Meert, Henri

Rie Meert was born in Schaarbeek in 1920. He came from a family with nine kids. His wife Lisette worked in a bar across the stadium for 23 years. Also former Anderlecht player Georges Caelenberg used to work there. Rie, relaxed and wearing sunglasses, is suffering from migraine, but he's still the as cheerful as before.

He likes to talk about the old days and he still lives in the proximity of his club. "I was two years old when my parents moved to Anderlecht. Every day, horses and chariots passed, providing people with bread."

"Being 8 years old, I signed up for Sporting Anderlecht along with my friends. I was a striker playing in the youth teams. When we were leading with several goals, sometimes took the position of goalkeeper (laughs). Only against Union, this went painfully wrong. They scored 20 goals against us. Especially a guy we called Boentje had a devastating shot. I remember when we faced Lierse in the final of an important tournament. I started as goalkeeper because our goalie Emile Lacroix was injured. I played a great game and from then on, I took the position of goalkeeper forever. We had more talented players like Michel Van Vaerenberg, Jef Vernimmen and Lucien Van Cottem. The Englishman Ernest Smith was the best I ever knew. Against Lierse I once hit the ball so hard it flew over the entire field and ended up in the neighbour's garden. He refused to give it back..."

Meert also did played Frisian handball, even in the highest division. "It helped me becoming a better goalkeeper. It is very hard to see a small ball coming at you from 70 meters distance and then intercept it. That's my it helped my positioning in the goal."

Rie was studying to become a hairdresser. Nolle Badjou, Daring's goalkeeper, was his idol. He played his first international tournament with the youth selection in '38-'39, but it took him 7 more years to become Anderlecht's first goalkeeper. He was 32 years old when he replaced Jean Mertens, who couldn't be in time for the game against White Star because his street was bombed by the Germans. "I impressed by stopping a penalty taken by Arsène Vaillant. I played many more times against Vaillant, who was a great striker. I even believe he was better than Mermans. I played together with Vaillant in an international game between France and Belgium. And later he joined Anderlecht."
Mertens was scarred for life because of the war. He couldn't focus on football anymore and 5 games later Meert, wearing a cap, returned in the starting line-up where he remained for ... 18 more years! "I only didn't play when I was injured. I had 2 meniscus injuries, 2 hernias and an operation at my appendix. I've won 8 titles."

He used to train under Max Well, Krumme Mile (Emile Defevere) and Cassis Adams, but he won his first title under Frenchman Georges Périno, in '46-'47. Meert smiles: "He couldn't play football himself. That was cool, but he was a great trainer and motivator. The second title came in '49 and the whole team was invited at town hall thanks to mayor Bracops. In the next two seasons we also won the league. We attended many drinks during those days. Périno was succeeded by two English trainers: Ernest Smith and Bill Gormlie. Though we never had a keeper trainer. Our second goalie was Pierrot Figeys and later on Felix Week."

Week was the one defending Anderlecht's goal when the club lost 10-0 against Manchester United in 1957. Meert was injured and also missed Anderlecht's first European game against Voros Lobogo. He made his European debute in '57-'58, aged 39, against the Glasgow Rangers. He wasn't the first goalkeeper anymore during those days, but he replaced the less experienced Jean Trappeniers. Meert: "After 12 minutes I took a serious hit at the head. Their striker Millar was the guilty one. I was dizzy but wanted to finish the game. I even stopped two penalties, but they were both scored in the rebound. After the game I was immediately taken to the hospital, with the match ball under my arm. One day later I went home, but I had to spend a few days in a dark chamber. I was ready for the 2nd leg against Glasgow. One of our defenders, Jacques Culot, tackled one of the Scottish strikers so bad he ended up between the fans. He continued his game with a bandage around his head."

Meert's best memory is the game in London, against Arsenal, on October 21 1953. Meert: "We were invited at Wembley before starting that friendly game to celebrate the anniversary of the Engelish Football Organisation. Arsenal was the English champion back then. The stadium was sold-out and we won 2-3. It was the first defeat in 90 years at Highbury for the Gunners against a foreign club. Though the constantly put pressure on us. But I did my job well. After the game we were euphoric. Wim Dekoster and Susse Degelas also played a hell of a game."

"We traveled around the world all the time. From Russia to the Belgian Congo. We had a great party in Leopoldstad. Marcel Decorte already left Anderlecht, but he was living in Leopoldstad. He joined us for the games in Africa. Several of those African players wore shirts with the names Mermans or Meert on it. We also played Frisian handball and then we crossed the river to Brazzaville..."

Between 1944 and 1957, Meert was selected for 33 times for the national team, where he was trained by François Demol, Bill Gormlie, Dugall Livingstone and André Vandeweyer. "I remember the game in Paris against France, in the winter of 1944. There was no heating yet. It was very cold and we traveled by train. I remember putting our feet in hot water before the game started."

His competitors in Belgium's national team were François Daenen (Tilleur Liège) and Pol Gernaey (Oostende). "The games I still remember are the ones against Italy in Brussels (2-0). But also the friendly game later on against Italy was amazing. I stopped everything until Gianpiero Boniperti beat me in the last minute. A very stupid goal. Another great moment was the 1-1 draw in Spain. Our fans were amazing and we all went out together in Barcelona."

"I also liked to pull some jokes. We were in Dublin. I was sitting at the table with Arsène Vaillant and a group of sailors. Arsène made a bet with the people present in that pub: I bet my friend can jump this high, he can reach the seiling, he said. The ceiling was very high, so no one believed him. With my first jump, I couldn't reach it at all. But when I tried again, I touched the ceiling and we had drinks for free all night long..."

Meert wanted to become a trainer after his carreer. But his job in the bar made that almost impossible. "I trained Lierse and later on Beveren. I even coached Jean-Marie Pfaff who always wanted extra training. He became one of world's best goalies, along with Preud'homme."

Meert died on May 19, 2006.