ITALIAN SERIE A

STADIO MARC ANTONIO BENTEGODI

7th APRIL 2012

ATTENDANCE: 11,000

It’s 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in northern Italy and the circus of Serie A rolls into town. On this particular Saturday it was the Donkeys against Elephants but the main act Hellas Verona are nowhere in sight.

If you are one of the thousands who have read A Season with Verona you will be aware the book is a non-fictional account tracking the story of a season in Serie A. The author follows Verona and a succession of league matches are detailed the length of Italy.

But aside from the teams on field Parks provides insightful commentary into the political status and history of Italy. He also explores modern perceptions of Verona as a city.  The surrounding Veneto region, Italian politics and the relations of Verona with other major Italian cities are major themes of the book.

One other theme is that of Chievo Verona the ‘other’ team from Verona. As Hellas Verona fight to stay in the league so lurking in the back of the authors thoughts are Chievo Verona the rivals of Hellas who are by then bidding to reach Serie A for the first time.

AC Chievo Verona

Hellas Verona had been crowned the champions of Italy in 1985 thanks to the goals of Galderisi and the powerful German Hans-Peter Briegel.  A huge contribution had come from the Dane Elkjær who in the same year finished second in the European Footballer of the Year awards.

Chievo were previously known as ‘Paluani Chievo’ and the team gained promotion to Serie C2 in 1986. As a consequence the club moved to the inner city Stadio Bentegodi the main sporting venue in Verona. Another promotion this time to Serie C1 followed in 1989.

By the early 1990’s a young man called Luca Campedelli became the youngest chairman of an Italian professional football club when he took charge at Chievo. He named Alberto Malesani as the head coach and the team won Serie C1 gaining promotion to Serie B.

Hellas Verona by then were a club starting to falter. Hellas we also conscious of the rise of its perceived lesser neighbours at Chievo.  The suggestion was that ‘Donkey’s would fly before Chievo played in Serie A’.  This comment stuck around with the title of ‘flying donkeys’ being used as a derogatory term to describe Chievo.

But by season 2000/2001 the donkeys really started to fly and the ‘flying donkeys’ went from being a derogatory term to being a badge of honour.  Luigi Del Neri was signed as coach and led Chievo by virtue of a third-place finish in Serie B to the top of Italian football.

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Chievo feel like visitors rather than permanent tenants at the stadium in Verona.

Although Hellas survived the 2000-2001 season by the following season they were a club really on the slide. Despite a side with noted names like Camoranesi, Mutu, Oddo and Gilardino Verona were relegated.  By 2007 Hellas were in Serie C1 and nearly at one stage went down in Serie C2.  It was not until 2011 and a play-off victory over Salernitana that Verona gained a place back in Serie B.

With both clubs sharing the inner city Stadio Bentegodi average crowds at both clubs have remained surprisingly similar despite Chievo being in the top division and Verona being nearer to Serie C2. Whilst Verona have legions of fans characterised by the well-known Brigate Gialloblu, Chievo have relied on the support of locals looking for something a little different.

Steadily a small fan culture has emerged at Chievo with groups of fans congregating. But the club continues to rely heavily on television money and football matches against the big five of Italian football.

The rivalry between Hellas and Chievo would appear to be far from embittered or hate filled. Both continue to share the stadium but the fans of Hellas Verona see the ground as its historical home.  Both sides share the infrastructure but to the average visitor it still feels like Verona’s ground.

Come match day a typical Verona home game will see numerous merchandise outlets and lines of concession stands selling food and football merchandise.  For Chievo it will almost certainly be different with very few merchandise stalls and what exists may well be dedicated to any visiting fans.

The real rivals of Hellas Verona would appear to be the established sides from the nearby regions including Vicenza, Brescia and Padova. The first ever derby of Verona in Serie A did not take place until 18th November 2001.

The Donkeys’ v Elephants

You need to start off early in a city like Verona given the surroundings.  It seems almost unfair that one city can have so much going for it in terms of scenery.  This is not a city that is visually stunning like Venice but the pavements are clean and there are countless historical buildings.

The scenic route of the river makes the city the perfect location for an early morning walk as the sun rises.

There are actually two ‘arena’ in Verona one of these of course being the Stadio Bentegodi which was used as a venue during Italia 90. The other is the ‘Arena di Verona’ a roman amphitheatre which hosts artistic events such as opera performances. For most football is not at the top of ‘must see’ things to do in Verona. More highbrow offerings such as opera or famous historical landmarks better hold the affections of both locals and visitors.

The contrast between football in Milan and Verona is stark. In the large city of Milan football merchandise is on sale everywhere but in Verona you struggle to find a club store selling Hellas Verona merchandise. Chievo products (outside of match-day) can be impossible to find.

This match kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.  The reasoning was the easter holiday period with Hellas Verona playing the previous day in Brescia.

Almost 960 km separate the eastern Sicilian port of Catania from Verona.  Catania themselves are doing relatively well in the current Serie A campaign.  The club have had a succession of high profile coaches in recent years including the Serbian Mihjailovic, former national team goalkeeper Zenga and Diego Simeone. The current coach is a young manager the former AS Roma and Fulham striker Vicenzo Montella.

Outside the Bentegodi there are is one shabby looking office structure selling match tickets to supporters of both clubs. Fans hand over ID cards and passports in exchange for match tickets to access the stadium.  The pricing structure for the 2011-2012 season for Chievo is split into three different price brackets depending on opposition. The game against Catania fell into the bracket of Fascia C resulting in tickets being available for the Curva Nord and Curva Sud for just €9.

Inside the Bentegodi feels like an Italia ’90 throwback.  It looks like the only developments have been the installation of new turnstiles to comply with new rules surrounding safety at Italian football.   The passage ways are old fashioned and even some Italia 90 signage remains in place. Inside the stadium has a bowl like feel and the scoreboard looks like something more benefitting of 1985.

Generally the Verona stadium is run down and shabby.  The Bentegodi is a shell well worthy of upgrade but this may only occur if Italy manages to host a UEFA international football tournament.

Around 10 minutes in and the rain starts crashing down in Verona. The running track which surrounds the pitch is soaked very quickly.  Playing for Chievo is the American midfielder Michael Bradley and it is the balding American who gives Chievo the lead with a right foot shot into the corner.

Not soon afterwards there is an almighty mess up in the Catania defence and the penalty awarded sees captain Pellissier give Chievo a two goal lead.

Despite being down to 10 men Catania soon become an attacking force.  The visitors mount repeated counter attacks on the Chievo goal and eventually grab one goal back thanks to an own goal from Andreolli.

At the start of the second half Chievo start quickly with Paloschi restoring the two goal lead. But again this goal only seems to galvanise Catania and they reduce the deficit thanks to a smart finish from Almiron.  Despite attack after attack there was no way back for Catania and it ended 3-2 to the home side.

Looking back on this game the best team were probably Catania in terms of football played.  Bar a catastrophic defensive mix-up in the first half that led to a penalty they may well have won the game.

Atmosphere wise all the efforts at colour creation came from the home ends but the 100 or so from Catania contributed to the event.

Chievo continue to be seen as the second club in Verona.  In many ways the club still feel like guest lodgers at the Bentegodi. Since a rise through the Italian leagues they have built up some sort of fanbase with crowds that generally average between 9,000 and 13,000. The club have gained many different supporters groups who can be found inside the stadium during home matches.

Chievo have come a long way since the ‘flying donkeys’ title was first mentioned.  At the time of writing the club are still waiting to progress in European competition but they look settled and established in Serie A alongside more traditional clubs like Sampdoria and Udinese.

Catania are known as the Elephants and an image of the animal appears on the club emblem. Far from a matchup between circus animals this was a very good game of football which although not entirely engrossing was highly worthy of such a famous arena.

GOALS

Bradley 1-0, Pellissier 2-0, Andreolli 2-1, Paloschi 3-1, Almiron 3-2

Chievo Verona

Sorrentino, Cesar, Drame, Frey, Andreolli, Bradley, Luciano, Rigoni, Cruzado, Pellissier, Paloschi

Catania

Carrizo, Marchese, Motta, Spolli, Legrottalie, Izco, Gomez, Llama, Lodi, Ricciuti, Bergessio

The images from Verona are here.

This match report first appeared in April 2012 in voicesinfootball.com