Spring sees plenty of British sports fans head across the sea to Belgium to watch their sporting heroes and have a beer or two – now, a group from there is making the return trip. For the stars of cycling contesting the Tour of Flanders, however, read Chesterfield FC, with Belgian fans preparing to ride from Brussels to the League 2 club’s final home game of the season and raise money for charity in the process.
The Belgians, who support a variety of teams in their home country and are all aged in their twenties, were having a few beers one evening when they decided to find an English team they could all follow – and one that was outside the top two tiers of the sport.
Chesterfield was chosen since the club happened to be bottom of League 1 at the time, and because they thought “it would be funny to support a team of losers,” one of their number, Jules Monnier, told the Belgian sports paper, Dernière Heure.
From that unlikely beginning, a love affair of sorts has sprung up, with the Belgian Spireites, as the fan club is known, having struck up friendships with their Derbyshire-born and bred counterparts and also enjoying tours of the stadium plus press coverage in both countries.
The idea to ride 270km to the final home match of the season, which sees Chesterfield entertain Exeter on Saturday 27 April, came from the stadium announcer, and they are aiming to raise at least £1,866 – the number reflects the year the club was founded – for the Ashgate Hospice.
The group of five riders, who leave Brussels for Zebbrugge on 24 April and will get back in the saddle after disembarking at Hull, are already more than halfway towards achieving that target.
Besides completing their ride, they may have extra cause for celebration – the game could see Chesterfield clinch a play-off place, though they would need to win their next couple of matches and hope that other results go their way.
They’re not the only Belgians to have ridden from Brussels to the UK for a sporting event over the past year – as we reported last July, Eddy Merckx led a ride from there to London, arriving at Belgium House in Inner Temple on the day of the Olympic Games opening ceremony.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.