Some of you may be wondering just who exactly RRFC Montegnee are. Well tonight, in the village of Appledore in North Devon, we will find out for sure. But in the meantime here's a bit of background to our opponents.
To give them their full name, Royal Racing Football Club Montegnée have been in existence since 1915 and hail from the Saint-Nicolas area of Liège in Belgium, in the East part of the country. The Saint-Nicolas municipality has a population of 22,000.
They were formed from a merger of two clubs - FC Montegnee and FC Gosson, becoming Racing FC Montegnée. However, in 1952, they were awarded the Royal Stamp and changed their name to Royal Racing FC Montegnée
The club are a lot more anglicised than you would expect. For those anticipating a long list of Flemish and Dutch names to negotiate through on tonight's teamsheet, may be relieved to know that many of their players hail from English-speaking countries, and in fact that there are one or two familiar names. Former Yeovil Town midfielder Jamie Gosling has joined them this summer, whilst Martin Horsell, who once trialled for the Glovers, is one of their goalkeepers.
Their website claims that Portuguese striker Bruno Luz used to be with Yeovil Town, but unless he was one of the many Portuguese trialists we had at Potters Bar and Hillingdon Borough during last year's friendlies, this may be an error. Bruno has definitely visited Huish Park though - as a Queen's Park Rangers Youth player.
Elsewhere, amongst their list of 19 new signings is a mixture of Americans, Canadians, Spaniards ... and one rather lonely looking Belgian defender called Phillipe Crespin, who we hope speaks either English or spanish to fit in with the rest of his teammates. Even their official website is written entirely in English.
The reason for their rather Anglicised look appears to be their plans to market themselves as an educational establishment as well as a Football Club - a sort of a Team Bath for Belgium, only hopefully the Stade Joseph Vanstraelen looks a little nicer than Twerton Park. Their stadium has a capacity of 7,000 with 2,000 seats.
The move into the realms of academia is a fairly recent one, stemming from 2007, when they changed their focus to enable an "expansion into the worldwide academy market under new ownership with links to university programming and a worldwide club network". Their club mission statement is "to provide student athletes an opportunity to reach their optimal playing performance, while pursuing a professional degree. To create for individual students a ‘life changing experience in their social, cognitive and physical growth’".
The 'worldwide club network' plan didn't quite take off in England as they would have wanted it to. A three year sporting partnership with League Two side Bradford City launched in November 2007 was launched to enable the Yorkshire side to take advantage of those graduating from the Belgian club's academic schemes. But just under a year later, RRFC Montegnée terminated the agreement claiming that Bradford had failed to pay them for six months, and indicated that they would seek an alternative partnership with another English club.
Club President Paul Topping has explained how things work at Montegnée:
"They come at 18, for three years. They train every day and go to school every day. We've got our own university in the club. I don't think another club in the world has. The concept is not just to play football but to get a business degree as well. There's not enough education in football."
Of the tournament, he said it would be a new experience for the club:
"We're very much looking forward to this tournament. I don't think the boys know what to expect. The young lads play with no fear and we try to play good football. At the beginning of last season we were struggling and were bottom of the table by Christmas. But in the end we only missed out on the play-offs by two goals. We're not expecting to do anything (in the Challenge Cup) but it will be a great experience playing against two Football League teams and we won't be pushovers."
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