Jonny James Eyres1 Comment

A DECADE OF DREAMS AND DESPAIR - THIS IS LOMMEL UNITED

Jonny James Eyres1 Comment

How have the last ten years been for your club?  Try this.

Limburg is known as 'Fietsparadijs' ('Bicycle Paradise'). It has over 2000 kilometres of cycling routes, which are rendered perfect by the charming and bucolic landscapes surrounding them.

In the 2000/2001 season, the Belgian province had a team that was pedalling towards a very promising future in the form of K.F.C. Lommel S.K. The side finished nine points clear of K.V. Turnhout to win the Belgian Second Division and reached the Belgian Cup Final after an extraordinary run in the competition, which saw them take four First Division scalps, as they beat Lokeren, La Louvière, Eendracht Aalst and holders RC Genk, whom they beat in the semi final.  This made Limburg the first Second Division side in 27 years to reach a final. The last Second Division side to have done this was K.S.K. Tongeren in 1974, which highlighted the magnificent feat.

Unfortunately, the dream of winning the cup ended, as Westerlo defeated them 1-0 in a very lively encounter, thanks to De Kempeneer's local and modest midfielder Jef Delen, who made himself a cult hero in the afternoon Heysel sun. This was Westerlo's first ever time in a cup final, so their achievement cannot be underestimated.

Even though Lommel had their hearts broken, manager and former player Harm Van Veldhoven had every right to be proud of his side and there was still an abundance of reasons to be positive. The team had an array of hard working talent in the form of Belgian defender Carl Hoefkens, Hungarian midfielder Zsolt Bárányos, Belgian striker Dieter Dekelver, Nigerian striker Ibrahim Tankary and Polish striker Miroslaw Waligóra, which helped them stay in the First Division the following season.

But events took a wretched turn in the 2002/2003 season. After a torrid start to their campaign, the Lommel board were ruthless and sacked Van Veldhoven. He, like plenty of others, felt the way the board conducted themselves was overtly hostile, unjust and far too drastic. He regrettably stated 'I feel bad. Okay, we played badly last weekend but I thought I had more credit at this club'.

Jos Heliygen took over as manager but in a dramatic series of events, the club had to withdraw from the First Division, after realising they could no longer pay the mandatory funds to cover their weekly insurance. The club went into liquidation, with debts of around €2m and had not paid the players' wages since December.  Lommel were then denied a professional license for the forthcoming season 2003/04 by the Belgian Football Association and after the club failed to meet a deadline payment - to be able to compete in the Third Division - they ceased to exist.

Despite being put in the hands of administrator Herman Driessen and a valiant effort from a group led by former chairman Dirk van den Boer, Lommel hit the end of the road and could not be saved.

Their sad demise was hard to swallow because they had built up a potent and ardent contingent of players.  All the hard work of previous years was decimated, with all their notable stars moving on to different clubs.

The promising future that the club once had on the horizon had now disappeared but a new era was about to emerge. K.S.V.K. United Overpelt - Lommel were founded in 2003 to re-establish the club and in the 2004/2005 season, they remarkably went the whole season unbeaten, which meant they won the league and went back to the Belgian Second Division.

In the 2005/2006 season, under manager Peter Balette, Lommel narrowly missed out on winning the title and promotion back to the top flight of the Jupiler League as they lost to Oud-Heverlee Leuven on the final day of the season. Koninklijke Lierse Sportkring were to be Lommel's thorn in the playoffs, as they went up with Mons.

The 2006/2007 season was meant to be Lommel's year, as they were favourites to win the title but a dreadful season saw Balette sacked and a resignation from René Trost. Former Lommel player Philip Haagdoren saw out the remainder of the season and they eventually finished 15th.  The 2007/2008 season was a much healthier affair, as Guido Brepoels injected a new impetus into the side and they finished fourth under his sturdy guidance but again they failed in the playoffs, eventual winners A.F.C. Tubize the sturdy opposition this time.

Much to Lommel’s disappointment, Balette left the club to manage STVV Sint Truiden and Dany David took the reins for the 2008/2009 season. However, David's tenure was a tumultuous and terrible one and he threw in the towel after 19 games and 20 points.  Thankfully, Belgian legend Franky Van der Elst stepped in to halt the club's side and they managed to finish 9th.

In 2009/2010, Van der Elst took Lommel on a brilliant run, where they finished second to have another go at going up via the playoffs. They were to be thwarted again, this time by eventual winners K.A.S. Eupen.

This season, the newly titled Lommel United are currently lying fourth in the table. Philip Haagdoren has come back to manage the club and the spirited side have some promising young Belgian talent in the form of defender Pieter Thijs, midfielder Jarno Molenberghs and striker Roy Meeus. Lommel have also drawn R.S.C. Anderlecht at home in the Belgian Cup and the Soevereinstadion is sure to be buzzing that night.

These are really exciting times for Lommel United and their supporters will be hoping they can embark on another cup run and finally break their playoff hoodoo this time round.

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