KONTICH – There’s a saying that goes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. In Kontich, you could say ‘it takes a village to organize a hockey tournament.’ Fans, players and official have been treated to a world class event that has been organized at a local level thanks to the grass roots efforts of the local hockey club, Beerschot.
Those in Belgium know Beerschot as one of the most storied clubs in the country. Founded in 1899, the club originally included several sports like athletics, football, tennis, and of course, hockey. In fact, the club was so dominant in its early days, it even played host to several of the 1920 Olympic events when the Games were held in Belgium.
More than 100 years later, the club is still going strong as evidenced by the massive support at this week’s Athlon Car Lease Road to London Tournament. Nearly every one of the 700+ members has volunteered on some level to make sure that the event has gone off without a hitch.
“When we were first approached by the Belgium Federation to host the event, we were excited, but also knew it was a big risk,” said club president Philippe Verhoeven. “In March in Belgium you never know what the weather will be. We also weren’t sure what to expect for crowds. But we looked at it as a club and said it was worth the risk to take on such a big event for the future of our club and hockey in Belgium.”
Once Beerschot signed on as the host, Verhoeven and his team sprung into action, going to games and recruiting the army of volunteers that can be seen all around the pitch in their red hooded sweatshirts. Even a neighbor club, Victory, lent a helping hand in the organization. And the mayor of Kontich has also gotten in on the fun, becoming an avid supporter of the event, despite not having a hockey background.
“We had organized European events before, but nothing on this scale,” said Verhoeven. “We were prepared for a lot, but a lot also came as a surprise.”
For example, the limited travel budget of the Mexican team. With the Euro being very strong against the Peso, the Mexicans were not sure if they could afford to come to Kontich for the qualifier. No problem for the club. They went to local hotels and cafes and found owners that were willing to offer special rates and help make the trip affordable. In addition, Beerschot club members are chipping in to drive the Mexicans to and from the games and helping with any additional costs.
“We really had to work hard to make it work with the Mexican team, but in the end it has been really positive for everyone in the club,” said Patrick Goldberg the General Manager of Beerschot. “If you look the stands during any Mexican games all the volunteers are cheering for them. When they scored their first goal against Russia, I think it was one of the biggest cheers of the event.”
Because its volunteer base is so large, the Beerschot club has been able to take on extra initiatives and build on the atmosphere of the stadium. Behind the stands is a massive food and drink tent where fans have stayed well after the last whistle has been blown. The tent is staffed by club members and even the youth players can be seen selling Fantas and Cokes in the stands.
And all this is just the beginning if Verhoeven and the club has any say. “This is our first big test, but our goal is to host a lot more events and tournaments in the future. Six years ago we had 350 members and now we’re up to 700, our goal is to reach 1000 in the next few years and events like this are a great way to get hockey exposure and get us to reach our goal.”
But already Beerschot has reached one important goal: Putting on a successful Olympic Qualification event thanks to the hard work of the club and its volunteers.
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