With the promotion of Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, our first division will get another club in foreign hands next season. British owner and gambling mogul Tony Bloom has already pumped more than 20 million into the squad to bring the tradition back into the top division of our football after half a century.
Union makes the Belgian first division even more of a satellite of the most lucrative football competition on earth, the English Premier League. Union owner Tony Bloom also owns Brighton & Hove Albion, the current number 16 in England. OH Leuven (Leicester City), Beerschot (Sheffield United) and Waasland-Beveren (Crystal Palace) are also affiliated with a parent club in the Premier League. The owners of KV Oostende (Barnsley) and KV Kortrijk (Cardiff) have clubs in the English second division. Premier League club Manchester City still owns Lommel in our second division. 12 of 25 Belgian professional clubs have foreign owners.
Officially, Union is the comeback of a true traditional association. The club was the first powerhouse of Belgian football, but won the last of its eleven titles in 1935. After Anderlecht and Standard, she is the club that most often became champion. An additional proof that Union is a blast from the past: the Brussels club permanently disappeared from the first division in 1973.
But Union mainly embodies the football industry in 2021. It is money talks. Owner Bloom has been pumping cash into Union until it was in first since the takeover in 2018. In three years – including 2021 – this involves a capital increase of more than 20 million euros. It was necessary to keep the club afloat. Because the annual results show that Union cannot survive on its own. The club recorded a loss of 6.6 million euros on 6 million euros in turnover last season. The club also has a negative equity of 12.5 million euros. The loss to be carried forward – the financial well that the club has dug in recent years – has amounted to 23.3 million euros.
Other than Bloom’s money, there is little to build on. The Art Deco stadium, the grounds and the surrounding Duden Park in Forest are protected heritage sites. As a result, the owner cannot change the outdated infrastructure, which is not suitable for professional football and makes commercial stadium operation impossible. There is also not a huge support base. It is a mix of oldies who still experienced the glorious past and young hipsters – often local and foreign immigrants in Brussels. Think of Dansaert Flemish people who slurp lager from plastic cups as a pastime on Sundays in a canteen that is reminiscent of the third provincial from their village of origin.
Online data revolution
The origin of Bloom’s money is the online data revolution. The engine of his fortune is Starlizard, a gambling consultancy company. With complex computer models and physical information about everything about clubs and players, Starlizard predicts the outcome of matches. With the investment of its wealthy investors – at least 2 million pounds for those who want to participate – Starlizard mainly bets on football via the massive Asian betting circuits. That data bulk also puts Bloom to work in a sporting way to scout players and put together teams, a trend that is taking off everywhere in football.
With the investment of its wealthy investors – minimum 2 million pounds for those who want to participate – Starlizard mainly bets on football via the massive Asian betting circuits.
Starlizard is a reference to Bloom’s nickname as a poker player, The Lizard. He owes this to his rational, hypothermic way of playing, as cold as lizard’s blood. Bloom is also active in horse racing, another British gambler’s favorite. It is unclear exactly how rich Bloom is. But rare indiscretions from his entourage confirm that the man is certainly a billionaire. His investment in his English club – he divides his time between his home base Brighton & Hove Albion and Australia – is estimated at several hundred million pounds. Brighton & Hove Albion lost 67 million pounds last season on sales of 133 million.