Limburg – ‘Fietsparadijs’ – ‘Bicycle Paradise’. 2000 kilometres of pure cycling. Bask in the appealing and unspoilt landscapes (preferably with a Belgian ale).
From 2001, the province had a team that was pedalling towards a rising future – K.F.C. Lommel S.K. The side finished nine points ahead of K.V. Turnhout to win the Belgian Second Division and reached the Belgian Cup Final after an unbelievable run, which saw them take four First Division scalps; beating Lokeren, La Louvière, Eendracht Aalst and holders RC Genk, whom they beat in the Semi Final, making Limburg the first Second Division side in 27 years to reach the Final (K.S.K. Tongeren made the Final, in 1974).
Regrettably, the dream became a disappointing reality, as Westerlo defeated them 1-0, thanks to De Kempeneer’s local and humble midfielder Jef Delen; making himself a cult hero in the Heysel sun. This was Westerlo’s first appearance in a Cup Final, so their achievement was special in itself.
Even though Lommel finished with broken hearts, manager and former player Harm Van Veldhoven was still radiating pride. There were many reasons to be upbeat. The team had an array of determined talent – Carl Hoefkens, Zsolt Bárányos, Dieter Dekelver, Ibrahim Tankary and Miroslaw Waligóra; ensuring they stayed in the First Division a season later.
Yet events turned ugly in the 2002/2003 season. After an awful start to the campaign, the Lommel board were clinical; sacking Van Veldhoven. Antagonising. Harsh. Extreme. “I thought I had more credit at this club”.
Jos Heliygen took the managerial reigns, yet in a striking series of events, the club withdrew from the First Division – they could no longer pay the compulsory money to cover weekly insurance. The club went into liquidation; debts of €2m; no players’ wages since December. Their professional license for the forthcoming season was blocked by the Belgian Football Association. The club couldn’t meet the deadline transaction, in order to compete in the Third Division and ceased to exist.
Their sad demise was cold and bitter, having built up a powerful and stoical contingent of players. Previous years ruined. All their notable stars moved to other clubs.
However, a new era was about to transpire. K.S.V.K. United Overpelt – Lommel, founded in 2003, re-established the club. In the 2004/2005 season, they astonishingly went the whole season unbeaten, returning to the Belgian Second Division.
In the 2005/2006 season, under manager Peter Balette, Lommel lost the title and promotion back to the top flight of the Jupiler League, on the final day of the season. Koninklijke Lierse Sportkring were to be Lommel’s killers in the Playoffs, going up with Mons.
The 2006/2007 season was supposed to be Lommel’s year; favourites to win the title but a terrible season saw Balette sacked. Former Lommel player Philip Haagdoren saw out the remainder of the season, eventually finishing 15th.
The 2007/2008 season was a much healthier scenario, as Guido Brepoels injected a new impetus into the side, finishing fourth but again they blew the Playoffs, to eventual winners A.F.C. Tubize.
Much to Lommel’s frustration, Balette left the club to manage STVV Sint Truiden and Dany David took over for the 2008/2009 season. However, David’s tenure was stormy and shocking. He threw in the towel after 19 games and 20 points. Thankfully, Belgian legend Franky Van der Elst stepped in to prevent the club’s slide, managing them to ninth place.
In 2009/2010, Van der Elst took Lommel on a superb run, where they finished second. The Playoffs eluded them again, thanks to K.A.S. Eupen.
Today, Stij Vreren is at the helm. The team currently lie sixth in Division Two but are in the Quarter Finals of the Belgian Cup, due to their own promising ethos of youth and experience, with key players such as Bart Goosens, Glenn Cousins, Wouter Scheelen, Romero Regales and Zinho Gano proving their worth. The club will be hoping that their Ultras (Green Lions) can roar them to success this season and in the near future.