The fans have played a hugely important role in the history of Standard de Liège. Without their support, Standard would have never become the Standard we know and love. They are true to their club, and every player feels immediately accepted into the family which is Sclessin. My best memory? Having had the privilege of playing for Standard.
– Eric Gerets
He was one of the founding members of the Standard myth. Léon Semmeling’s entire life has been centered around being Rouche. As a player, assistant-coach, manager and fan. From July 19th 1958 until June 30th 1974 he played 455 official games, of which 363 in the league and 45 in Europe, and won a record number of 7 trophies: 5 league titles (1961, 1963, 1969, 1970, 1971), 2 FA Cups (1966, 1967) and 35 caps for Belgium. « But it took Raymond Goethals to really launch my international career. He came to Sclessin to convince me to play for Belgium the way I did for Standard. » The winger played during the World Cup in Mexico in 1970 and the European Championships of 1972 in Belgium where the team ended 3rd by defeating Hungary… at Sclessin. In the previous round they had won from Italy in Brussels. « We’ve never been supported that much at the Astrid Park stadion. Even Arsène Vaillant (well known journalist and Anderlecht fan, red.) congratulated me after that game… (laughs) ».
« My final game was a 0:0 in Amsterdam during the qualifiers for the World Cup in 1974. Jan Verheyen had scored the winner in the dying minutes of the final game against The Netherlands, but it was disallowed incorrectly by the referee. Obviously the Dutch, with Cruyff, Rensenbrinck, Haan and Krol, had to qualify for such a big tournament. Such ashame as even during the home game Jeannot Thissen hit the woodwork, but it wasn’t meant to be. In the end we didn’t qualify although we ended with a 12:0 goal ratio. »
Another highlight of his international career was the 5:0 victory over reigning World Champion Brazil in Belgium, albeit without their star player Pelé. « For the return game they served us a 5:0 trashing as well. And although Jean Nicolay played the game of his life, Pelé still scored a hattrick … »
Ptit Léon (1m69) was a traditional winger, fast and furious, and dribbling as no other. He’d give many defenders a head ache, and provoking them… in the 16. « They often compared me to Paul Van Himst, the Anderlecht player, who was often referred to as Pol Gazon. But in those days we didn’t have a fifth referee or the VAR. I still claim that I was refused more penalties than granted. In those days defenders were less technical and mobile (smiles).» He would go on to score a whopping 78 goals for the Rouches (of which 65 in the league), but his greatest qualities were his assists, something which wasn’t analysed or recorded in the previous century like they do today. « And don’t forget, I never took any penalty. I had the same joy in scoring or assisting someone to it. »
Léon was and still is a true gentleman, with only one red card during his entire career. « I remember it vividly », he says. « It was a confrontation with Fernand Goyvaerts, but nothing controversial. My suspension was a lot less than Fernando’s one, probably because the national team needed me in those days (laughs). »
During an exciting and successful career the man from Visé had many highlights, but it was the European game against Scottish Glasgow Rangers that still provokes happy memories. « Standard was the first Belgian team to win a game in the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, the first Belgium team to qualify for the next round, and finally the first Belgian team to win an away game. But it was the quarter final against Rangers a couple of years later that stayed with me the most. Not only because of the score (4:1 win), but also due to the fans who were packed like sardines to the extent that they stood just behind the lines. The ones behind the goal held the net to prevent them falling over. When I had to take a corner, I had to make my way through the people, almost feeling embarrassed asking them to move. You simply can’t imagine such scenes nowadays. The away team would simply refuse to play…»
After his professional career at Standard, Léon Semmeling would go on to play another two seasons at Namur as a player-coach, before returning home to assist Raymond Goethals in his quest for two league titles, and ultimately becoming head coach after ‘The Affaire’ guiding youngster (Bodart, Collard, Aussems, Hellers, Delangre, Delbrouck and… Jean-Marc Bosman) to – a lost – Belgian FA Cup final against Ghent.
Today the legendary midfield can still be seen at Standard on most days, thinking fondly of his long life friend Roger Claessen. « The gratefulness and appreciation from the fans still gives me so much pleasure. The elderly fans who saw me play introduce me to their children and grandchildren and tell them what a great player I was. ..»
He only regrets that he hasn’t got many physical memorabilia of his past. « I had a lot of photos, especially one with Gento, which I gave to a journalist, but when copying them they all got burned. And most recently a bag full of photos was stolen when I was sitting outside a pub in the centre of Liege. All gone…»
His nomination for Standard Liège’s Hall of Fame? « It gives me so much joy. That recognition isn’t that obvious as Standard had so many wonderful players in its history. My personal favorite? Simon Tahamata! How that little Dutch genious could master the ball is amazing.»
Discretion, humbleness… a true giant Léon Semmeling!
(c) Christian Raspiller, Septembre 2018
Birth: January 4th 1940, in Mouland
Affiliated at Standard: July 19th 1958 – June 30th 1974
Trophies with Standard: 5x Belgian Championships (1961, 1963, 1969, 1970, 1971), 2x Belgian F.A. Cups (1966, 1967)
International caps/goals : 35 / 2
1953 – 1958
R.C.S. Visétois (369)
1958 – 1974
1974 – 1976
Royal Standard Club Liégeois
U.R. Namur (156)
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup