It was a Saturday afternoon, 12:37pm to be precise on the tenth of July 1976, and 20km’s to the north of Milan the inhabitants of the small town of Seveso were settling into their weekend.
Nearby the local chemical plant was also winding down for the weekend. Despite the dangerous substances that were dealt with at the plant it was never really seen as a danger by the local populace but on this tragic day all was about to change. As the factory shut down one of the buildings where the chemicals were stored began to overheat, quickly the pressure in the building rose to an unmanageable level causing an explosion, which vented roughly six metric tonnes of toxic gas, known as Dioxin (A cancer causing gas), out into the atmosphere.
This cloud of toxic gas would quickly make its way over the town of Seveso and not be long in making its effects known. In a TIME, article written one month after the explosion the effects of the gas cloud were described, with it initially affecting animals, “One farmer saw his cat keel over and when he went to pick up its body, the tail fell off. When the authorities dug up the cat for examination two days later, said the farmer, all that was left was its skull.”
While animals were the first to feel its effects, people also soon began to become ill. Again, from the TIME piece, “It was four days before people began to feel its effects – including nausea, blurred vision and especially among children, the disfiguring sores of a skin disease known as chloracne.”
The response to the disaster was seen by many as being wholly inefficient, several days went by before the news was announced that the toxic gas had in fact being released and few days after that before evacuations began. It remains one of the worst environmental disasters ever seen in Europe.
As for the company which controlled the plant, ICEMSA, it no longer exists. Indeed, in the close by city of Meda on the exact ground where the company responsible for the disaster was set up something new entirely stands in its place. That being a quaint little football stadium home to current Serie C Girone B table toppers AC Renate 1947.
Home to barely over 4000 people the tiny town of Renate, in the province of Monza and Brianza is one of the last places in Italy one would go looking for a professional quality football team. But here sandwiched between lake Como and the fashion capital that is Milan is exactly where one is to be found.
Born two years after the end of the Second World War by a group of football mad locals. The Blue and Black colours that adorn their backs to the present day were chosen in honour or Inter whom many of the Renatesi locals had a kind affection for.
Since then for the Pantere it has been an existence consigned almost primarily to the lower amateur levels of the game. Reaching only the highest sphere of the non-professional ranks back in the 05/06 season. What followed was five years of unspectacular finishes (barring a 2nd place in 08/09), still it was not something to be scoffed at. For a club of its size and reputation five consecutive years of Serie D football was an outstanding achievement and one that was about to get a whole lot better.
Despite only finishing fifth in the 09/10 campaign and being eliminated in the national play-offs, the club were duly plucked from the league by the then Lega Pro to fill a raft of vacancies. The tiny club from Italy’s industrial heartland were now rubbing shoulders with historic names of the game, like seven times scudetto winners Pro Vercelli.
Far from being overawed the Pantere more than held their own, finishing an extremely credible fifth in the old Seconda Divisione. The professional ranks are where they have remained ever since, with 17/18 being their eighth year on the trot rubbing shoulders with many a club who would continue them an inferior.
As for that current season it has so far been one of pleasant surprises. Tipped by many a so-called expert and probably a number among their own fanbase to struggle the club have so far compounded the impression of them as potential cannon fodder. Sitting as they are pretty near the top on 21 points after ten matches.
How has this been achieved one may ask? Well it certainly not down to financial muscle, but rather good old-fashioned teamwork and self-belief. Devoid of any big names even for this level the players have so far cultivated a winning mentality that has seen them brush aside more respected names like Padova, Reggiana and Triestina.
As for the manager, well he is not part of a new up and coming breed of coaches that is pioneering the way for a new-aged tactical masterclass, but rather an ultimately unsuccessful 48-year-old.
Indeed, Roberto Cevoli’s last spell in charge of a club lasted only seven matches at Civitanovese in which he picked up a paltry 0.14 points a match. Before that he was in Albania, but didn’t even get time to unpack lasting as he did only three games. All in all, the longest Cevoli has lasted at any club was 32 matches and that was with Monza over seven years ago.
What’s more to their remarkable start to the season is that it has been often done in the face of overwhelming opposition support, as Renate’s average attendance of 468 is the fourth smallest across all three Serie C Girone’s.
With all this put into context, the unheralded squad, a journeyman manager and an average attendance not even hitting 500, Renate’s start to the season has been nothing short of fantastical.
It is fair to say that with so much of the season to go Renate are still not tipped by many to last the pace. But then everyone expected Leicester to fall away but look how that ended.
Some 20km’s away from the bright dazzling lights of the San Siro on the fields of Renate a new dream is being imagined, a dream that has the potential to write new historic chapter in Calcio history.
The dream of tiny Renate.