André Riou was, by far, the best manager I ever worked with. He read the game ever so well, and respected the typical Liège mentality. The coach was able to direct our energy in the most optimal way. Tactically speaking we all knew what to do, and any misunderstanding was excluded. We had a wonderful time and had an unforgettable moment winning the F.A. Cup in 1954.
– Denis Houf
The younger generation obviously hasn’t had the opportunity to witness the career of Denis Houf, but maybe they heard the old folks talk lyrically about the midfielder. The talented ‘gentleman-player’ conquered the hearts of thousands of Standardfans during the fifties and sixties, as well as many neutral football fans in Belgium with his unequalled footballing vision. Signature player for André Riou’s whirling football, which led to the first (Belgian FA Cup) title in 1954, and Geza Kalocsai, Denis was a breathtaking player.
The first player who didn’t keep his eyes on the ball whilst going forward on the pitch, he always was on the look out for an available team mate. His chest perfectly out, Denis mastered the passing game as no other. Sadly enough nobody in these days kept records on the number of passes distributed – I was the first to start in the nineties and nobody really cared at that time – or he would have been crowned king of assists every season.
I had the pleasure of watching Denis Houf during a fourteen year spell (1950-1964) at Sclessin, but his debut wasn’t included. In fact, Denis played his first game 70 years ago, when he was only 16 years old. A game that didn’t end that well, as the Rouches were thrashed 5:0 by Racing Mechelen. The talented midfielder returned back to the youth team, and would make the final jump to the A-team ‘only’ from 1950 onwards. In the following fourteen years he’d play 455 games in the Belgian league (105 goals !), 11 times in the FA Cup (7 goals), and 16 times in the predecessor of the Champions League (2 goals). And not to forget another 137 friendly games to bring his tally to 519 games for the Rouches, with 156 goals being scored.
To be clear, all thèse statistics were provided to me by… Mister Houf himself, the only player who sent me a 4 page long letter by post and giving me a clear overview of all the games he played, including the formation, position on the pitch, and his shirt number ! He was probably the only player-statistician Belgian football has ever seen. We learn for example that he played 137 times with the magic number 10 shirt, 132x with the number 8, 50x with the number 6, 32x with the number 4, 2x with the number 7, 1x with the number 5 and finally once with the number 9. Needless to insist that Houf was a very polyvalent player. And yes, Houf also shared the same insights for his 26 games with the national team.
He had the misfortune to never play for Anderlecht or he’d have made a wonderful international career and would have doubled his international caps easily. His first game on the 17th of June 1954, didn’t get the attention it deserves. Everybody is in awe of the Belgian team winning the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920, ignoring the fact that the opponent left the pitch after 40 minutes disgusted by the partiality of the referee. The real reference game was played however in Switzerland in 1954 at the World Cup where Belgium did the unimaginable by drawing with England 4:4. Denis made his international début in that game against the likes of Matthews, Lofthouse, Finney and Wright.
5e World Cup (Jules Rimet) – Switserland. Group IV
England – Belgium 4-4, after extra time (2-1, 3-3)
17 June 1954, Basel, Sankt Jakob Stadium
Referee: M. Emil Schmetzer (RFA)
England : «Gil» H. Merrick (Birmingham City) ; «Ron» Staniforth (Huddersfield Town), «Syd» W. Owen (Luton Town) ; Roger W. Byrne (Manchester United), William «Billy» A. Wright (capt-Wolverhampton Wanderers), «Jimmy» W. Dickinson (Portsmouth FC) ; Stanley Matthews (Blackpool FC), Ivor A. Broadis (Newcastle United), «Nat» Lofthouse (Bolton Wanderers), «Tommy» Taylor (Manchester United), «Tom» Finney (Preston North End). Manager : Walter Winterbottom
Belgium : Leopold Gernaey (AS Oostende/8/2) ; Marcel Dries (Berchem Sport/8/3), Louis Carré (FC Liégeois/42/5), «Fons» Van Brandt (Liersche SK/20/5) ; «Stan» Huysmans (Beerschot AC/6/1), «Vic» Mees (Antwerp FC/35/4) ; «Jef» Mermans (capt-SC Anderlechtois/46/2), «Pol» Anoul (FC Liégeois/46/5), «Rik» Coppens (Beerschot AC/27/5), Denis HOUF(Standard CL/1), Pierre «Jeng» Vandenbossche (SC Anderlechtois/1). Entraîneur : Dougall «Duggie» Livingstone (Eco/9/3)
The second numbe indicates the number of games at a World Cup.
Goals: 5eAnoul (0-1) ; 25e Broadis (1-1) ; 37eLofthouse (2-1) ; 62e Broadis (3-1) ; 74eAnoul (3-2) ; 77e R. Coppens (3-3) ; 91eLofthouse (4-3) ; 93eDickinson (csc, 4-4)
Besides the wonderful international souvenirs, there is one dissappoint surrounding his career : Houf ended twice on the podium in the final ranking for the Belgian Golden Boot, rewarding Belgian’s best player during a calendar year (2nd in 1956 and 3rd in 1958). In 1961 however he was the moral winner behind Paul Van Himst as Denis’ new team mate Guillaume Raskin admitted voting for Houf but forgot to send in his vote, which would have made Denis Houf the winner of the Golden Boot in 1961.
Keen to discover new horizons when he was 32 years old, Roger Petit granted him a transfer to neighbouring – and arch rivals – Royal Football Club Liégeois. A transfer which few players made in history, for example Nico Dewalque, whilst the opposite happened fairly often (Anoul, Wégria, Depireux, Lecloux, etc…). If still required it underlined the exceptional player Denis Houf really was, as he was a favorite at Sclessin and Rocourt. And when he visited Standard with his new team, all fans warmly welcomed their son back. No better tribute than fans rewarding a great talented and especially honest man.
Denis left us on December 8th 2012. He was 80 years.
© Claude Henrot, December 2018
Birth: February 16nd 1932, in Magnée
Deceased: December 7th 2012, in Liège
Affiliated at Standard: August 20, 1943 – June 30, 1964
Trophies with Standard: 3x Belgian Championships (1958, 1961, 1963), 1x Belgian F.A. Cup (1954)
International games / goals: 26 / 5
1943 – 1948
Royal Standard Club Liégeois
1948 – 1964
1964 – 1968
Royal Standard Club Liégeois
Royal Football Club Liégeois (4)
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup