The richest club in the land, revered by supporters and envied by the rest, RSC Anderlecht are the biggest name in Belgian football. Crowned national champions 29 times, with nine Belgian cups to their name, no other club in the country can match Sporting's financial might or sporting achievements.
As well as dominating the domestic scene, Anderlecht have also won three continental cups, all of them between 1976 and 1983, a golden age that saw them enter the annals of European football history. Though those days have long since past, Les Mauves et Blancs are still widely respected across the continent, even as their supremacy on the home front has come under threat in recent years from long-standing rivals Standard Liege and Club Bruges.
Birth of an institution
On 27 May 1908, Charles Roos organised a meeting of 12 football enthusiasts at the Concordia Cafe, the purpose of the gathering being to found a club "charged with the mission of promoting sport in general and football in particular in the district of Anderlecht."
The new outfit, Sporting Club Anderlechtois, began life in the regional third division, winning promotion immediately after finishing behind the two giants of the day, Union Saint-Gilloise and Uccle Sport. The stars of the team were the forwards Gaston Verse and Jef Bruggeman, and on 20 June 1933 the club was granted royal status to mark its 25 years of existence.
Anderlecht had earned promotion to the top flight for the first time 12 years earlier and after being relegated to the second tier on four occasions between 1923 and 1935, they finally cemented their place in the first division. It was at this time that the club became a cooperative company and a large stand was built at its home ground.
Sporting won their maiden national championship in 1947. The arrival of British coach Ernest Smith brought them two further league titles, and from 1949 to 1974 Les Mauves et Blancs ruled supreme, winning the league on 15 occasions in that time. This period of domination included five straight championships between 1964 and 1968, an achievement that has yet to be matched, and a trio of three-in-a-rows.
A prominent figure among the coaches who led the club to such sustained success was the Corsican tactician Pierre Sinibaldi. In charge between 1960 and 1966 and then again from 1969 to 1971, Sinibaldi ensured the groundwork laid by Smith and his compatriot Bill Gormlie did not go to waste.
Making of a legend
Since taking on Hungarian outfit Voros Lobogo in their first European Cup tie in 1955, RSC have enjoyed something of a love affair with Europe. In 1963 came the official introduction of language areas in Belgium, and that same year Anderlecht recorded their first win in continental competition against the mighty Real Madrid in the European Cup before attracting a club record crowd of 64,073 for the tie with Dundee.
Ironically, the Brussels giants' most sustained period of success in Europe coincided with an unusually long league championship drought that ran from 1974 to 1981. Under the guidance of the youthful Raymond Goethals, Anderlecht dominated the Cup Winners Cup between 1976 and 1978, beating West Ham in the 76 final, losing to Hamburg in the showpiece the following year and winning the trophy back again against Austria Vienna 12 months later.
With Paul Van Himst having departed, the star of the side was the Dutchman Robbie Rensenbrink, who inspired his team-mates to European Super Cup wins over Bayern Munich in 1976 and Liverpool two seasons afterwards, triumphs that confirmed Anderlecht's place in the continental elite.
The Belgians walked tall in Europe once more in the mid-1980s. With Van Himst now installed as coach and Enzo Scifo and Franky Vercauteren forming a formidable partnership at the Parc Astrid, Anderlecht beat Benfica to win the UEFA Cup in 1983 and almost retained the trophy in a memorable final against Tottenham Hotspur the following season. The last European final to date came in the Cup Winners Cup in 1990, when they lost to Sampdoria.
In the meantime, Sporting completed another championship hat-trick between 1984 and 1986, and in 2001, a year after securing their 25th league title, Les Mauves beat Manchester United into first place in their UEFA Champions League group, thanks in no small part to the goals of Jan Koller and Tomasz Radzinski. Lazio would halt their progress in the last 16, however, and since then Europe has proved to be an unhappy hunting ground despite five consecutive Champions League appearances and three more Belgian titles.
The club marked its centenary year by winning the Belgian Cup in May 2008, just a few months on from knocking Bordeaux out of the UEFA Cup. These highlights aside, however, Anderlecht have enjoyed lean times since the restructuring programme embarked on by club president Roger Vanden Stock, the son of the late Constant Vanden Stock, in 2006.
Making matters worse is the re-emergence of eternal foes Standard as the leading force in the land. As their early exit at the hands of BATE Borisov in this season's Champions League shows, RSCA are no longer the force they were, despite their frequent incursions into the transfer market, funded by the biggest budget in Belgian football.
Ariel Jacobs took over coaching duties in November 2007, replacing former idol Vercauteren, who was ousted as a result of his team's unattractive style. The stars of the current side are Mbark Boussoufa, Jan Polak, Lucas Biglia, Nicols Frutos, Jelle Van Damme and new arrival Tom De Sutter.
*The stadium *Built in various phases between 1983 and 1991 on the site of the old Stade Emile Verse, the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium has a capacity of 26,361 and is also known as the Parc Astrid. The venue won the first international architecture award for sports and leisure facilities, presented by the International Olympic Committee.
Bringing together football and the business world, the stadium boasts accommodation, function rooms, conference rooms and a gourmet restaurant. Much envied in both Belgium and Europe when it was opened, the stadium has aged rather poorly, so much so that RSCA's directors are hoping to relocate the club to a new multi-purpose 50,000-seater stadium in the Region of Brussels.