I’ve decided to blog random bits of history, whether it be about the Belgian Pro League, the second tier, European competition or The Belgian Cup (Beker van Belgie). The reason I’ve thought up this segment is not only to educate myself about the past, but to anyone who reads this, if anyone actually does, and to see that Belgian football isn’t about 1 or 2 teams, or the odd great player produced quite regularly actually, and that teams in the past competed and that the impossible is sometimes possible.
After this week in the Belgian top flight, I thought I’d look at the longest serving manager in Anderlecht history. I’m guessing his the longest serving as he has managed the most amount of matches, along with the fact he has won the most league titles for the club. Bill Gormlie was a remarkable coach in that he did what most Englishmen won’t do. He went abroad!
Born in 1911 in Liverpool, he went on to play as a goalkeeper for Blackburn Rovers and Northampton Town. But he really excelled as a manager. He originally became manager of the Belgian National team in 1947 around the age of 37 which would never happen now if you think of it. His first match was a derby against the Dutch. The problem at the time is the Belgian FA didn’t want to participate in the 1950 World Cup, so no qualifiers were played.
Because of that, maybe that was the reason he split his role with the national side, as he took charge of Anderlecht in 1950! He quit the role of Belgium manager in 1953, leaving them in a good position at the time as they’d defeated Finland and Sweden, helping them towards the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. But as I were saying, he took charge of Anderlecht until 1959.
In those years he won 5 titles, winning one in his first season, following on the good work of Irishman Ernest Churchill Smith. In that first season however, Les Mauves won the league on goal difference and only winning 13 matches out of 30! Remarkable. It then took 3 seasons til his next title, but after the 1953/54 season, Anderlecht were ruthless.
In that season, they scraped the league by a single point, but then the next, not only did they win the league by 3 points, they also managed qualification for the European Cup. They repeated the feat the next season before he won his last league title in his last season as manager in 1958/59. Five league titles in 9 full seasons is fantastic.
Unfortunately for Gormlie, he couldn’t take his league form into Europe. Okay we know Real Madrid ran Europe then…much like they do now. Anyway, the inaugural European Cup saw Anderlecht lose 10-4 to Vörös Kobogó (I know) and were out immediately. The next season was no better after the Belgians were, frankly, demolished by Manchester United 12-0 on aggregate, the second leg being 10-0! The season after Bill Gormlie was let go, Anderlecht still disappointed on the European stage as the went out to Glasgow Rangers in the first stage again.
Bill Gormlie laid the foundations, and carried on good work from those before him too to be fair, for Anderlecht’s domination to this day. He helped in their history to shape the club in some way. He did do ground-breaking stuff, such as beating Arsenal in 1954 at Highbury, the first foreign side to achieve this. He was credited in finding Paul Van Himst, one of Belgian football’s greatest players. To only manage in Europe and succeed doesn’t happen often, especially for Englishmen, so this is one story which many won’t know, and maybe should know.