At Sat In Row Z we breathe football. We have those players who leave memories etched so deep in our mind it’s like it only happened an hour ago. In this series we will try and introduce you to some of them.
First up Annelies tells us about her footballing hero: François Sterchele
He Was My Maradona
We all know Maradona. A football legend. Loved by probably every football fan alive on the planet when he was running on the pitch. He stole hearts, made girls have crazy dreams about marrying him and changed football. We had more footballing legends in the past. Think of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo (the real one…) or George Best. We don’t have to look back if we think about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for example.
But who was my Maradona? And what’s the story behind my football hero?
It all began when I was at primary school. I played football during pauses with my friends. We were at the age when we had a bright imagination and were able to think we are a football legend during our games. Most kids fought to be Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry or some other footballing genius at a big club. I wasn’t one of those. No. I could always be my hero without being afraid. I could play as my idol because he was ‘just a guy at a Belgian club’. My football hero was François Sterchele.
Sterchele was a Belgian striker. He played his last match in the colours of Club Brugge. His footballing career began in fourth division. Sterchele played for teams like Leuven, Charleroi, Beerschot and Club Brugge. He ended up in the Jupiler Pro League with Club Brugge in 2007. I followed Sterchele since he signed for Leuven. Watching him live was a hard task, but I managed to see him a lot. His days at Brugge were the best to me. I don’t live far away from the city and tickets were cheap enough.
But why am I writing this in a past tense?
8 May 2008. Thursday. I’m busy giving a speech on François Sterchele at school. It’s an assigment. Talk about your idol. So there I am, talking about my favorite striker.
Meanwhile, a lot has happened. I never checked the news before I left for school and I still don’t. I check the news when I’m back from school, and I wished I never watched it that evening. My hero, my idol, my everything. He died. François Sterchele, aged 26, died in a car crash at 3AM. I couldn’t believe it. I even checked the calendar. It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. The only footballer I liked…died. And I was only ten years old. The world meant nothing to me anymore. I was heartbroken, sad, angry, desperate, confused, quiet, pissed and furious at once. I could not longer accept anything that has something to do with football. I even ignored Manchester United, the team I was born to support, for three weeks. I ignored Club Brugge for five years. To me, the club wasn’t the same without François Sterchele. Football changed. I changed. Nothing will ever be the same.
10 May 2008. Saturday. I decide to go and see Club Brugge’s final match of the season. They take on Westerlo at home. A tribute to François Sterchele was held by both teams and 26.000 spectators. I was one of them and I cried my heart out. The home team carried a huge banner with a photo of my idol on the pitch. I sing ‘You’ll Never Walk’ Alone together with the stadium and chant Sterchele’s name during the 23rd minute of the match. François played with this number on his shirt and it still is a tradition not to give the number 23 shirt to someone else. Even the 23rd minute remains the most special minute in a game. Even after five years! Club Brugge wins 4-0, the best scoreline the club has had that season. Afterwards, two moments of silence take place and the Sterchele banner reappears. Also one of Sterchele’s former clubs, Charleroi, pay a tribute to the Belgian footballer with Italian roots. They lay down flowers by a number 23 kit. Beerschot, where Sterchele became top goalscorer in 2007, do their warming up wearing a shirt with his photo on it.
One year after his death, thousands of fans visited the Club Brugge ground to lay down a card or flowers for the striker. Sterchele got remembered once more during a match. In 2009, when Club Brugge played Standard Liége on 9 May. Every year, on 23 July, the Copa Sterchele takes place. A friendly match between two former clubs of François Sterchele, mainly Beerschot and Club Brugge. Club Brugge supporters also hold up a banner for Sterchele every year during the match closest to 8 May. Last year, the supporters were asked to put a flag or scarf outside their window to honour François Sterchele.
How did I get over it?
I still haven’t . But I managed to get back to football three weeks after the death of my first ever favourite footballer. I missed the game and I couldn’t live without Manchester United. We won the Champions League in 2008 and it was probably the main reason I got back into football so fast. I left Club Brugge behind for five years because I couldn’t see the team without François Sterchele. But after a period of wide interests in different Belgian clubs, I came back to where it all begun. I realized that ignoring Brugge was the worst choice I ever made. I felt guilty for letting them down. I came back to their Blue Army for Sterchele. I want to be proud again. Proud to say he is my football hero. He keeps me going.
François Sterchele is my Diego Maradona. My Lionel Messi. My past. My present. My life. My number 23.
All those you lost in your life. Friends, family, pets, idols. They are gone…but never forgotten!