Beerschot’s Arthur de Sloover says he “always watched the EHL but never thought it would be possible” with his current club.
But the Kontich club are now on the verge of their first ever European appearance, a real baptism of fire as they take on German giants Rot-Weiss Koln in the KO16 on Saturday afternoon (12pm CET).
“I can say, in the name of the whole club, we are extremely excited to go to Barcelona,” the World Cup winner told the EHL website.
“It’s the first time we will play on the European stage and It is a nice way to see where we are at on the European level. It is a really big challenge and we can’t wait to kick off and show everyone what the purple beeboys are capable of!”
De Sloover has been with the club since his teenage years, moving from St Georges to take on a higher challenge, attracted by the family atmosphere which he felt was similar to his formative club.
“That’s something I feel is very important,” he said. “The fact I knew Stanley Verhoeven, who I played in the international youth teams, helped in my decision. We are a pretty young team and a good group of friends, so I am very happy to have joined.”
It helped elevate his game enough to break into the Red Lions’ line-up in January 2017, doing enough to be part of the European Championships’ silver medal winning side that year.
He has retained his place, playing all seven games in the World Cup and then earning Euro gold in August this year.
With Beerschot, they qualified for the EHL courtesy of a sensational run to the Belgian grand final, hitting form at the perfect time to win through the quarter and semi-finals against the odds.
“Our first goal last season was to qualify for the quarter finals. The rest was a bit of a bonus, so we could play without too much pressure!”
They fell behind 2-1 in the first leg of the quarters against La Gantoise but, playing with freedom, they stormed to a 2-0 second leg win to advance to the final four.
“The euphoria after that game was enormous, especially when we heard that we had to play the semis against our big rivals, Herakles. It gave us a big opportunity to arrive in the finals.
“After two intense games, we were the better side and went on to the finals. There, we faced an opponent that was just a bit better than us, Leopold. We gave everything we had, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
It was 2-2 in the first game before Leo won the second leg 4-3.
“It was very close but, in the end, we can be very proud of what we achieved and have no regrets. We would never have imagined we could go so far in the competition. For us, it was something very special and we have enjoyed every second of it.”
De Sloover is a crucial figure for the beeboys but they have plenty of experience on the biggest stage. Olympic gold medalist Lucas Rossi and England’s Nick Catlin – a BRONZE medal winner in 2018 with HC Rotterdam – will provide serious know-how.
Gaetan Perez, Sydney Cabuy and Maz Capelle will be key players while Wales’ James Carson and Ireland international Sam O’Connor have arrived during the summer.
So far this season, they sit in second place in Group B of the Belgian league thanks to wins over Leuven and Antwerp along with a draw against Herakles and just one loss on their agenda.
It gives them a decent formline but de Sloover knows Rot-Weiss will be a new level of challenge.
“Of course we would have preferred to first face a team that is a bit less strong on paper, especially with the new format!
“But, on the other hand, it is a big challenge for us to compete with one of the biggest European clubs. It’s a team with a few world class players and we will show them the respect they deserve.
“But we will do everything to make it difficult for them. Hopefully we can get a big result out of it. Maybe it’s the only time we will play in the EHL for years, so we will try to make the very best of it.
“We are a team that is good when we are under pressure but we can be a fantastic team when we have nothing to lose. I am sure we are going to show that to Europe!”