Embedded in the mountainous and rugged lands of Abruzzo, is the small town of Lanciano. It may be an innocuous town when compared to the large metropolitan cities of the north but Lanciano is steeped in tradition and folklore.
With that tradition and folklore being particularly of the Catholic variety. It is said to be the birthplace of Saint Longinus, the Roman centurion who pierced the side of Jesus with the Holy Lance at the site of the crucifixion. The Holy Lance which still adorns the towns crest to the present day.
More famously though it is known for the eighth century miracle, simply known as the ‘Miracle of Lanciano.’ A miracle which even to today many Catholics believe to be the greatest Eucharistic miracle of the Church.
The tale goes that in the town, then known by its Roman name of Anxanum, a monk from the local monastery was saying Mass. It is so told that this monk at the time was somewhat having a crisis of faith, particularly in relation to the act of transubstantiation (the changing of wine and bread into the Body and Blood of Christ) and whether the Lord was truly present in the Eucharist. As the monk approached the part of the mass where the consecration would take place the bread and wine in front of him miraculously transformed in to flesh and blood. Awestruck he called forward the congregation to bear witness. They then went forth to spread the good news and as for the monk, his doubt was no more and he believed.
Nearly 1300 years later in the same town the followers of calcio have also seen their faith enter a period of crisis. Home to a Serie B club, Virtus Lanciano, as recently as the 2015/16 season, this past year has seen football desert its shores.
Come the end of the gruelling 42 match slog that was the 15/16 season, the Frentani, as they were known, narrowly avoided relegation back into Serie C. Indeed, salvation came thanks only to a late equaliser on the last day of the season away to Livorno, who in turn were themselves relegated as a result. The respite however was purely temporary as a two-legged play-out against Salernitana was further required to make salvation sure once and for all.
For the club and its fans, it was a situation they felt aggrieved to be ever in, in the first place. Because early in the campaign they had been deducted four points for financial irregularities, four points of which if they had back would have seen them clear of all relegation danger. Slighted, the club were determined to maintain their Serie B status, but then so were opponents Salernitana. In the end the men from Salerno would prove far too strong for the Rossoneri winning 5-1 on aggregate.
Relegation was now assured but it was only the beginning of the nightmare to come. Later that summer on July 6th, four days after Italy were knocked out of the Euro’s, the club released a statement saying that due to the clubs’ financial position it would not be taking up its place in Serie C. 13 days later this was officially confirmed. The Lanciano that had just played in Serie B was dead.
Hope remained however that a team could be scrabbled together to compete in the amateur leagues, akin to what Parma had done. Alas it was not to be as on the 5th August came the notice that Lanciano had also been excluded from the amateur divisions. Calcio in Lanciano had ceased to exist.
It is now over a year since the football fields of this Abruzzian town were silenced and the dust had settled, but hope springs eternal. Like the monk of centuries before the people of Lanciano saw their belief tested and wain, only for it to be renewed from an unlikely source.
Back at the end of May it was announced that a new club was to be born. Lanciano 1920 was conceived and took over the sporting title of nearby Marcianese. It was all well and good for the project but for it to really win legitimacy it had to win over the fans as one local website put it orphaned by the demise of Virtus.
Thankfully for them the fans followed bestowing on them to be the heir to Virtus Lanciano. Five months on the new Lanciano 1920 currently sit on a 100% record in the Abruzzo Prima Categoria Girone B. The seventh tier it may be for now, certainly a long, long way from the days of Serie B, but it does not matter for the followers of the Frentani. After a year without a club to follow, a year with no trips to the stadium with family and friends football in Lanciano is back and that is possibly another miracle to add to the list.