A Brief Guide to Italian Football

Alex

Italy is world famous for its rich culture and passionate citizens. Your average Italian is bound to love at least one from the following list – peerless cuisine, fast sports cars and the latest fashions on the catwalks of Milan. During my travels around Italy there is one thing that has trumped all of these with its displays of visceral elation and crushing disappointment – football.

My love of calcio started when I was young. I didn’t really support a football team as I’d never inherited one like most people do. I chose Lecce as my team, the birthplace of my grandfather and a city I’d never even visited at that point. Years of playing Championship Manager and looking up their scores on the nascent internet stoked my hunger to go there and see them in person. Finally, on 18 February 2001, my dreams came true. I flew to Rome with my Dad and we got tickets to sit with the Lecce fans in the Stadio Olimpico and watch them play Roma!

Heartbreakingly Lecce lost 1-0 but it didn’t dampen my interest – far from it! The huge colourful banners, flares spraying sparks into the sky and smoke bombs going off around the packed out stadium were both terrifying and mesmerising in equal measure – this was pure passion on display! In the years since, I’ve seen them lose to Fiorentina, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Udinese. Thankfully there have also been some highs along the way, with victories against Siena and Albinoleffe, and being there in person to witness their biggest ever achievement – winning Serie B back in 2010.

Some people may not associate Italy with football but the history of the beautiful game there dates back well over a century, and traces its roots back to British sailors arriving on Italian quaysides, round leather balls in hand. For example, Juventus are famous the world over, making it rather amusing that The Old Lady of Italian football owe their trademark black and white vertical striped shirts to the less well-known Notts County. In the early days they played in pink with black ties! The shirts fell apart and in an quirk of fate an Englishman who was a friend of the club helped them source new shirts – a friend of his shipped over a crate of shirts from his local team, Notts County, and as they say, the rest is history.

Italy may not have invented the game but they have gone on to create some of football’s greatest moments. Their performances in the World Cup are second only to Brazil; Italy have won the biggest prize in football an impressive four times. Their most recent victory came in 2006 after a gap of 24 years. I am happy to say that I was in my favourite restaurant in my favourite city to watch the whole thing with friends. My earliest football memories are from the 1994 World Cup. England failed to qualify so I supported the team of my forefathers. I will always remember the moment that Roberto Baggio blazed his penalty over the crossbar in the final against Brazil – so near, yet so far. Standing up with my eyes glued to the screen I was praying that Fabio Grosso would score his spot kick and avoid the disappointment I knew only too well…  he did and everyone went crazy! The next few hours are a dizzying memory of fireworks in the street, car horns honking long into the night and thousands of Italians pouring into the central square in Siena to celebrate the historic victory!

The current football season in Italy is only one week old and promises to deliver goals galore! Stereotypically, people imagine Italian football to be slow and low scoring. The defensive system of Catenaccio helped Italian teams dominate European competition by “locking the door” and preventing the opposition from scoring. Even though ill-informed TV pundits would have you believe that Italian football is exactly the same now as in years gone by I’m happy to say that times have well and truly changed. Last season Serie A had more goals scored than the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, the German Bundesliga and Ligue 1 in France. An impressive 1,024 goals were scored, including 22 a piece from the joint top scorers, Luca Toni (Hellas Verona) and Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan).

If you want to witness the colourful passion that is Italian football, I would urge everyone visiting Italy between August and May to head to the Stadio and take in 90 minutes of action!  The excitement of the occasion is sure to raise a smile from even the most ardent of football haters and if last year was anything to go by, you’ll hopefully see lots of goals.

Many of our destinations have top flight Serie A teams playing on their doorstep, take a look at the team fact files below to see what your options are.

 

A selection of teams from Serie A

 

Name: Bologna Football Club 1909
Founded: 1909
Stadium: Stadio Renato Dall’Ara
What’s nearby: The gastronomic city of Bologna
Best ever finish: Champions (7 times)
Star player: Lorenzo Crisetig, the Italy under 21 midfielder currently on loan from Inter Milan and destined for stardom.

 

Name: Genoa Cricket and Football Club
Founded: 1893
Stadium: Stadio Luigi Ferraris
What’s nearby: A handful of Ligurian gems including Sanremo, Portofino and Alassio.
Best ever finish: Champions (9 times)
Star player: 27-year-old Diego Perotti pulls the side’s creative strings and should shine this season.

 

Name: Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli
Founded: 1926
Stadium: Stadio San Paolo
What’s nearby: A host of villages on the Neapolitan Riviera including Sorrento, Ischia and Capri.
Best ever finish: Champions (2 times)
Star player: Marek Hamsik, the terrible-hairstyle-sporting Slovakian, is both captain and talisman for the Partenopei.

 

Name: Associazione Sportiva Roma
Founded: 1927
Stadium: Studio Olimpico
What’s nearby: Rome
Best ever finish: Champions (3 times)
Star player: The Bosnian giant Edin Dzeko will have the red and yellow half of Rome pinning their hopes on his goalscoring abilities.

 

Name: F.C. Internazionale Milano
Founded: 1908
Stadium: Giuseppe Meazza
What’s nearby: Milan
Best ever finish: Champions (18 times)
Star player: Joint top scorer Mauro Icardi scored 22 goals last season and all at Inter will be hoping for more of the same as they aim to get back to their best.

 

Name: Juventus Football Club
Founded: 1897
Stadium: Juventus Stadium
What’s nearby: Lake Maggiore
Best ever finish: Champions (31 times)
Star player: Some of the world’s richest teams have tried to buy him, but at the moment Paul Pogba is still a Juventus player – he dominates the midfield and is capable of scoring incredible goals.

 

Name: Associazione Calcio Firenze Fiorentina
Founded: 1926
Stadium: Stadio Artemio Franchi
What’s nearby: Florence
Best ever finish: Champions (2 times)
Star player: The injury-ravaged Guiseppe Rossi returns after a season on the sidelines, fans of La Viola will hope he can match the 16 goals he scored in 2013/14.

 

Name: Associazione Calcio Milan
Founded: 1899
Stadium: San Siro
What’s nearby: Milan
Best ever finish: Champions (18 times)
Star player: AC Milan have become the most recent club to gamble on the enigma that is Mario Balotelli – he can be brilliant, he can be awful, which Mario will they get?

 

Name: Sampdoria
Founded: 1946
Stadium: Stadio Luigi Ferraris
What’s nearby: A selection of Ligurian towns including Sanremo, Portofino and Alassio.
Best ever finish: Champions (1 time)
Star player: The Brazilian-born Eder was a revelation last season, everyone at Samp will hope that his inspired form continues in 2015/16.

 

Name: Palermo
Founded: 1900
Stadium: Stadio Renzo Barbera
What’s nearby: Palermo
Best ever finish: 8th
Star player: Not many players manage to achieve double digits for assists and goals in a season, last year Franco Vazquez was one of only three who did.

 

Name: Lazio
Founded: 1900
Stadium: Stadio Olimpico
What’s nearby: Rome
Best ever finish: Champions (2 times)
Star player: Lazio’s 22-year-old Brazilian Felipe Anderson has quick feet and is bound to score an impressive amount of goals and assists.

 

Name: Torino
Founded: 1906
Stadium: Stadio Olimpico
What’s nearby: Lake Maggiore
Best ever finish: Champions (7 times)
Star player: Torino’s chief on the pitch is Kamil Glik, he always gives his all and is the linchpin of Torino’s defence.

 

Name: Chievo Verona
Founded: 1929
Stadium: Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi
What’s nearby: Verona and Lake Garda
Best ever finish: 5th
Star player: The veteran striker Sergio Pellissier is now 36 years old but that didn’t stop a new three-year contract being signed – he’s a leader on and off the pitch.

 

Name: Hellas Verona
Founded: 1903
Stadium: Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi
What’s nearby: Verona and Lake Garda
Best ever finish: Champions (1 time)
Star player: 42 league goals in two seasons would be impressive for any striker, not least from a 38-year-old! It is easy to see why Hellas fans adore Luca Toni!

 

Have you ever been to watch football in Italy?