With ten league titles and six national cups to their name, not to mention many a lengthy run in European competitions, Standard Liege are an institution in Belgium and the country’s best-supported club. Deeply rooted in the social and economic life of a city that loves its football team with a passion, Standard have a rich and eventful history behind them, re-emerging in the last ten years as the main opposition to their long-standing rivals Anderlecht and Club Brugge.
Birth of an institution
Founded by a group of students from the College Saint-Servais in 1898, the new club adopted the name of Standard from its very inception. Registered with the Belgian Union of Athletic Sports Clubs, Les Rouge et Blanc took up residence at the Velodrome de la Boverie, on the banks of the Meuse. It was in pastures flanking the river that Standard built their home ground in 1909, the Stade Maurice Dufrasne, in the suburb of Sclessin.
That same year Les Rouches were promoted to the Belgian first division, suffering their one and only relegation five years later. In 1921 they would return to the top flight, where they have remained ever since.
It was not until 1954 that Standard won their first trophy, the Belgian Cup, marking the start of a long-running love affair between the club and the country’s oldest competition, the final of which they have reached 15 times, winning on six of those occasions.
Under the leadership of captain Jean Mathonet and the club’s ageless general secretary Jean Petit, who held the post from 1945 through to 1984, Les Standardmen won their first league title four years later. Four more championships followed in the period leading up to 1971, with Jean Thissen, striker Roger Claessen and legendary goalkeeper Jean Nicolay the architects of Standard’s first golden era.
The making of a legend
A well-known lover of nightlife, Claessen epitomises the spirit and passion of Liege and its beloved club. The leading goalscorer in the 1967 Cup Winners’ Cup, Roger la honte (literally “Roger the Shame”, a nickname given to him for his numerous indiscretions) made light of a broken collarbone in the quarter-final defeat of Hungary’s Vasas Gyor and turned in a heroic performance in the semi-final loss to Bayern Munich.
Three seasons later, a Standard side containing the likes of Milan Galic, Wilfried Van Moer and Christian Piot knocked out Real Madrid in the last 16 of the European Cup, their last notable achievement in Europe for some years.
In 1981, ten years after their previous trophy success, Austrian tactician Ernst Happel led Standard to their fourth Belgian Cup triumph, though it was under Raymond Goethals (also known as La Science), that the club made its presence felt in Europe once more.
In May 1982, shortly after winning league crown number seven, a Standard side skippered by Eric Gerets and with Michel Preud’homme in goal went down 2-1 to Barcelona in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final, this after having gone ahead through Guy Vandersmissen. Two years later, however, the club was hit by a match-fixing scandal and would take nearly a decade to figure at the top of the table once more, finishing second in the league in 1993.
That year also saw them overcome Wallonia rivals Charleroi in the Belgian Cup final at a sunlit Stade Constant Vandenstock in Brussels, a triumph inspired by star players Philippe Leonard, Andre Cruz and Roberto Bisconti.
Intertoto Cup runners-up in 1996, Standard were taken over by Luciano D’Onofrio in 1998. Eight years on, Les Rouches reached the preliminary round of the UEFA Champions League, the prelude to their return to the pinnacle of Belgian football, when the golden generation headed by Steven Defour, Axel Witsel and Milan Jovanovic (Belgium’s leading marksman that year and the next) inspired them to back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009. The second of those seasons also saw them secure UEFA Europa League wins over Everton, Sevilla and Sampdoria.
A new era dawned in June 2011 when Roland Duchatelet took over Matricule 16 (another of the club’s nicknames), just a few weeks after they had scored their latest Belgian Cup triumph and finished runners-up to Genk in the league. Last season they reached the last 16 of the Europa League, but could finish no higher than fifth in the Jupiler League, after which Dutch coach Ron Jans was appointed to take the club forward.
Named after the club’s fifth president, the Stade Maurice Dufrasne is better known as “The Hell of Sclessin”. Situated on the banks of the Meuse and built in 1909, it has been refurbished three times, the last occasion in 1999, in preparation for UEFA EURO 2000. A new heated pitch was installed six years later, and the atmospheric stadium, which has a seated capacity of 30,143, will shortly undergo a modernisation and expansion programme.