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Monday, February 26, 2024

Belgian Fan Uprising Is Latest Incident in European Soccer Unrest

  • Club supporters trap U.S. owner in a stadium bathroom to protest a deep fall in the standings.
  • Similar incidents have cropped across the continent as change accelerates in the sport.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Say this much about European soccer fans: They certainly don’t hide their feelings. 

A group of unhappy supporters of Belgian team K.V. Oostende trapped American owner Paul Conway in a stadium bathroom, according to a Bloomberg report, frustrated with the club’s precipitous decline in recent years. Conway, co-founder of investment firm Pacific Media Group, has overseen the club’s fall from a fifth-place finish in 2021 in the Belgian Pro League, the country’s top tier, to a current last-place standing in the second division.

“[Conway’s] killing the club, and now it’s time for action,” said Koen Devisscher, a longtime Oostende season-ticket holder who helped lead a protest against the club board. 

Conway’s Pacific Media acquired Oostende in 2020, and the firm has been involved in several other European teams in recent years, part of a fast-growing trend across the industry to build multi-club portfolios. But though Conway was able to free himself from the Oostende protestors with the aid of security, the uprising is just one of many incidents of fan unrest across European soccer in recent years.

More Turmoil

Other entities facing similar incidents recently from angry fans include Manchester United, Everton, the entire Bundesliga in Germany, and the original, ultimately scuttled effort to build a European Soccer League—collectively creating a rather different means of showing displeasure than that of U.S. pro sports. More similar incidents seem likely as rising foreign investments, new ownership structures, and increasing financial pressures continue to impact the sport.

“We are not prepared to stand idly by as German soccer gets sold out,” said supporters of the country’s top clubs last month upon staging a silent protest of emerging plans to sell part of the league’s media rights to outside investors.

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