- Fan zones set up at Belgian women’s national team’s home games
- The aim for the future is to create the perfect fan experience
- "We’ll try to do our best for the fans"
They are the icing on the cake, the special ingredient that makes all the difference. Without them there would be no atmosphere inside the stadiums. Football would be nothing without the fans.
The Belgian women’s national team’s home qualifiers for UEFA Women’s EURO 2021 are celebrating precisely this fact. A fan zone has been created around the Den Dreef Stadium in Leuven for the matches against Croatia on 3 September, Lithuania on 12 November, Switzerland on 14 April 2020 and Romania on 18 September 2020 – a first for women’s football in Belgium.
"The idea originally came from the Red Devils [the Belgian men’s national team – editor’s note]," explained Ertan Elibol from the Royal Belgian Football Association’s Fan Relationship Department in an interview with FIFA.com. "We had the idea of starting with the senior men’s side in June last year for their matches against Kazakhstan and Scotland, and got very good feedback from the fans.
"As we’re trying to get the women’s game to the same level as the men’s, we decided that if we do something for the Red Devils, we need to do it for the Red Flames [the Belgian women’s national side – editor’s note] too."
The fan zone opened 90 minutes before kick-off offering supporters a variety of ways to get in the mood before the game. A DJ played some great tunes while fans tried out the Panna pitch (a kind of street football pitch for children and adults that usually enables two players to compete directly against each other but can be used for anything from 1-v-1 to five-a-side), photo booth and bowling alley.
There was plenty of food to choose from too. "We are the land of Belgian frites," Elibol laughed. "But we also have pasta, vegetarian options and much more. We have something for everybody, because not everyone eats hamburgers and fries."
Everyone who attends the match can enjoy the fan zone, which is located immediately after the ticket barriers.
"The main aim is to get the fans into the stadium as early as possible to enjoy the food and music," Elibol said. "We try to get the best national and international DJs to play their music before kick-off and after the match. This means supporters can enjoy it both when they arrive and as they leave."
For Elibol, one of the key priorities is to make the fan zones as unique as possible. "I did plenty of research and didn’t want to copy what I’d seen in Switzerland or Germany, for example. I’m not keen on the idea of taking something and just implementing it for Belgium. I wanted to find out who our fans are. Who are the people who come to the matches and what are they like? How old are they, what do they enjoy? If they are young, we might even be able to inspire them to play football too."
But what will happen once qualification for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2021 is over? Will the fan zones disappear as quickly as they came? Elibol has a clear answer to these questions: "The project will definitely continue! We didn’t have anything before the first few qualifiers for Euro 2021.
"If you wanted to watch a Red Flames match, all you could do was watch the game itself. That’s why we started this project with the men’s team, kept it going with them and are now trying to do the same with the Flames. Whatever we do for the men’s team we are also doing for the women’s team," he added, before concluding: "This project is a very interesting one, and we’ll try and do our best for the fans."