KAA Gent was founded as the football department of the Association Athlétique La Gantoise (the Ghent Athletic Association, AAG) on 31 October 1900. Its founders were Hector Priem and Auguste Van de Kerckhove. The AAG was a Ghent-based multi-sports association, which was born in 1864 as the Société Gantoise de Gymnastique and merged in 1891 with the Association Athlétique. In 1914 the association was conferred a royal warrant and was permitted, from that moment on, to call itself the Association Royale Athlétique La Gantoise (ARAG). In 1972 the name was changed to its Dutch counterpart: Koninklijke Atletiek Associatie Gent, or KAA Gent.
The home of Belgian football is Melle, near Ghent. In 1863, an Irish boarding school student, Cyril Bernard Morrogh, came home for the holidays with a football among his possessions. Former students of the college would later be involved with founding many other football clubs and the Belgian football association. People have been playing football in Ghent at the Foot-Ball Club de Gand ever since 1879. In 1895, the AAG was the only club not from Brussels to attend the first meeting of the Union Belge des Sociétés des Sports Athlétiques (the Belgian Union of Athletic Sports), the predecessor of the Belgian football association. In 1899 the Racing Club de Gand (currently the Koninklijke Racing Club Gent-Zeehaven (Royal Racing Club of Ghent-Zeehaven)) was created from a merger between three older Ghent football clubs.
At La Gantoise, football was played every now and again before 1900 on Sint-Denijs Square in Sint-Denijs Westrem or the central area of the former velodrome at Godshuizenlaan. Starting in November 1900, the AAG played football on a vacant lot located in between what is now Kortrijksesteenweg, Clementinalaan, Oostendestraat and Astridlaan: Carpentier Square. Although the colours of the multi-sports association were blue and white starting in 1880, La Gantoise played its first competitions in black and white: the colours of the city of Ghent. The football department did not adopt the club colours, blue and white, until August 1902.
Because Carpentier Square was a public space, and anyone could cross the square during a football match, the association soon started to look for another field. The new home base became a site behind the Sint-Pieter railway station, in Musschenstraat (now Achilles Musschestraat). The association relocated in 1904. In 1906, the AAG built its first set of stands, which seated 500-600 people.
BUFFALO KAA Gent is often referred to by its second name: The Buffalos. At every match, you will hear the entire audience chant ‘Buffalo! Buffalo! KAA Gent!’ from the stands. This has been a tradition ever since the 1920s. The cheer originated in 1895, when the famed American Barnum & Bailey Circus featuring William Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, first visited the city of Ghent. During the show, the audience was encouraged to shout the words ‘Buffalo! Buffalo!’ A group of students in Ghent introduced the yell into student life, even welcoming King Albert to the University of Ghent by cheering ‘Buffalo! Buffalo!’ in 1913. During the 1920 Olympic games in Antwerp, the Belgian athlete Omar Smet, who was a member of the KAA Gent athletic department, responded to the rhythmical cheering of the American delegation with the student yell ‘Buffalo! Buffalo!’. Together with him, KAA Gent was subsequently given its alias: ‘The Buffalos’. The association used this name for the first time in the 1921 edition of its journal, and the head of an Indian chieftain first appeared on the supporters’ flag of the KAA Gent football club in 1924. The considerable amount of time that passed between Buffalo Bill’s visit in 1895 and the use of the ‘Buffalo!’ cheer within athletic context may explain why Buffalo Bill the cowboy became an Indian chief in 1924.
The site on Musschenstraat had to make place for the offices of the Ghent world’s fair in 1913. In May 1911, the AAG moved to a new site on Albertlaan, where the stands originally built in 1906 were rebuilt and expanded.
La Gantoise became the champion in the Second Division in 1912-13 and played its début match against Standard de Liège on 7 September 1913. The first supporters’ club was founded at that point in time: Les Amis de l’AAG.
During the First World War, not a single football match was organised between August 1914 and August 1919. Of the association’s 800 members, 300 left for the front. 29 members never returned. During the war, ARAG lost its stands at the Albertlaan site. A fire broke out in the changing rooms on Thursday, 9 december 1915, causing the entire wooden structure to burn down in only 45 minutes.
After the First World War, the sports facilities on Albertlaan were expropriated. La Gantoise immediately found a new location in Gentbrugge. The new stadium was named after Jules Otten, secretary-treasurer of the club since 1895. It was officially opened in the presence of Crown Prince Leopold on Sunday 22 August 1920.
The club’s star player at that time was Gustaaf Boesman (1899-1971). He was the first Buffalo to be selected for the Belgian national team, the Red Devils. Between 1926 and 1929 he participated in 17 international and three Olympic games.
The competition was given a new formula during the 1923-1924 football season. The three last teams in the Honorary Division were relegated to the Second Division or ‘Promotion’, where 24 clubs were divided into two groups. The ARAG came in 13th in the 1928-1929 season and relegation to the Second Division had become a fact.
'MATRICULE' NUMBER 7 In the 1926 edition of Sportleven, the official journal published by the Belgian football association, a list of club (‘matricule’) numbers in order of their foundation date was published. La Gantoise was conferred number 7. An exception was made for our association in gratitude for the presence of the AAG at the first meeting of the Union Belge des Sociétés des Sports Athlétiques in 1895. Racing Club de Gand had to make do with number 11.
Chairman Adrien Stassaert decided to use the opportunity presented by the club’s promotion to the second national division to expand the Jules Otten Stadium. With the impetus brought by young players, such as Marcel Dereuse and Freddy Chaves, the ARAG was promoted to the First Division in 1935-1936. This is where The Buffalos would remain until they fell back to the Second Division in 1966.
In 1934, Gust Deprez founded the Federation of supporters’ clubs. At important away matches, sometimes as many as six or seven hundred fans would travel to support their favourite club. Before and after every home game, supporters would flock from their supporters’ venue to Gentbrugge. The ARAG even had its very own chant in those days: the Buffalos.
All football competitions were halted several days prior to the German Invasion of Belgium. Regular competitions were re-initiated as from the 1941-1942 season. Due to the Second World War, the 1943-1944 and 1944-1945 football seasons were never completed. The Jules Otten Stadium suffered greatly during the war. New plans were being made to build a new stadium in Neermeersen, at the Watersportbaan rowing race course that was, at that time, yet to be built Watersportbaan.
After the war, the decision was made to remain in Gentbrugge and expand the stadium. The stadium was expanded considerably between 1950 and 1955, and was able to seat 25,000 spectators from that point onwards. La Gantoise was the only club in East and West Flanders from 1947-1948 to 1958-1959 in the top division, except for in 1949-1950 and 1950-1951 (Club Brugge) and 1952-1953 (Racing Gent). In this period, The Buffalos played at the top of the classification: ARAG achieved fourth place in 1949-1950, third in 1953-1954, 1956-57 and 1957-1958 and became vice-champions in 1954-1955. In those days, the Buffalo March also sounded from the stands, the club song written by the Ghent composer Charles Schollaert in the early fifties.
Towards the end of the 1950s, the Jules Otten Stadium acted as the backdrop for several remarkable demonstration matches. Real Madrid visited Ghent on 8 June 1957. La Gantoise was reinforced on that occasion with Rik Coppens (Beerschot) and André Piters (Standard de Liège). The 20,000 spectators were given a lesson in the art of football by the team from Madrid: the score ended up 0-9. On 30 May 1959, the Brazilian football club Santos visited Ghent, with the eighteen year old Pélé. La Gantoise won, witnessed by 25,000 spectators in a sold-out Jules Otten Stadium, with a score of 2-1. Richard Orlans scored the first goal, Pelé evened the score and Leon Mokuna scored the winning goal to secure a victory for The Buffalos. Players to join La Gantoise for this occasion were Gaston Van der Elst (Eendracht Aalst) and the international players Paul Vandenbergh (Union) and Fernand Goyvaerts (Club Brugge). On 13 June 1960 Santos FC visited Ghent once again, beating La Gantoise—which was playing without reinforcements this time—with a score of 2-5.
DE KLEINE DOKVRIENDEN 1 June 1952 was the darkest day in the history of KAA Gent. On Whit Monday, 35 members of supporters’ club De Kleine Dokvrienden (Stapelplein) lost their lives in Gravelines in the North of France. They were on an outing as compensation from a touring car company to make up for a cancelled trip to Standard de Liège. Their bus missed the curve just before it was to cross a narrow bridge and plunged into the water. The mass funeral took place on 7 June. Accompanied by funerary music played by the police marching band, an impressive crowd of mourners made its way from the Bijloke district to the Westergem cemetery, where the victims were buried. There is still a memorial for the deceased Buffalos in Gravelines. You will also find a memorial plaque on the façade of the Onze Lieve Vrouw Bijstand parochial church on Afrikalaan.
One hundred years after its establishment, ARAG was finally awarded a first prize: the Belgian Cup. On 24 May 1964, La Gantoise played against KFC Diest on the Heysel Plateau in Brussels. In front of barely 5-6,000 spectators, Diest’s score stood 0-2 at the beginning of the second half. Eric Lambert—the six-time top goal scorer for Ghent in the 1960s—managed to equalise the score just before the whistle blew. When the game went into extra time, Albert Mayama and once again Eric Lambert brought the final score to 4-2. La Gantoise was the first Belgian team to participate in the European Cup Winners’ Cup (now known as the UEFA Cup). They were, however, immediately beaten by the English giants West Ham United (home 0-1; away 1-1).
ARMAND SEGHERS Armand ‘Mance’ Seghers was KAA Gent’s goalkeeper from the 1949-1950 season until the 1965-1966 season. In those 17 seasons, he was keeper during 507 matches, of which he played 158 in succession. He also received 20 nominations to be selected for the national team between 1951 and 1960. Seghers took part in 11 international tournaments. In 2000, Armand Seghers was awarded the title Buffalo of the Century by the Ghent supporters’ affiliation.
ARA La Gantoise ended in twelfth place in 1964-1965; only three points away from being relegated to a lower division. The supporters started to become disgruntled, and the turnout didn’t reach 10,000 fans, even for top matches. In 1965-1966, relegation became a fact. Nevertheless, La Gantoise was able to make an immediate come-back. The 1969-1970 season proved to be one of its best seasons. ARA La Gantoise came in third and was therefore allowed to enter the European championships. However, the celebrations did not last long. The Buffalos did not stand a chance against Hamburg (7-1).
This proved to be the harbinger of a black season that sadly ended with a ticket to the second division. On 1 July 1972, the name was changed to its Dutch equivalent. This was also the same year that KAA Gent officially became a professional football club. In 1973-1974, the impossible happened: KAA Gent came in very last and also scored disastrously in the final round. The Buffalos dropped all the way down to the third division.
Former star player Richard Orlans immediately succeeded in pulling KAA Gent from the third division as its coach, but its relegation to a lower division had brought the association into financial difficulties. Albert De Meester, ‘the cement baron’, became the new chairman in 1976 and the club’s number one financial backer. Despite the fact that The Buffalos remained in the second division for quite some time, the club’s supporters grew steadily. In 1978-79 an average of 10,000 supporters could be found on the stands. With the impetus of Aad Koudijzer and with Léon Nollet as the coach, KAA Gent finally became champion of the second division in 1979-80.
In the first season after its return to the first division, KAA Gent ended in 10th place. Former player Robert Goethals propelled The Buffalos to a third place in 1981-1982, earning the team a ticket to the UEFA Cup, where the players from Ghent were instantly beaten by the Dutch players from Haarlem. Erwin Vandendaele, who had taken over as team captain, brought KAA Gent to a fourth place and once again to the UEFA Cup. This time, it was Racing Lens who pipped them to the post.
A NEW CUP TRIUMPH IN 1984 The moderate 1983-1984 season ended with a triumph at the Atomium. More than 10,000 citizens of Ghent followed their favourite team to the country’s capital on 5 May 1984. The opponent, Standard de Liège, had to play with a reserve team on account of most of its players having been suspended. An investigation into black money in Belgian football had revealed a Liège tournament to have been fixed. KAA Gent won that match, after going into extra time, with a score of 2-0. Dutch player Cees Schapendonk scored the first goal in the first half of extra time. Defender Michel De Wolf set the score at 2-0 just before the final whistle, earning KAA Gent yet another ticket to the European Championships. The Scottish giant Celtic became KAA Gent’s first and last opponent during the European Cup Winners' Cup. KAA Gent was able to win the away game thanks to a goal scored by Hubert Cordier. Fourteen days later, The Buffalos were defeated with a score of 3-0.
It was not plain sailing for KAA Gent and in 1988, the association once again got relegated to the Second Division. Jean Milders became KAA Gent’s new chairman that year.
In the finals however, The Buffalos managed to return to the First Division. In 1990-91 KAA Gent was even in the running for the championship title, but ended up in third place. In 1991-92, they played an excellent match against Ajax Amsterdam in the UEFA Cup quarter finals. However, The Buffalos were unable to retain their position in the Belgian sub-top. From 1994 to 1997 The Buffalos ended up just above the relegation zone.
On 10 September 1998, a bombshell was dropped in the Otten Stadium. Coach Johan Boskamp announced that towering debts were thwarting his sporting ambitions. KAA Gent was on the brink of bankruptcy on account of the construction of two new sets of stands (numbers 1 and 3) in the Jules Otten Stadium (in 1986 and 1992), the purchase of several properties around the stadium and the construction of a new training complex on Warmoezeniersweg. In addition to the above, there was still an unpaid fine to the tax authorities following the Bellemans black money affair and a long-standing debt to the family of the deceased Albert De Meester. At that point in time, KAA Gent had an annual budget of approximately 200 million Belgian francs (or €5 million) and several times that in debts. Chairman Jean Van Milders worked out a debt restructuring proposal and appealed to the City of Ghent to act as a guarantor for the association. Because KAA Gent was unable to submit a satisfactory file, the City rejected its application in February 1999. Matricule Number 7 was under real threat of disappearing.
Jean Van Milders retreated to the background, with Ivan de Witte taking over the baton as chairman. He set four goals: to clear up the financial mess, to set up a good policy, to retain the club’s sporting ambitions and to build a new stadium. He also had an independent audit conducted straight away. The results showed that KAA Gent was bankrupt. The actual debt was even higher than expected: 920 million Belgian francs, which translates into roughly 23 million euros.
KAA Gent and the City of Ghent joined forces to seek a viable solution. In June 2000, an agreement was reached that was adopted by the Ghent Municipal Council in November 2000. The City of Ghent purchased the Otten Stadium, made several investments with a view to being granted a licence to play European football in temporary infrastructure (half of the total cost) and committed itself to joining KAA Gent in the search for a suitable location and partners for the construction of a new modern football temple that would hold 20,000 supporters.
These activities initiated the restructuring of the association. The main sponsor VDK agreed to drop part of the debts in exchange for guarantees of responsible financial management. General Manager Michel Louwagie made it his trademark to attract young top-class talent—in conjunction with his scouting division—and to sell these players when the time was right, but without weakening the club’s sporting talent. A total of 45 million euros was earned in the first decade of the 21st century through the sale of players. This resulted in KAA Gent being released from its gigantic mountain of debts.
With regard to sporting performance, the 21st century was off to a promising start. Coach Trond Sollied was able to secure a position in the European league, and achieved a respectable third place. However, he left the club after only one year. Following several transitional years, KAA Gent was able to attract Georges Leekens in 2004. The Buffalos ended in sixth place in 2005 and came in fourth in the Belgian Pro League in 2006 and 2007.
June 2007 saw the return of the by then unemployed Norwegian Trond Sollied to his former love. He ended up in sixth place in the competition, making supporters’ long-cherished dream come true by guiding KAA Gent to the Cup Final in 2008. On 17 May 2008, a total of 224 buses and hundreds of cars brought 20,000 Ghent residents to the King Boudewijn Stadium in Brussels, while 3,000 spectators gathered to watch the match at a public viewing on Ghent’s Saint Peter’s Square. Saint Bavo’s Cathedral sported a blue-and-white flag measuring 36 square metres. However, Ghent lost the spectacular match with a score of 2-3. Despite the defeat, 6,000 supporters gathered in Ghent to cheer the players upon their return. The conviction steadily grew that KAA Gent was ready for the top.
VICE-CHAMPION AND 2010 CUP WINNER KAA Gent introduced a new coach in the summer of 2008. Michel Preud’homme, recently acclaimed champion with Standard de Liège, became The Buffalos’ athletic coach. He stayed on for two seasons. The team ranked fourth at the end of the 2008-2009 season. The 2009-2010 season became one of the great milestones in the history of the club. In the regular competition KAA Gent ranked a fantastic third. In the play-offs on 8 May 2010 The Buffalos made it to vice-champion of Belgium following a 6-2 victory against their rivals from Bruges. KAA Gent managed to equal its 1955 record, making it to the preliminary rounds of the Champions League for the first time in club history. Exceeding all expectations, KAA Gent won the Belgian Cup one week later, on 15 May 2010, following a 0-3 victory against Cercle Brugge. This time, 24,000 supporters travelled to Brussels and over 10,000 fans cheered The Buffalos on Ghent’s St. Peter’s Square. 12,000 fans welcomed the Cofidis Cup to the city just after midnight.
Thanks to these results, KAA Gent was once again in the running for the European Championships in the 2009-2010 season. However, in the preliminary rounds of the Champions League, The Buffalos were mercilessly defeated by Dynamo Kiev. To the advantage of the Dutch Feyenoord Rotterdam, the group stage of the European League was reached, where the last day ended with a third place following victories against Levski Sofia and Sporting Lisbon. The regular competition was closed with a fantastic third place, although in the play-offs the Buffalos reverted to fifth place, which subsequently disqualified them from a European championship. With Trond Sollied as its coach for the third time in 2011-2012, KAA Gent once again held high hopes to play on the European stage.
Debt-free and ambitious with regard to its athletic prowess: these were only two of the goals set by Ivan De Witte when he was appointed chairman in 2000. Building a new stadium was also one of the goals still to be achieved.
Together with the City of Ghent, the football association embarked on a search for a suitable location, capital and partners to grant KAA Gent a modern, contemporary football temple. The Otten Stadium had seen better days: it was too small, uncomfortable, there were few opportunities for expansion, it contained hardly any facilities for the press and was located in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. To increase the club’s economic support, an expansion of the business possibilities was severely necessary.
In May 2003, it was decided that a new home base, the Artevelde Stadium, would be built on the Groothandelsmarkt site, near the E17 and E40 motorways. The former Groothandelsmarkt was torn down towards the beginning of 2007. In January 2008, following a lengthy procedure, the first building permit was issued. In September 2008, the cornerstone was officially laid, although financial difficulties soon put a halt to the construction activities. In December 2010, the first financing agreement was signed with the city of Ghent, KAA Gent and Ghelamco. On 17 July 2013, KAA Gent kicked off the new season at its new home base: the Ghelamco Arena. With the new infrastructure, the club would be able to gain a strong foothold at the top of the Belgian football world.
The intense collaboration between the City of Ghent and KAA Gent in the realisation of the new stadium also led to collaboration in various social projects. In 2011 vzw Voetbal in de stad, the community service platform of KAA Gent, was founded: a unique public-private partnership between the club, the local government and the supporters of KAA Gent. With numerous initiatives, the organisation makes use of the engaging power of KAA Gent to benefit society. Its principal goals are to set up social projects, increase supporter commitment, coordinate an open stadium service, organise non-commercial public services and launch social initiatives around youth football. All of this takes place based on the following motto: ‘We are KAA Gent; we are more than football alone’.
2014-2015 BELGIAN CHAMPIONS The first season in the Ghelamco Arena ended with KAA Gent in a disappointing seventh place. In the summer of 2014 Hein Van Haezebrouck was appointed as coach. At the end of the regular competition, the Buffalos had attained second place. KAA Gent also played spectacularly in the play-offs. Standard Luik (1-3), KV Kortrijk (0-1) and Club Brugge (2-3), all playing home games, didn’t stand a chance. KV Kortrijk (2-0) and RSC Anderlecht (2-1) also had to withstand a severe defeat in Ghent. On Thursday 21 May 2015, KAA Gent competed for the national title. Standard Luik was defeated with a score of 2-0 to loud cheers in the Ghelamco Arena. Goals were scored by Sven Kums and Renato Neto. For the first time in its 115-year existence, KAA Gent became the national champion, qualifying itself directly for the group stage of the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League. On Sunday 24 May 2015, KAA Gent was cheered on its arrival to the city by 125,000 supporters. The biggest supporters’ celebration in the history of Belgian football had become a reality.
KAA Gent’s first performance in the group stage of the Championship was an instant success. With a victory on the field of Olympique Lyonnais and at home against Valencia FC and Zenit Saint Petersburg, The Buffalos secured 10 points, qualifying them for the next round in the UEFA Champions League. Heads held high, the Ghent team played against the German VfLWolfsburg (H 2-3, A 1-0).
This sporting highlight of the history of Ghent football was also expressed with the Golden Shoe ranking in 2016. Team Captain Sven Kums was unanimously chosen Best Football Player of the past year. Flanked by Depoitre and Milicevic, the entire podium was occupied by players from KAA Gent. On top of that, Hein Vanhaezebrouck was awarded the title of Coach of the Year, and Matz Sels, Goalkeeper of the Year. 2016 is a year that won’t be quickly forgotten.
In the 2015-16 Belgian Cup competition, The Buffalos reached the semi-finals for the third season in a row. The 2015-16 football season closed with a magnificent third place. In 2016-17, the UEFA Europa League awaits.
The European dream continued in 2016-2017. KAA Gent finished second in the UEFA Europa League in a group with Konyaspor, SC Braga and FC Shakhtar Donetsk. In the 1/16 finals the English top club Tottenham Hotspur were eliminated: in our Ghelamco Arena Spurs were beaten 1-0. At least 8 000 fans made the journey to Wembley (Spurs did not play at White Hart Lane because of the rebuilding of their stadium) and endured a kind of collective delirium after a 2-2 draw which ensured qualification for the 1/8th finals. But here Racing Genk proved to be too strong for us.
In the regular competition of the Jupiler Pro League KAA Gent alternated brilliant home results with expensive loss of points in away matches. During the winterbreak KAA Gent did realise some great transfers and finished sixth. We took part in the Play Offs and had a great finish (3rd place). So a new UEFA Europa League campaign awaits in 2017-2018.
This section was written by the KAA Gent' Foundation. More information: firstname.lastname@example.org