Parma – From Brolin to Serie D

A star at UEFA Euro 1992, a tournament hosted in the country of his birth, Swedish forward Tomas Brolin was during the 1990’s, one of European football’s hottest properties. Signed in 1990 by the Italian club Parma from IFK Norrköping Brolin went onto form a potent front line partnership with the Italian striker Alessandro Melli.   Within a few seasons Parma went from good to very good as he was joined by the Columbian Faustino Asprilla and later Gianfranco Zola.

From being a bustling striker Brolin soon became an impact midfielder as Parma reached European finals and won numerous pieces of domestic silverware.

But after five long years in Parma his time at the club came to an abrupt end.  Injuries hampered a career that promised so much and by the time he got back to full fitness the club had spent millions on the Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov.  In an effort to resume a sense of progression the Swede moved to English side Leeds United.  However, from being a quick and nimble forward he was soon regarded as a dud and time has subsequently seen him being marked down as one of the ’50 Worst footballers to grace the Premier League’.

It is rather ironic then that such a dismal downturn in fortunes should now befall his one time club. Parma, so famous for its food and rich gastronomical traditions, is now a club virtually running on an empty stomach. They find themselves playing in Girone D of Serie A alongside a host of minor clubs from the Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Veneto & San Marino.

In truth the rot for Parma had set in sometime after Tomas Brolin’s period at the club.  Domestic Coppa Italia winners in 2002 by the following year questions started to be asked of Parmalat and the company proceeded to collapse in 2003.  A €14 billion hole in its accounts culminated in Europe’s biggest business bankruptcy.

In April 2004 the club was declared insolvent following the financial meltdown of backers Parmalat whose name once slotted neatly onto the front of the yellow home shirt and the club remained in administration for 3 years. Financial troubles precipitated a succession of ownership changes and feuds.  Despite former national team coach Donadoni guiding Parma to sixth in Serie A even a place in the Europa League was denied to the club thanks to financial irregularity.

After leaving Parma for Leeds United Brolin did find himself back at the club one more time.  In 1997 he returned to the club on a short term loan playing 11 games but by the following year his career was over at the age of only 28 years. Overweight and mentally fatigued by a succession of injuries, his form was a shadow of the past – and his career as a footballer was over.

Similar misfortune befell Parma when, despite emergency funding to finish the season, bankruptcy arrived in March 2015. Huge debts of £278 million were revealed following months of unpaid salaries to players. The club finished the 2014-2015 season bottom of Serie A.  At one point the players were forced to wash the playing kit and money was raised for a coach to away fixtures.  Fans of the club regularly held up huge banners on the Curva asking legitimate yet pertinent political questions about where ‘all the clubs money had went’.

A phoenix club S.S.D. Parma Calcio 1913 now plays in Serie D and the aim to once again reach the pinnacle of Italian football is in progress. Under former player Luigi Apolloni, Parma are top of Serie D – Girone D and a place in the third tier Lega Pro (where other famous 90’s names like Padova, Cremonese, Foggia, Ancona and Pisa play) awaits should they be successful.

Stadio Ennio Tardini

The new Parma continue to play football at the small inner city Stadio Ennio Tardini; a stadium named after its former President. With its distinctive yellow entry gate and open seated expanses, periods of reconstruction during the 90’s heyday saw a number of structural improvements. However, this remains a regional stadium which is clearly not amongst the best in Italy.

The first leg of the UEFA Cup final played on 3rd May 1995 had seen less than 23,000 supporters watch a 1-0 win over Juventus.

Once a staple of the Italian football diet, and winners of two UEFA Cup’s and one European Cup Winners’ Cup Parma in 2015 followed the path of its one time food backer Parmalat and former player Tomas Brolin into oblivion. But the fight to get a place back in the upper reaches of the Italian league is on with large numbers of season tickets sold and the club managing, at least at the moment, to top the league.

After his football career Tomas Brolin became a businessman and was also known as a prominent World Series Poker player. Meanwhile his former club Parma continue to gamble on winning a place back at the top table of Italian football.

See some images from my trip to Parma here.