liquidated in 2007 with debts owed to former Chairman Tony Lazarou, although a new club has been set up there too, Enfield 1893 FC.

For the Towners Belgian counterparts, there has been a similar story with supporters disillusionment playing a key role in the events that led to their formation.

YB SK Beveren was formed in 2011, by a group of disillusioned supporters following the merger of once UEFA Cup Quarter Finalists KSK Beveren with Red Star Waasland. The new club started in Belgium’s lowest tier, and has since celebrated one promotion (around 500 fans made their 2013 play-off trip to Wippelgem to witness and celebrate a 2-1 win) and endured a relegation.

The Belgian clubs chairman Andre Bolsens explains "Our club was formed four years ago following the demise of KSK Beveren, because 75 years of tradition should not just disappear. It is our ambition to build a club for the people, a club where conviviality is important. We focus on fair play, atmosphere and passion.”

So it seemed only natural that two clubs, who were both the first supporter owned clubs in their respective countries, should become so closely linked. But how did it happen? Town Vice-Chairman Paul Millington takes up the story.

"It was chance discussion in a pub (where else?) with Tom Hall of Supporters Direct that led to the idea that both ourselves and YBSK Beveren, as the first supporters-owned clubs in their countries, should arrange to play each other in a friendly. For me, the two games we have played thus far (in 2013 and 2014) were not about the results but more about the celebration that both sets of fans are united in their belief that their clubs belong to their supporters. The sight and sounds of both sets of supporters celebrating our time together stand out as very special.”

“Friendships have been built between officials and supporters, and you could not meet nicer people in football than Beveren's chairman Andre Bolsens and his directors. Whatever league they are in next year, we shall aim to repay the compliment their supporters have paid to us by visiting them next season.”

The latest chapter in this friendship came when over sixty supporters from the Belgian club made the trip to see the Towners' home fixture with Leatherhead last weekend, a game that the hosts won 3-1.

It was a journey that Bolsens "thoroughly enjoyed".

“We thoroughly enjoyed the trip to watch our friends Enfield Town take on Leatherhead. The first half began relatively quietly, but the atmosphere got better and better and the second half saw four goals and a thrilling win.”

Supporters Direct played a key role in the formation and friendship of both clubs and their representative, Ben Shave, described their pride at what both clubs had acheived so far.

"As a representative of an organisation committed to spreading the gospel of supporter ownership across Europe, it was great to see the latest meeting of two pioneers at the QEII on Saturday afternoon. Enfield Town and Beveren share similar histories, and have blazed similar trails in their own countries.

Friendships like these are what make the supporter ownership movement truly international, and at Supporters Direct we're proud to have played a part in helping both clubs on their journeys.”

This seems a friendship that has many interesting times ahead of it with both clubs in with a chance of sealing promotion in their respective leagues. Town are currently lying in 12th position in the Ryman Premier Division, but only 4 points off the play-off positions, whilst Beveren currently sit second in their table.

So this is a friendship that has brought success on and off the park, long may it continue.

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