Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is renowned for art and culture. It is therefore quite apt that it has a stadium that is one of the best examples of 20th century architecture in the whole of the city.
Designed by architect Pier Luigi Nervi the stadium includes a huge tower called the “Tower of Marathon” which is 230ft tall. The concrete stadium has superb Roman style pillars at the entrance and once inside there is a perfect view from whatever seat you are given.
The stadium was renovated for the 1990 World Cup and the changes were most notable when they removed the running track and adding extra seating. This now makes the stadium a purpose built football arena and the large capacity creates an electric atmosphere.
One fantastic attribute this stadium has is that from the stands you can look out onto the rolling Tuscan hills, a view which is truly breath taking.
The Ultras on the Curva Fiesole are known as La Vecchia Guardia Firenze and are loud well organised and fiercely anti Juventus. If you are going to watch football in Italy this is a venue that should be near the top of the list.
The Derby against Bologna is also potent (I had fireworks thrown at me at this match in the stadium)
Key Ultra Groups: Ultras Viola & CAV - Colletivo Autonomo Viola
Other Ultra/Fan Groups: Legione Viola (Purple Legion), Guelfi (Guelphs), Granducato (Grand Duchy), L’Alcool Campi (Alcohol Campi – signifying fields or a province called Campi in Florence), Vieussex, Settebello (Beautiful seven), Fiorenza 93, Firenze Ultras, Gruppo Storico Ultras V.’73, Aficionados, Urban Crew, Alterati (Altered state – drug related), Fedelissimi (Stalwart faith), Bomber Group, Pazzi di lei (Crazy for Fiorentina), Sindrome Viola (Purple Syndrome), Vecchio Stampo (Old Fashioned), Stati Liberi del Tifo (Supporters Free State), Viola Korps, Gruppo Signa (Signa Group) and MANY others!!!
In 1289, a schism between the Pro-Papal Guelph forces of Florence and the imperial Ghibelline forces of Arezzo culminated in a brutal conflict at the Battle of Campaldino. This battlewas part of the long struggle between the popes and Holy Roman Emperors for power in Italy. It also reflected the fervent civic rivalries of the era, rivalries which remain to this day. On the blood strewn plains of Campaldino the Florentines and their allies triumphed. It was a victory that secured the Guelphs in Florence. The Tuscan Republic would go onto to become the birthplace of the Renaissance, a civic colossus on the Italian peninsula. Florence remains a city of unquestionable prestige and though the days of civic war are over, the city’s team – Fiorentina provide an outlet for campanilismo – or local patriotism. Expressions of Guelphism are often seen at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and under the aegis of the Ultras the city’s medieval splendour lives on. The rich heritage of Florence has seen the metropolis and its football club viewed by the supporters as one entity, a victory for La Viola being a victory for Florence. The team is the city’s symbolic army and it is these cultural nuances that set Fiorentina supporters apart in the world of the Italian ultras.
Fiorentina are said to have the 6th largest following in Italy and this is exemplified in their numerous Ultra groups (I lost count around 100). This perhaps reveals a trait particular to Florence, the need for individuality and ingenuity are entwined with the city’s glorious past. The first origins of Viola fan groups can be traced back to 1965 with the formation of Vieussex (the name of a historic library in Florence) and Settebello (Beautiful 7). These two groups are present on the Curva today, with Vieussex residing in the Curva Ferrovia and Settebello in the Curva Fiesole, the heartbeat of the Artemio Franchi.
One of the more renowned groups to have resided in the Curva Fiesole is the Ultras Viola (Purple Ultras). Formed in 1973, a vicious fight with the Genovese led some supporters to create a group of “super supporters” who could compete with any adversary. Founded and led by a man called Stefano Biagini aka ‘Pump’ this period is described by a Viola Ultra as the ‘glorious 70’s’ characterised by violent clashes, stolen banners, stadiums without police beatings, dangerous away days and above all the years of ‘Calcio vero’ (uncorrupted football). Despite the group’s prominence the Ultras Viola disbanded just 10 years after their inception following violent exchanges with Romanisti which saw their twinning with the Romans come to an abrupt end. Stolen banners (which both fans blamed on each other) sparked a irreconcilable quarrel and this combined with a rise in eminence of Colletivo Autonomo Viola or CAV (Autonomous Purple Collective) led to a changing of the guard. Created in 1978, CAV took a central position on the Curva and despite their dissolution in 2011 the group’s vestiges have ensured that the Fiesole remains one of the most vivacious Curvas on the peninsula.
It is also worth highlighting Alcool Campi (Alcohol Campi) a clan who lived a brief but fiery existence. Tempestuous in nature this group were said to be the culprits in an infamous incident already alluded to in this series where Fiorentina Ultras launched petrol bombs onto a train full of Bologna fans. A 14 year old tragically died and Alcool Campi quickly ceased to exist.
“Neither left nor right” has always been the motto of Fiorentina’s Ultras who have predominately refused political affiliation. This however does not have any bearing on their twinning’s and rivalries, epitomised in their longstanding friendship with Hellas Verona fans (traditionally right-wing) after ex-Fiorentina players joined the Gialloblu and helped them to their one and only Scudetto in 1985.
It is impossible to talk about Fiorentina without mentioning their virulent hatred for Juventus. When the Bianconeri come to the Artemio Franchi a furore rages across the city. The origins of this rivalry date back to the 1981/82 Serie A season in which the Viola had the Scudetto snatched from their grasp by Juventus on account of some dubious refereeing. This rivalry was accentuated when Fiorentina’s cult hero Roberto Baggio was sold to Juventus in 1990, triggering riots across the city.
In parts of the Tuscan capital you can buy stickers which read; zona anti-gobbizzata – hunchback-free zone. Hunchbacks are seen as lucky in Italy thus the nickname was patented for Juventus, a team seen as notoriously lucky. In what must be a sight to behold, albeit a strange one, Fiorentina fans have also been known to perform a ritual on players signed from Juventus in which they are ‘de-hunchbacked’. However this rivalry can take on a more sinister nature, with some Viola fans taunting their rivals about the Heysel tragedy which claimed the lives of 39 Juventini. Fiorentina fans have been known to wear Liverpool merchandise when facing their Turin adversaries, and following the tragedy in 1985 a banner was revealed by Fiorentina Ultras reading “39 less hunchbacks”. Juventus fans claim this is the reason for CAV’s attempt to befriend Liverpool fans back in 2009 after the two met in the Champions League.
Despite this the Fiorentina Ultras are renowned for their loyalty, sarcasm and irony. They are no strangers to decrying the club’s hierarchy or the team itself if they feel things aren’t being done to their lofty Florentine standards. Former owner Vittorio Cecchi Gori, whose disastrous tenure at the club culminated in bankruptcy and demotion to Serie C2 in 2002 can certainly vouch for this. Viola fans had to endure the humiliation of losing the club name for a year, which became Florentia Viola, and 30,000 of them descended on the city centre to make their feelings known to Cecchi Gori.
The hub of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is synonymous with famous names including Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli and the Medici. The Fiorentina Ultras take untrammelled pride in the city’s cultural history and the Artemio Franchi has become something of a holy ground for the Viola fanatics. Awash with purple and white the stadium can produce electrifying atmospheres and decorative choreographies that even the greatest Florentine artists would be proud to call their own.
CLASSIC PLAYER: GABRIEL BATISTUTA (BATIGOL)
When Diego Maradona claimed that Gabriel Batistuta was the best striker that has ever graced the face of the earth, nobody lifted an eyebrow. No greater praise can be heaped on the man known as ‘Batigol’ as his powerful play and deadly ability in the box made his feared throughout his career.
Fiorentina have often had (and still do have) fantastic offensive players but none have compared to Batistuta. In 1991 when he signed from Boca Juniors nobody would have expected the impact that he would have on Italian Football.
In a nine year period in Florence, the Argentine phenomenon received almost religious adulation from the Curva Fiesole. This fervent worship of their new hero was created through his god given ability to score goals. Serie A was in its pomp and known throughout the world for boasting some of the toughest defenses of all time. All of them however, without exception feared Batigol like he was the devil himself.
To put his goal scoring record into context, he is in the top ten all-time leading goals scorers in Serie A history. He scored 168 goals in 269 games for Fiorentina and 184 goals in 318 matches in his time in Italy. This equals a goal approximately every 1.7 matches which is simply breathe taking.
Batistuta did not seek the lime light and was also a loyal servant to the ‘Viola’. He stayed with them in during relegation to Serie B in 1992/93 and helped them return to the top flight. He turned down moves from bigger clubs although his loyalty unfortunately did not see him rewarded with a Serie A title with Fiorentina. When he eventually left he walked away with a Serie B medal, a Coppa Italia winner’s medal ad a Super Coppa Italiana trinket to his name. The nearest he got to the title was in 1998/99 when Firenze looked odds on to win the title, however, in week 20 he pulled up with a hamstring injury and the ‘Viola’ missed out to Milan.
Roma eventually turned his head in 2000 and he left the Renaissance city and transferred his predatory instincts to the Eternal City. There he would also become a legend helping Roma to win only their third title in a season that will go down in Giallorossi history. He scored 30 times in 63 games for Roma before being loaned to Inter in his later years for a less successful spell.
For a striker he had everything, power pace skill, ariel ability strength, confidence and seemingly never ending form. It is infact hard to think of another striker from this era who was more complete or a deadly. When Calcio ruled the world Maradona was watching and thinking ‘Nobody is better than Batigol’
Not your normal Calcio blog, The Gentleman Ultra struts, preens and then throws a flare in your face….highly recommended
The Stadio Sant’Elia lies in the beautiful setting of Sardinia and must be one of the most picturesque venues in the whole of Italy.
The stadium itself was built in 1970 following Cagliari’s first and last Scudetto triumph and has been recorded to have held 70,000.
The ground went through major refurbishing for the 1990 World Cup Finals in which the capacity was reduced to 39,905. Fans from the UK may recognise this stadium as England team were based here in 1990. They played their group matches here in the afore mentioned World Cup.
In the last 20 years the form of the team has seen the club bounce between two divisions and the attendances have dropped. A controversial move was made to erect two new stands over the running track in the North and South ends of the stadiums so that the fans had a better view and the capacity was dropped to 23,486. This effectively has created a Stadium within a stadium and certainly gives it a strange appearance.
The atmosphere in this stadium can be quite a laid back one for the Italian game, although against rival teams the Cagliari Ultras especially the Sconvolts 87 can produce some excellent choreographed displays. The form of the team really does have an effect on the feeling in the stadium, although as an island people the volume can be cranked up when necessary.
Recent times saw the stadium close due to the Local Authorities branding it unsafe. This saw a move to the equally unsafe Stadio Is Arena and eventually the farcical games in Trieste last season.
Now there are renovations taking place in order to make the Stadio Sant’Elia Cagliari’s home once more. They are playing in it at present but not getting more than nine thousand attending. The plan is to reduce this to 16 thousand.
The debate still roles on with appeals and court cases about how this ground should be developed. All Sardinians are hoping that soon this will be resolved and they can watch their football in a beautiful environment again.
Key Ultra Groups: Sconvolts & Furiosi
Other Ultra Groups: Fossa Ultras, Commando Ultras Supporters Young, Cagliari Ultras Curva Nord, Eagles, I Crazy Boys, Brigata S. Elia (S. Elia Brigade), Panthers, Rebels, I Miserabili (The Wretches), I Weltschmerz (The World Weariness), Bunker Skin, Vecchie Facce (Old Faces).
In John Foots book - Calcio: a history of Italian football – there is a striking vignette of a funeral procession being led by Cagliari fans following their Serie A triumph in 1970. The Cagliaritani are carrying little coffins through their narrow cobbled streets mourning La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady). After beating them to the title the fans have decided to bury Juventus. It is a typical example of how Italians often mix Calcio with religious sentiments. It also demonstrates the Cagliaritani’s sardonicism, a word entirely appropriate due to its definition and etymology (the Greeks believed eating a plant from Sardinia caused facial convulsions resembling those of sardonic laughter).
Cagliari is the biggest club on the Sardinian island. Their ground Lo Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia has only recently started to host games again due to its decrepit state however in the late 1980’s its Curva Nord was renowned for being one of the most colourful and vibrant in Italy, producing spectacular choreographies with witty and innovative banners. This was partly inspired by the birth of Cagliari’s most famous Ultra groups, the Sconvolts in 1987 and I Furiosi in 1989. The Sconvolts, whose name comes from the word sconvolto - shocked or deranged, were formed as a subgroup of both the Cagliari Ultras Curva Nord and Eagles 1985. I Furiosi (The Furious) on the other hand was formed by ex-members of the Sconvolts and a number of other small groups.
The Ultras of Cagliari are an unorthodox bunch and they differentiate themselves as “duro e puro” – ‘tough and pure’. It is an aphorism which suits them. Unlike many Italian Ultras they were renowned not for their violent nature, but for their dedication and passion, especially during la trasferta (the away day). This was largely down to geography. For many the ferry was the only viable option and we are not talking about Dover to Calais. Cagliari to Rome takes 13 hours and that doesn’t include travel on the mainland. Despite the long and gruelling journeys the Ultras relished la trasferta and their stalwart support for I Rossoblu has earned them respect all over Italy.
Yet in what is becoming a recurring theme, deep underlying divisions existed between their principal groups. This was born from a difference in mentality and ideology. While the Sconvolts remained apolitical, I Furiosi held right wing sympathies and this meant they had their own twinningsand rivalries. Up until 2012 the Sconvolts only recognised true ties with Foggia whereas I Furiosi had friendships with the Veronese, Interisti and Wild Kaos Atalanta. The latter also developed a famous rivalry with the Milanisti after they managed to steal a Furiosi striscione (banner) at one of Cagliari’s home games. To put an anglo-historical twist on it, losing a striscione to a rival is shameful; it is the modern day equivalent of losing the king’s colours in battle. This shame was compounded when the Milan Ultras proceeded to reveal this banner at the next game between the two sides. One account even reports a grown man crying with despair at the sight of it. The incurable differences between the Cagliaritani meant they occupied different positions on the Curva Nord and in 2003 this conflict reached its peak.
That year the Sconvolts travelled to their game against Verona with the sole aim of revenge. It was meticulously planned. They travelled in small groups as not to attract attention from the police. Arriving in the city they gathered behind the Curva Sud of the Stadio Bentegodi (the realm of the Verona Ultras) and they waited with iron bars, sticks and smoke grenades. All hell broke loose, a bar was wrecked, fights raged with the Veronese, two police were hospitalised and 33 Sconvolts were arrested. In the aftermath of the fight the Veronese posted the following on a fan forum “It was a fair fight, without the use of knifes… Honour and respect to the Sconvolts”. The tranquil reputation that followed the Cagliaritani had vanished. But here comes the truly shocking part. This vendetta was a consequence of events that had occurred in Cagliari 5 months earlier. At the corresponding home fixture members of I Furiosi had teamed up with Verona Ultras and attacked the Sconvolts. It was the gravest of insults and one the Sconvolts could not ignore. The Furiosi later disbanded that year and although the exact reasons are hard to ascertain it was certainly connected to this incident.
Today the Sconvolts remain famous across Italy. Although their numbers have dwindled due to a large proportion of their recent home games being played in Trieste (666 miles away), their old adage of “pochi ma buoni” – ‘few but good’is truer now than ever. They remain passionate and loyal and their slogan “Essere ultras esserlo nella mente” – ‘Being Ultras is a state of mind’ is famous nationwide. This is encapsulated in a quote by a member of the Sconvolts:
“Nobody in their right mind would leave their family on a Saturday to travel to Trieste to watch the last game of the season with nothing riding on it. It’s the purest of passion with no logic”
CLASSIC PLAYER: Enzo Francescoli
When Ariel Ortega had his testimonial for River Plate in 2012 he invited many legends that had worn the famous white and red shirt. It was not Ortega that stole the show however, in fact it was 50 year old Enzo Francescoli who scored four goals including a spectacular bicycle kick.
The Uruguayan of Italian decent was one of the most talented players to emerge out of South America in the 1980’s and 90’s. Nicknamed ‘Ill Principe’ his official position was attacking midfield but like so many of the great players whether Pele, Maradona, Zidane, Messi or Ronaldo to name but a few, it is sometimes impossible to really put a pin in where they actually play.
It was this fluidity and superb movement that saw him become idolised by many. One aspiring player who watched him avidly during the 1989-90 season in Marseille was Zinadine Zidane. So much influence did the Uruguayan have on ‘Zizou’ that the French World Cup winner not only waxed lyrical about his hero in later years but he also names his son Enzo Zidane.
Francescoli arrived in Sardinia in 1990 after signing for Cagliari after the 1990 World Cup. Serie A was the world’s best league by some distance and the creative South American only added to its riches. In three seasons with Cagliari Francescoli played 98 times and scored 17 goals. Along with fellow Uruguayans Marcelo Tejera and Jose Herrera the Sardinians finished 6th in 1992/93 qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
Ill Principe led by example during this period and flourished in the division showcasing some mesmerising ability. His skill level was second to none and his quick burst of speed matched with his incredible calmness saw him glide past defenders with considerable ease.
His finishing was immaculate and although his first thought was always to set up a team mate his ability to strike from distance or one on one with the keeper was exemplary. He had a knack of hitting the ball early when approaching an oncoming keeper that would catch the custodian at his weakest point and ultimately result in a goal. His set pieces also seemed to have tranquillity about them, even if 35 yards out he seemed to have the ability to stroke the ball into the net as though he was putting a brush to canvas.
Seeing Francescoli at this time was quite simply a pleasure and although he moved to Torino for a season in 1993 it was in Sardinia that he really made his mark. Serie A had some of the best defenders ever seen in world football at this time and too many of them had sleepless nights thanks to Ill Principe.
When Calcio ruled the world, Zidane was watching Francescoli in awe.