The rapid rise & fall of RWD Molenbeek

It says much about the erratic nature of Belgian football that the club which became national champions in 1975, RWD Molenbeek, didn’t even exist just two years earlier.

With its early success, clever eye for veteran talent, strong European campaigns and a striking range of stylish shirts in their trademark red, white and black colours; this was a club that would become something of a cult during its short existence – even outside of Belgian borders.

Firstly let’s step back to the end of the 1972/73 season. The Belgian capital was represented in the national Leagues by five clubs – Anderlecht, Racing White, Crossing and Union St.Gilloise in the top flight and Daring in the second tier. Crossing and Union were relegated that season to the second division to join Daring, leaving Racing White (who finished third) as Anderlecht’s sole challengers.

Source: Wikipedia

The Belgian game has rarely afforded the same respect to the integrity of historic clubs as other Western European Leagues have, so few eyebrows were raised when negotiations began to merge all four of the smaller Brussels clubs with a view to creating a superclub capable of competing with mighty Anderlecht.

After lengthy negotiations Union and Crossing chose to remain independent, but the Racing White and Daring presidents agreed a merger to create Racing White Daring Molenbeek. The new club would play at Racing White’s stadium and inherit both their top flight league place and UEFA Cup place, while the squad was assembled using the best players from both clubs.

RWD’s first home game was a prestigious friendly at home to Real Madrid and a strong performance set the tone for a positive debut season: RWD finished third in the League just two points behind champions Anderlecht.

Source: Click

That was to prove merely a taster. With ex-Anderlecht keeper turned coach Felix Week at the helm, RWD started their second season with an astutely constructed squad that featured ex-European Cup winner Johan Boskamp, former Belgian footballers of the year Maurice Martens and Orilion Pollenius and Danish internationals Kresten Bjerre and Benny Neilson.

RWD dominated the season from beginning to end and were the last team in western Europe to lose a league game. Strikers Eddy Koens and Jacques Teugels tore up the scorers charts and RWD romped to the title nine points clear of their neighbours Anderlecht.

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Stylish champions and with celebrity supporters like cyclist Eddie Merckx, RWD genuinely looked as if they could change the footballing status quo in the capital. Another coup came with the signing of the veteran Anderlecht legend Paul Van Himst, a deal completed much to the chagrin of his old club who had released him only on the basis he would be moving to a lower-level club.

It was hoped that Van Himst’s experience would prove fruitful in the forthcoming European Cup campaign, but he didn’t make much of an impression and RWD crashed out heavily in the second round to Hajduk Split. For the remainder of the 1970s RWD found their niche as a top six club that regularly qualified for European football – the run to the semi-final of the 1976-77 UEFA Cup a highlight.

Things, specifically financial things, went awry in 1984 when an economic crisis hit the club as it suffered a first relegation. RWD limped on earning one stay of execution after another and while it quickly regained its top flight place, it never regained any sort of competitiveness apart from an outlier of a fourth-placed finish in 1996.

The end finally came in 2002, ironically after a spirited on-field performance that brought a tenth-placed league placing. Economic problems had finally become insurmountable and the Belgian Federation refused RWD a professional licence to continue.

Having established itself during its 29-year existence as something of a cult club there was always a likelihood of some attempt at resurrection. The closest incarnation today plays under the name of RWDM47, though that club – like RWD Molenbeek and many other Belgian clubs – only came about itself through mergers and renaming. Such is the Belgian way.