Anderlecht Awaits

Saturday's visitors Anderlecht embark on the new season shortly hoping to continue their domestic success of last season - and return to European prominence.

With an amazing 27 league titles, eight national cups, two European Cup-Winners' Cups in 1976 and 1978, a UEFA Cup [1983] and two European Super Cups [1976 and 1978] to their name, Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht - or Sporting as they are more commonly known to their supporters - have set standards at home and abroad which domestic rivals such as Club Brugge and Standard Liege can only dream of.

The club began life on May 27, 1908, at a meeting of 15 soccer lovers from the Anderlecht district of south-west Brussels.

Their early life was spent in the salubrious surroundings of the Belgian third division and it wasn't until 1935 before they broke into the top flight.

A lot of the credit for that goes to club presidents Theo Verbeeck and Albert Roosens, who based their strategy on a combination of semi-professionalism, use of the transfer market, and the search for, and discovery of, young talent.

From 1947, the year of their first league title, to the beginning of the 1970s, the 'Mauves' grabbed 13 Belgian Championships and also began to make a mark in Europe.

They knocked Real Madrid out of the 1962-63 Champions' Cup, a result which got people beyond Belgium to sit up and take notice of the club.

In 1970 they competed in their first European Final, losing 4-3 on aggregate over two legs.

12 years later they beat West Ham 4-2 in the Final of the Cup-Winners' Cup, using the obvious advantage of playing the game at the old Heysel Stadium in Brussels.

The following year, two late goals from Hamburg prevented Anderlecht retaining the trophy but, a year later, they regained it with aplomb, hammering Austria Vienna at the Parc des Princes in Paris, and in 1983, they added the UEFA Cup to their collection following a 2-1 aggregate victory over Benfica.

Chairman and local brewery owner Constant Van den Stock - who played for Anderlecht in the 30s and had been a Belgian national team selector for over a decade ­ reorganised the club's structure.

Scouting networks and youth development policies were changed, training facilities and their Parc Astrid home were modernised.

Their stadium became one of the first stadia in Europe to boast executive boxes and VIP seats, and Anderlecht led the way in embracing commercial activities.

A former English goalkeeper called Bill Gormlie was, as a coach, the architect of the club's successes in the late 40s and 50s and the Corsican, Pierre Sinibaldi, led them to four titles in the 1960s.

The enigmatic, chain-smoking, Raymond Goethals was in the hot-seat in the late 70s and again a decade later and ex-midfield star Paul van Himst was in charge when they lifted the 1983 UEFA Cup.

Current boss Hugo Broos' side were comfortable winners of the Belgian Championship last season and they have a high number of talented young players.

Belgian international left-back Olivier Deschacht has established himself in the last couple of years; teenage central-defender Vincent Kompany is making scouts from all over Europe take note - to the extent of being dubbed the 'new Desailly.'

Swedish midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson had some solid displays in Euro 2004; Czech Under-21 schemer Martin Kolar is a promising prospect, and Ivory Coast striker Aruna Dindane is said to be attracting interest from Premiership sides.

The 23-year-old Dindane plays alongside new Chelsea signing Didier Drogba.

The international links don't end there; experienced Swedish playmaker Par Zetterberg, Finnish stopper Hannu Tihinen [who had a spell at Upton Park], Polish right-back Michal Zewlakow, and Czech keeper Daniel Zitka all play for the club.

Two emerging names are tricky midfielder Walter Baseggio, who recently turned down approaches from several Serie A clubs to stay at Anderlecht, and forward Seol Ki-hyeon, who was one of the South Korean heroes at the last World Cup.

As for their European form, last season was a disappointment for the Belgians.

They finished bottom of their First Round Champions' League pool, beating only Celtic and Lyon at home.

* With thanks to Kevin Palmer.

For more information on tickets for the Anderlecht game, click here.