Following last nights defeat to BATE Borisov in the Europa League, I saw some people mention Winterslag.
Prior to last night, I had never heard of Winterslag or what they were. My first thought was it was a Game of Thrones reference. A fair off land where a battle took place and the underdogs won. I was wrong.
Back in 1981 – before I was born – Arsenal travelled to play Belgium part-timers KFC Winterslag in the UEFA Cup. Winterslag had finished 5th place in the Belgium championship.
A team containing Jennings, Sansom, Talbot, O’Leary, Sunderland and Rix were defeat 1-0 on what was described as “Arsenal’s most humiliating night in Europe”.
A fortnight later Winterlag travelled to London for the return leg. The below extract highlights why Arsenal should not take the second league for granted…
The return should have been a formality but Arsenal’s forward line was less than frightening: Vaessen, McDermott and Meade were not noted strikers and there was no rescue act on the bench, the substitute that day was Paul Davis. Alan Sunderland was out with a groin strain and would not recover in time whilst John Hawley had been on the pitch against Coventry the previous weekend but was so goalshy that he was not in contention for this match.
Even so, it could not get any worse could it? Winterslag were, after all, part-timers and Arsenal the professional club steeped in history. Nevertheless, the Belgians were confident of progressing as evidenced by the post-match comments of their manager below. He had quite quickly seen the limitations of this Arsenal vintage.
Arsenal won the second leg 2-1, but went out on the away goals rule. Press cuttings from the time make depressing reading:
Winterslag would get knocked out by Dundee United in the next round before being relegated from the Belgium top tier two seasons later.
In 1987 Winterslag, back in the Belgium first division, would merge with neighbouring Waterschei Thor. They would rename themselves KRC Genk and find themselves relegated after their first season.
In recent years Genk have become one of the more established names in Belgium football – winning the league 3 times and playing in Europe nearly 100 times.
The likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Yannick Carrasco, Steven Defour, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi and Leon Bailey have come through their youth system
Nothing is unique in football. Anything that happens now has happened before. In 1981 we were humiliated by a team of part-timers from Belgium who contained a coal miner, amongst others.
Last nights defeat to BATE Borisov was humiliating, but it has happened before and will happen again.
Despite the defeat, manager Terry Neil would receive the backing of the board and would last at the club for a further 2 seasons before being first in 1983.