Union St Guilloise: The Belgian club writing their own Leicester-like fairytale.
By Ben Harrison
Sitting top of the Belgian Pro League, clear of second place by seven points is a club not many would have heard of. Brought 3 years ago by Brighton owner, Tony Bloom, the club has seen a meteoric rise to the very top of the Belgian pyramid, and in some style. With a unique transfer policy and a fascinating history, their story is not one left to be unread, with the pages still being written and the potential of a fairytale ending.
A once historic force in Belgium, Union have a rich history, having won the Belgian first division 11 times – the third most in Belgian history. However, the last of those triumphs came back in 1935 and have spent most of the last half a century battling it out in Belgium’s lower divisions. However, after winning Belgians second division back in May, St-Gillloise are more than making up for lost time, holding no prisoners in their rampage to the top of the league and in some style. Averaging a remarkable 2.6 goals a game they have managed 40 goals in just 15 games, to go alongside having the best defensive record in the league as well. Les Unionistes have created a squad that has all the necessary attributes to bring home their first title in 86 years; quite impressive for a club that has not paid a transfer fee for over two years.
To some this may seem inconceivable, but to fans of Brighton and those that are aware of shrewd businessman, Tony Bloom this may not come as such a shock. Bloom has built Brighton from League 1 to a near established premier league club, following business principles that have helped secure the club financially whilst still creating a squad more than fit to compete at the highest level through meticulously researched transfers that do not break the bank. Bloom has consistently bore the fruit of a transfer policy that is data driven to ensure a signing will be a good fit for the club St Gilloise have reaped the rewards of this transfer policy, utilising both the loan and free transfer markets with several success stories.
Striker Denis Undav was picked up after his contract expired with German third division club SV Meppen. In his first season with Union he scored 17 goals firing them to the Belgian First Division B title before now leading the countries first division goal scorers list, averaging a goal a game after scoring 15 in 15 games. Young forward Dante Vanzier, also picked up on a free, has caught the eye of the Belgian national team and made his debut for the Red Devils in their 1-1 draw with Wales earlier this month. Union have also made the most of their connection with the Seagulls, getting a free pass to the front of the line when it comes to taking on loans. Karou Mitoma came from the Sussex side after a work permit to play in England was not able to be obtained. He has played an integral part of the squad’s season, most notably notching a hattrick in a 4-2 win after coming off the bench when Union were losing 2-0 and down to 10 men.
Bloom, partnered with chairman Alex Muzio believe there is talent to be taken advantage of from the lower leagues. English defender Christian Burgess is a prime example of this as he was plying his trade at Portsmouth prior to joining the club and is now faced with the potential prospect of champions league football next season. However, with the season not even halfway through it is easy to get caught up with the Brussels sides emphatic start. A modest club in comparison to some of Belgiums giants such as Club Brugge and noisy neighbors Anderlecht, the 8000 capacity Stade Joseph Marien has more of a non-league rather than champions league feel. But like both their transfer policy and the stain glassed window boasting the yellow and blue crest, something unique is developing in the province of Saint-Gilles.
Backed by strategic owners, passionate local fans and a talented group of players that have no fear in holding any side to the sword, there is good cause to believe we have another story of a true underdog coming out on top on our hands.