Euro 2016: Dutch publican moves his bar to Belgium

Bar owner frustrated his national team did not qualify for tournament moves border posts

Belgium’s forward Eden Hazard (left) and  goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in a training session ahead of Euro 2016. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Belgium’s forward Eden Hazard (left) and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in a training session ahead of Euro 2016. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

 

A Dutch publican on the outskirts of the border city of Maastricht, frustrated that his national team failed to qualify for Euro 2016, has moved the border posts between the Netherlands and Belgium so that his football mad customers can follow the Belgian team instead.

Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands all merge into one another around Maastricht, often without much official notice on the ground. Yet Café de Pepel, run by Coen Smits and his partner Rianne Nabben, is by any yardstick a solid 200m inside the Netherlands. Until yesterday.

Facing the prospect of an empty bar until the middle of July, the pair decided a switch of nationality was the only thing for it.

Smits had two new border posts made, planted them on either side of the road outside, had them “baptised” with Belgian beer by a friendly local clergyman – and Café de Pepel was officially welcomed into the Belgian community by the mayor of the adjacent town of Riemst, Mark Vos.

“Anyone who supports the Red Devils is more than welcome in our town – one way or another,” said Mr Vos.

Having moved the goal posts by transplanting the border posts, Coen and Nabben are determined to go the whole hog.

“We were reminiscing about the great times we had here in the past when the Dutch team were real contenders,” Smits recalls.

Community

“We just couldn’t bear not to be part of the excitement and the sense of community. That’s when we decided to do something practical about it.”

Usually a sea of orange on sporting occasions, Café de Pepel is decked out from top to bottom in the black, yellow and red flags of Belgium.

Only Belgian beer, food and snacks are being served for the duration of the championships – no hardship, say the locals, given the country’s brewing prowess.

And customers from both sides of the border have been enthusiastically, if occasionally a little raucously, practising the Belgian national anthem, La Brabançonne, in the hope of eventual victory.

“If things go well for the Belgians . . . I mean for us . . .I may be moving the border posts a little bit further down the road,”says Smits.

“Some of my neighbours have been asking if I can get them into Belgium for the celebrations!”