Belgian Pro League

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Following a long history under the name “First Division,” the top tier of league competition for association football clubs in Belgium became the Belgian Pro League in 2009-10. It is also referred to by it sponsorship name—Jupiler Pro League. Consisting of 16 elite clubs that play a season lasting from July through early May, the league shares a promotion/relegation system with the second-tier Belgian Second Division. Based upon performance over the past five years, the Pro League holds the 11th spot among European leagues in the UEFA rankings.

Organising for the Future

In 1895, the body known today as the Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football-Association / Koninklijke Belgische Voetbalbond (URBSFA-KBVB) was established to create a seven-club round-robin national football championship tournament. The winners of the 1895-96 inaugural edition were FC Liégeois (est. 1892). Nine years later, the URBSFA-KBVB became a founding member of FIFA and provided that association’s first secretary/treasurer, Belgian Louis Mühlinghaus.

A national cup competition was organised in 1907-08, but it was held among provincial teams, not established clubs. The first true Belgian Cup competition was launched in 1911-12, and it was won by Racing Club de Bruxelles (est. 1894), who defeated Racing Club de Gand (est. 1899) by a score of 1–0. Three years later, World War One forced a hiatus that would see only two more attempts at Cup revival before the UEFA was formed in 1954.

Meanwhile, the number of clubs in the Belgian First Division grew to 14. Between 1900 and 1930, competition was dominated by Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, K Beerschot VAC and Racing de Bruxelles, capturing 17 league titles all together. Belgium was also able to form a national team that won the gold medal at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. Then, after World War Two, RSC Anderlecht (est. 1908) rose to prominence, winning eight championships between 1946 and 1959.

The URBSFA-KBVB played an instrumental role in the creation of UEFA, benefiting from the leadership of Belgian José Crahay. This set the stage for RSC Anderlecht to rise as an international power, going on to reach seven European finals, claim European Cup Winners’ Cup victories in 1975-76 and 1977-78, score triumphs in the 1976 and 1978 UEFA Super Cups, and capture the 1982/83 UEFA Cup. The club have compiled a record 32 league titles plus nine Belgian Cups domestically, too.

Creating a New Order

In more recent years, RSC Anderlecht have been joined by a second football power, Club Brugge KV (est. 1891). Brugge have notched 13 league titles and 10 cup championships. Other rising stars in the league have been R. Standard Liege with 10 titles and six cups, along with KRC Genk, who have claimed three titles and four cups, all since 1998.

The renaming of the Pro League in 2009-10 was not simply cosmetic. A system of post-season playoffs was introduced, the number of top-tier teams dropped from 18 to 16, and the schedule was changed to allow for matches to be played during the Christmas holiday. Each of the 16 competitors in the Pro League hosts every other team once in the regular season, for a total of 30 matches between July and March, followed by the playoffs in March-May.

The defending champions going into the 2013-14 season were R.S.C. Anderlecht. Beerschot were relegated and replaced by 2012–13 Belgian Second Division champions Oostende. The other 14 clubs in the hunt for the First Division title are Cercle Brugge KSV, R. Charleroi S.C., Club Brugge KV, KRC Genk, KAA Gent, KV Kortrijk, Lierse SK, KSC Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen, KV Mechelen, R.A.E.C. Mons, Oud-Heverlee Leuven, Standard Liège, Waasland-Beveren and SV Zulte Waregem.

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