Home About Beer Royale Union Saint-Gilloise: the club of craft, Cantillon and the great comeback

Royale Union Saint-Gilloise: the club of craft, Cantillon and the great comeback

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While reading this story, play this song, Ça Fait Maintenant Des Années, adapted from ‘L’Estate Sta Finendo’ (Summer Is Ending) as the Royale Union Saint-Gilloise fan song. This 1985 hit for Italian disco duo Righeira, was played by the Brussels Philharmonic orchestra for Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in advance of the Zwanze Derby as requested by Bruzz. 

Fiercely supported by Cantillon, craft brewers here and overseas, and even a famous Italian disco singer, Royale Union Saint-Gilloise clawed its way back after glorious days at the top, followed by 48 years in the pits of football,  to promotion yesterday to the top flight of Belgian football, yes, the Jupiler Pro League, no small irony in a country known for some of the best beer in the world, but which also produces some of the most forgettable.

It is one of the great comebacks in football, with Union having won the Zwanze Derby in a 2-1 match over RWD Molenbeek on Saturday, taking the trophy and the Belgian 1B Pro League in a record 19 victories in 23 matches.

Union’s fans, including the fan club Union Bhoys, will be singing all of the 25 songs they go through, including L’Estate Sta Finendo, the disco song that has been used as the basis of many football sing-alongs in stadiums worldwide. Just think of Allez, allez, allez, an Aston Villa fan chant. One may say the song rightly belongs to Union as Stefano Righi, the lead singer of Righeira, the Italian group behind the song, is a Union fan, after attending a match by chance on a visit to the city (see the video by Bruzz media at the end of this article).

This Beer Idiot has been following Union since 2009, when he first arrived in Belgium and attended matches with my son, seeing them struggle from the second division to the Proximus Pro League B division, from which they have just graduated.

I was looking for the days of handlebar moustaches, as I had read about the storied history of the club and its record of 60 straight wins during 1933-1935 and 11 titles before it sunk into obscurity in the 1960s, down all the way to the Belgian 4th division. Those geezers have mostly disappeared. In the legendary bar at Marïen stadium I found a few hiding out.

This was really where I wanted to be and I was delighted to realise through two beer festivals there that one of my favourite brewers and a world beater, Cantillon, is a supporter.

Cantillon and USG

BXL BeerFest 2019, Tour & Taxis, Brussels, Belgium
Jean Van Roy of Cantillon

Drinking great, and even rare Cantillon, on the field at Joseph Marïen stadium is an unforgettable pleasure. Cantillon’s Jean Van Roy has carried on the tradition of his family as a Union supporter as seen in the scarves and other paraphernalia draped across the bar at the brewery.

Jean Van Roy and sons count themselves as the fifth generation of Van Roys attending matches. Cantillon developed Cuvée 1904 in 2004, at the club’s request, as a special beer to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the club winning its first Belgian championship.

Cantillon then created Cuvée des Champions to celebrate the club’s status when it was promoted to second division during the 2004/2005 championships. This beer’s name was then changed again. 

“Since then, seeing as the club doesn’t quite always perform like a champion, it was decided to change the name for a third and final time to Cuvée Saint-Gilloise,” Cantillon says on its site.

This was offered first to season ticket holders and sold out very fast, in a few minutes as Cantillon brews normally do. But during the lockdown others, including myself (a sad non-ticket holder), got a chance to taste it when En Stoemelings offered it as a part of a package along with Union stickers and a free match ticket.

One of the two bars at Cantillon with the USG scarf.

Cantillon’s fandom extends to other brewers, many of whom cut their colours by working or volunteering at the brewery. Among them is Doug Checknita, a Canadian brewer, who went on to brew at Blind Enthusiasm in Edmonton, carrying back with him a fandom for all things Union.

Greg Zeschuk, owner of Blind Enthusiasm at Union in July 2018

So much so that Blind Enthusiasm brewed Union Bhoys Lager and the brewery’s owner, Greg Zeschuk brought it to a mini-beer festival at Union’s stadium in July 2018 to inaugurate its re-opening after it was refurbished, alongside Cantillon of course.

With their glory days ahead again, though to the fans they never ended, Union is now set to see Cantillon’s beer renamed again as Cuvée des Champions or perhaps Union 60, its nickname.

We can all drink to that, right now as we start to do the Zwanze again. Yes, it has been ‘Don’t ask me why, love can’t be explained.”

 

Video: Bruzz’s video pre-match featuring Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and RWD Molenbeek before the match on 13 March 2021, which Union won in its comeback promotion to Division 1 A. 

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