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Mike Piazza and Reggiana: When underdog bites back

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The derby hadn’t been played in over 20 years, but that did not mean the fires of hatred had dimmed in any way. In fact, the opposite was very much the case, as close to 20,000 flocked to the stadium for this Serie C match, this Derby Del’Enza between Reggiana and Parma

In the stands the atmosphere was explosive, passionate and mesmerising, a true derby. And as the players slowly made their way onto the pitch the Ultras tifo’s were unveiled and the flares and smoke bombs wafted into the night sky. About a quarter of the way up the Curva a large banner attempts to get its point across to the players on the pitch and the Parma fans in the away end. Its final two words read in bold capital letters OUR CITY.

On the one hand a truthful statement indeed, but on the other it is one tinged with a degree of doubt. Reggiana are the club of Reggio Emilia, they are the sole club to represent the city, but they are not the only club to play in the city. Another, attempts to usurp the land and farm it for their own cause whilst also keeping the true heir under their heel. A club that has grown from almost nothing to a familiar name amongst the ranks of the top flight. This attempt at suppression however has been met with words of rage and passion by Reggiana’s owner, a certain Mike Piazza, who is determined to see his club grow and flourish once again.

It is a story that has been told on the pages of this website before, but one well worth repeating in an attempt to provide context to the remarks of Mike Piazza in recent days.

It’s 1995, two years after Reggiana had secured their first promotion into the realm of Serie A and the brand spanking new Stadio Citta del Tricolore is about to play host to its first match. Over 22000 turn up that day to watch Reggiana host Juventus and it looks to be the beginning of a new glorious era for the Emilian club.

And why not, the stadium is the first non-publicly financed football ground in Italy. Football in Reggiana looks set to be on the march. Flashforward to 2013 and rather than being at the forefront of the Italian game things have turned almost unbearably sour for the club. Accusations that they had been sold a lie by the local council in regards the development of the area around the stadium, saw the club spiral into debt and ultimately bankruptcy. The control of the stadium has been taken from their hands, but they remain as tenants, yet, another hammer blow is hurtling down the tracks.

Come December 2013 the stadium is put up for sale by the new owners at 30% of its value. For a third division club like Reggiana this still remains outside their budget. Nonetheless they scrap together what they can to buy the ground back. A ground that when originally built was done so with the hard-earned money of loyal supporters. However, a powerful individual emerges in opposition, a certain Giorgio Squinzi. Squinzi’s vast wealth sees him easily outbid Reggiana. Now owning the stadium, Squiniz simply moves his own club Sassuolo in making them the owners and Reggiana their tenants.

It is a humiliating situation for the fans of Reggiana, the ground they helped fund, was now owned by a club not from their city or even province. While they pay rent on the turf that was once theirs into the back pocket of Squiniz and Sassuolo.

This was the lay of the land when Baseball legend Mike Piazza took over the running of the club in June 2016. Having been looking to invest in an Italian club for a while Piazza finally grasped the opportunity to take control of Reggiana, but perhaps did not envision the extent of the problems facing him in growing the club in an area of Italy saturated with more historically successful clubs.

Despite still being down in Serie C there is no doubt that Reggiana are in a better position to where they were before Piazza took over and for some that may present a threat. A threat that Piazza is becoming ever increasingly aware to as seen from his explosive press conference at the beginning of this month.

In a 13-minute press conference Piazza raged against the injustices faced by his club. Calling out Sassuolo owner Squiniz on numerous occasions in regard what he saw as extortionate rent his club is being forced to pay given their resources as a third-tier club. With fists banging against the table Piazza stood up for his team with a burning passion declaring that Reggiana is going nowhere and that they were the team of Reggio Emilia, not Sassuolo.

Annoyed and frustrated by Squiniz’s unwillingness to budge on reducing the rent, Piazza has called on the local government to find a solution to the situation and reiterated that his club were not going to be “pushed around by a multi-billion-dollar corporation, the stadium was built for this team by these PEOPLE.”

His desire to see Reggiana improve both on and off the pitch is clear, but whether this fiery talk will amount to anything is another matter altogether. The problem he faces is that the cards are in Sassuolo’s favour for now. They own the ground and play at a higher level and having taken so long to reach the top they will do whatever is necessary to remain there. And whatever necessary is not playing nice with Reggiana. For the Granata are a club with the greater potential to grow and this is a direct threat to Sassuolo, whose potential existence to remain in the top tier relies on keeping Reggiana down.

With the fire in his belly a flamed, Piazza looks ready to take on the powers that be. Whether that will be successful or not is another thing altogether, but one thing is for sure things are getting hot and heavy in Reggio Emilia. Mike Piazza and Reggiana may be underdogs in this story but they are biting back.

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I am obsessed with Italian football. Will watch any and every level of the game. My allegiance lies with Parma.

@ItalianFD

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