The Standard Liége-Waterschei Scandal and its impact on the Belgian National Team
In the fall of 1983, Belgium under Manager Guy Thys had qualified for the European Championships Finals to be held in France in 1984.
Belgium were the runner-ups of the previous edition in 1980 and had been present for the 1982 World Cup where they had upset defending Champions Argentina.
They were regarded as one of the better European teams with a solid defense whose hallmark was their efficient use of the offside trap.
Photo From: Foot Magazine, March 1982
(Belgium manager Guy Thys)
In the previous seasons, top club sides, Anderlecht and Standard Liége, had qualified for European Cup Finals.
The backbone of the team was made up of Bayern Munich goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, Standard’s Eric Gerets and Walter Meeuws in defense, Anderlecht’s Frankie Vercauteren and Rene Vandereycken and Internazionale’s Ludo Coeck in midfield and Club Brugge’s Jan Ceulemans and Anderlecht’s Erwin Vandenbergh as strikers.
This team had won a group containing Scotland, Switzerland and East Germany.
The Finals Tournament was to be held in neighboring France and many saw Belgium as a good outside bet to do well.
Photo From: Onze, December 1982
(Standard Captain Eric Gerets)
However, in the new year (1984) a scandal hit Belgian Football that decimated this squad and turned a potentially successful Tournament into a fiasco.
Standard Liége, under Manager Raymond Goethals, had won the Belgian League Title in the previous two seasons (1982 and 1983).
Photo From: Onze, March 1983
(Standard Manager Raymond Goethals)
Club and National team Captain Eric Gerets led the team, along with other stars such as Walter Meeuws, Gerard Plessers, Guy Vandermissen, Jos Daerden and Dutchmen Arie Haan and Simon Tahamata.
They were somewhat off the pace that season (1983/84) as Captain Eric Gerets had joined AC Milan and Arie Haan had joined PSV Eindhoven, but still contained the bulk of their stars.
In preparations for the upcoming Finals Belgium were due to play in a friendly match against West Germany on February 29, 1984.
It was on the days leading up to this match that the scandal broke to the public.
The actual events took place at the end of (1981/82) season. Standard were League leaders with only two points more that rivals Anderlecht going into the last match of the season, on May 8th, 1982, vs., Waterschei.
In addition Standard were due to play Barcelona on May 12th for the Cup Winners Cup Final.
To insure a win to guarantee the title and no injuries ahead of the Final, Club Administrator Roger Petit along with Manager Raymond Goethals decided to bribe some Waterschei players.
Team Captain Eric Gerets was charged with the task of making contact with the opposition.
It was not very difficult to make contact, Standard’s Gerard Plessers’ brother Pierre played for Waterschei and was actually neighbors with Gerets.
Gerets himself was friends with Waterschei Captain Roland Janssen.
Photo From: Onze, February 1983
(Waterschei’s Roland Jansssen)
Gerets, with the full knowledge of both petit and Goethals, offered to Janssen, the Standard players’ winning bonuses to insure Waterschei’s complicity, the total amounted to 420.000 Belgian Francs.
This scandal also referred as ‘Affaire Bellemans, was part of Judge Guy Bellemans’ investigation on slush funds in Professional Soccer in Belgium.
On February 22, 1984, Standard’s fiscal as well as Club Administrator, Roger Petit’s records were seized.
On February 24, 1984 under questioning, Roger Petit and Raymond Goethals admitted to falsifying records to avoid taxes.
The bribe money was discovered in Petit’s records that included a reference ‘Goethals-Genk 50.000/150.000 F’, indicating money at the disposal of Goethals to bribe Waterschei.
On February 28, 1984, on the eve of the match vs. West Germany, Captain Eric Gerets was interrogated and admitted to bribery for the May 8th, 1982 match vs. Waterschei.
On February 29, 1984, Roger Petit and Raymond Goethals both resigned.
On March 1st, AC Milan sacked Eric Gerets.
On April 2nd, 1984, the Belgian Federation (Union Belge de Football) announced its punishment.
Raymond Goethals and Roger Petit were banned.
The following players: Standard’s Jos Daerden, Walter Meeuws, Theo Poel, Simon Tahamata, Michel Preud’homme, Gerard Plessers, Guy Vandermissen and Waterschei’s Roland Janssen and Aimé Coenen were suspended for one year (Reduced to six months on appeal.)
Photo From: Mondial, November 1982
Photo From: Mondial, November 1982
Eric Gerets was initially suspended for three years however it was reduced to two years on appeal and was eventually rescinded on early 1985.
Arie Haan was acquitted and had maintained his opposition to the arrangement.
Photo From: Onze, March 1983
(Standard’s acquitted Dutchman, Arie Haan)
These suspensions dealt a heavy blow to the national team, as Gerets and Meeuws were integral parts of the National team especially of its strongest point, the defense.
While Vandermissen and Plessers were also part of the National team set up.
Guy Thys had to run against the clock to assemble a decent squad for the Finals.
To make things even more difficult experienced defender Michel Renquin had to withdraw from Belgium squad to help his Swiss club Servette in the championship playoffs due to take place during the Finals Tournament.
These defections/suspensions earned opportunities to some players who otherwise might not have been deemed ready for an official tournament.
Anderlecht had launched a number of young players that season. Defender Georges Grun had stepped up and was called as a replacement for Renquin.
More importantly, Italian born teenager, Enzo Scifo had burst on the scene with Anderlecht.
Photo From: Mondial, March 1985
(Anderlecht’s Enzo Scifo)
Just days before the Finals, his citizenship application was approved.
Others such as Anderlecht’s Walter De Greef and Beveren’s Paul Lambrichts also earned spots on the Final roster.
Jan Ceulemans was promoted as Captain in the absence of Gerets and would retain it until the end of his National team career.
With this far from solid squad, it was a surprise that Belgium won its first match vs. Yugoslavia at Lens on June 13, 1984 by 2 to 0, with goals by ErwinVandenbergh and Georges Grun.
However, as it later became apparent, this was more a reflection on Yugoslavia’s poor state rather than on Belgium’s strengths.
The next match vs. Hosts France on June 16th at Nantes proved to be the lowest point of this Belgium team and perhaps of this Belgian generation.
They were simply overpowered by Platini who scored a hat trick and were defeated by a lopsided score of 5 to 0.
This was Belgium’s heaviest defeat since also losing 0 to 5 to Holland during the 1976 European Championships Finals on April 25, 1976.
The once rock like Belgian defense had many holes without the guidance of Gerets and Meeuws.
Belgium still had a chance to qualify had they beaten Denmark in their next match on June 19th at Strasbourg.
However, after going ahead 2 to 0 by goals from Ceulemans and Vercauteren, they were defeated 3 to 2 to a Denmark side containing many Anderlecht players.
This Tournament brought Belgium down to earth and Guy Thys knew that serious rebuilding needed to be done if Belgium had any hopes of qualifying the for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
This year of 1984 ended in disastrous fashion when Belgium was defeated in Albania 0 to 2 in a World Cup Qualifier.
Such a result would have been unthinkable just a year earlier.
The only bright spot for Belgium had been the discovery of Enzo Scifo who many predicted a bright future.
As far as the banned Standard players were concerned: Poel, Vandermissen and Preud’homme had chosen to remain with Standard Liége and serve their suspension.
Raymond Goethals started to resurrect his coaching career by managing Portugal’s Vitoria Guimaraes.
Many of the banned players left and were able to play in the middle of 1984/85 season.
Jos Daerden, Walter Meeuws and Simon Tahamta joined Holland’s Roda JC Kerkrade, Ajax Amsterdam and Feyenoord respectively.
Gerard Plessers joined West Germany’s SV Hamburg.
Captain Eric Gerets joined Holland’s MVV Mastricht.
Due to perhaps lack of match fitness Thys did still not call them upon for the spring 1985 World Cup Qualifiers.
However, by the fall of 1985, Gerets was back in the National team to strengthen the defense. By now he had joined top Dutch outfit PSV Eindhoven to rebuild his shattered career.
Photo From: Foot Magazine, June 1984
(Eric Gerets and reporters at the onset of the scandal)
Walter Meeuws was never called up again by Belgium and retired in 1987 and turned to management.
After a difficult series of Playoffs with neighbors Holland, Belgium qualified for the Mexico World Cup, where they surprisingly finished in the fourth place.
It was a testament on Guy Thys’ ability to instill confidence on a broken team.
The Scandal severely weakened Standard Liége and they did not win another League title until 2008, 25 years later.
Gerets was able to have a successful playing career at PSV Eindhoven and has had a solid coaching career since.
He never regained the Captaincy because of the scandal, despite earning his way back to the National team.
Walter Meeuws was surprisingly appointed National Team manger in 1989, though he was sacked within less than a year.
Foot Magazine, April 1990
(Walter Meeuws and Guy Thys)
Goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme joined Mechelen and was actually elevated as Belgium’s Number one goalkeeper following Pfaff’s retirement and was even named as 1994 World Cup’s best goalkeeper and then joined Benfica.
Raymond Goethals managed for many more years and led Olympique Marseille to Champions League glory in 1993.
This scandal is a distant memory now and most fans may not even remember those involved, nor care, since there have been many other Football scandals in most European countries in one form or another.
For all those involved, besides Roger Petit, luckily their careers were not damaged beyond repair and were all able to stay in the game in some capacity.