He staggered down the street, clearly the worse for wear. The faded jeans, leather jacket and slicked back jet-black hair making him look like an F grade Elvis impersonator.
As I stared out the window, of our rented car, at our clearly intoxicated friend a road sign became visible a few yards in front of him. On it simply was the picture of a football and the words Stadio Comunale.
These are my abiding memories of the town of Fiorenzuola d’Arda as we headed northwards to Milan. And despite the insignificance of these events in the grand scheme of my life they have for some reason stuck with me years later.
Sandwiched between the larger cities of Piacenza and Parma, Fiorenzuola is typical of many a small town in Italy, having flourished during the Roman period. Centred on the ancient Via Emilia road network the town established itself as an important centre of trade in the region. Today the town is home to some 15,000 people.
And on the city limits of where those 15000 rest their head each night lies the Stadio Comunale. A stadium that despite small in stature lays claim to its own uniqueness. Opened in October 1923 a year after its tenants Unione Sportiva Fiorenzuola were founded, it has been their home ever since. Modernised in the 1980’s to include a Velodrome, it remains one of the few Stadio/Velodrome combos to remain in active use.
As for the football club itself its history is long and eventful but perhaps not best known by those who do not call the region home. With many of its 96 years spent in the regional and amateur leagues of Italy. Like a surprising amount of small town clubs however Fiorenzuola have had their moment in the spotlight during the 1990’s. Spending an uninterrupted 12-year spell in the professional ranks, rising as high as third place in the old Serie C1 only one step off Serie B.
Since the turn of the Millennium though the club has suffered through somewhat of a lean phase, dropping all the way back down to the Eccellenza division. Most of the 2000’s though has been spent in Serie D fighting for the clubs’ survival both on and off the pitch. In the 2015/16 season the club were proven out of their depth at the Serie D level and once more relegated, only to be saved by the failures financially of those around them. The season after saw survival obtained but beyond that there seemed to be little in the way of upward momentum.
This season again the club set out its stall in pre-season, with survival being the goal. The appointment of 37-year-old Alessio Dionisi as manager looked to have cemented the club’s ambitions of just maintaining the status quo. But Dionisi, who had previously had spells at Olginatese and Borgosesia, began to put together a squad that would make the locals dream once again.
A good start to the campaign was a must if the club were to reach their stated goals and a draw away to title favourites Rimini proved just so. This was quickly followed up by another draw and then two wins on the bounce. And as the weeks went by the Rossoneri simply forgot how to lose and now rather than sinking into the marshes of relegation they were looking down upon everyone from on high.
Given every chance Dionisi continued to stress that the goal at the beginning of the season remained the same. However, as the favourites and more established clubs continued to fall at their sword this became less and less believable. Even when things looked to have stumbled ever so slightly they were dug out by the heroics of 21-year-old keeper Alessandro Vagge. Vagge, who began his career in the Chievo youth system before moving on to Feralpi Salo, is in his second year with the club and has quickly established himself as a fan favourite. And is a prime example of a keeper who may have been released too soon by those from the upper echelons.
While it is handy to have someone of class keeping out the goals it is also crucial to have another who can bang them in and that is what they have found in the shape of Davide Bosio. At 25 Bosio has spent his career at this level, carving out a niche as a reliable striker with a goal every 2.5 matches. This season though he has exploded, notching up 11 in his 19 appearances so far.
This unlikely run has seen a buzz form around the club with a season high attendance of 600 for their last match before the winter break. Which itself was a 3-1 win over Aquila Montevarchi. Yet no sooner had that match finished then attention turned to the first match of 2018 against Rimini. The Biancorossi currently sit in second only a point behind Fiorenzuola and remain the favourites to claim the solitary promotion spot.
However, belief is high amongst the home team and its support. Rimini may have the reputation and history on their side, but they matter for little when both sides take to the pitch on Sunday afternoon.
The season high attendance is expected to be smashed as locals make their way the Comunale in the hope that their sides unlikely rise will continue unabated. Anything other than a defeat (Which would only be their 2nd of the season) will see that so.
The odds remain stacked against them, injuries and suspensions have hampered their preparation, but then they were not supposed to be in this position in the first place. They were the good luck story, but expected to fall away, not up the tempo. So, they are more than capable of fighting back against adversity.
Fiorenzuola are causing a stir and even defeat won’t stop that. But then whose talking of defeat, Fiorenzuola are out for the win and the chance to silence those who see themselves as their betters.