Football Microstate

Football on a postage Stamp

Wednesday 7th November 1994 FIFA World Cup qualification Group 2. The most famous day in Sammarinese football – Davide Gualtieri scores after just eight seconds to give his national team the lead against England. They would go on to lose that game 7-1 but it is still to this day the most well known goal in the history of Sammarinese football. 

The fifth smallest country in the world, San Marino is a relic of the network of city states that once dominated the geography of Italy. Even the name is splendid Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino or the ‘Most Serene Republic of San Marino’.

San Marino is a country that consists of the hilltop town of San Marino city plus nine smaller towns, or castelli. Amongst those towns is Serravalle – where the home stadium that San Marino is most know for stands.  

But while the state has a population of just shy of 34,000 (11,000 stay in the Serravalle castello), crowds are so tiny for the national team that the locals are normally outnumbered by visiting fans.

The Beginnings

San Marino may not have come about at all but for the work of a humble Croatian stonemason.  At the entry gates to the original settlement a metal plinth embedded in a wall tells the tale of this UNESCO World Heritage site; a freedom living state where the word ‘Libertas’ is proudly displayed on the national flag.

Religious documents from 500 AD suggests San Marino came about thanks to the work of the stonecutter – Saint Marinus. 

In 297 AD Marinus (later titled the venerated Saint Marinus) emigrated to Rimini from the small Dalmatian Island of Rab in the Adriatic.  His quest was to assist with the reconstruction of the walls of Rimini near where the Arch of Augustus stands.

Legend states that after an encounter with an insane woman and persecution from the Romans he retreated to a place called Monte Titano – a small hilltop on the boundaries of the central Apennines and close to Rimini. 

There he built a chapel and created an independent monastic state.

On Monte Titano he lived as a hermit far from the immoral insanity he had encountered in Rimini. His skills were used to build a small church and from this locality budded the enclave of what we know today as the Republic of San Marino. 

The present day Sammarinese are not of course a people who live in isolation.   The large city of Rimini is visible in the distance and the dominant urban centre of Bologna sits not that far to the north.

San Marino was largely untouched during World War II although the Ghurkas graveyard nearby the border with Italy does tell a story of the allied forces who came to liberate the state from the fascist regime.

In San Marino the fascist party ruled for some years and Mussolini did plan a project for the construction of a railroad connecting Rimini to San Marino. It was in the late 1950’s however that the modern state of San Marino began to emerge. 

While cup football has been played in San Marino since the 1930’s the Serravalle Stadium was not opened until 1969. It is the national stadium of San Marino, a new church, not quite at its centre or near Mount Titano. As a monument it is somewhat less significant than that which Saint Marinus created in 297 AD, but generally the only place today for which football in San Marino has come to be known.

Serravalle Stadium

In football terms San Marino may be the worst team in the world – lower even than Sri Lanka and Guam – but it’s at the Serravalle Stadium (the Stadio Olimpico di San Marino or Stadio Olimpico di Serravalle to give its full name) where the national team celebrated its only win.

That win came against Lichtenstein in 2004 thanks to a goal from Andy Selva: the national team’s record goal scorer. It is likely that Selva will go onto manage the national team at some point in the future.

That national team are only really known for heavy defeats.  This includes a 13-0 loss to Germany, a 10-0 defeat to England and Croatia as well as a 9-0 hammering to Belgium.

That solitary win in 2004 was played out in front of a mere 200 fans at the municipally owned stadium.

Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio

A little bit like in other small states the teams which play in the national Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio play weekly football matches at a select small group of locations.  While some of the most successful teams have football homes of their own, the venues most used are the Dogana Ground; Stadio di Fiorentino, Campo Sportivo di Fonte dell’Ovo, Serravalle and the surface in Domagnano,

Games of the national team; championship play-off finals and UEFA fixtures are almost always played in the Stadio Olimpico Serravalle.

Of those who compete in UEFA competition yearly the most successful is Tre Fiori FC.   During season 2022-23 they created history by defeating Fola Esch of Luxemburg 4-1 in the UEFA Conference League before losing narrowly to B36 Toshavn.  To date, Tre Fiori are the only club from San Marino to win a UEFA tie since they began participating in UEFA competitions.

Despite its poor transport connections, San Marino is a popular destination for day trippers. The main town (Citta di San Marino) clings to the slopes of Mount Titano, 2,500 ft (762 m) above sea level. My adventure to the league fixture between SP Cailungo and SS Cosmos Serravalle involved a 45 minute trek down the steep hillside and around modern roads.

The prize yearly for those who compete in the Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio is a place in UEFA football – the cup competition of which has a history that goes back to the 1930’s.

Thanks to the membership the FSGC ‘Federazione Sammarinese Giuoco Calcio’ has to UEFA, qualification for the Champions League, Europa League and Conference Leagues is available each season. Results are hard to come back but it is always the highlight of the season for the teams.

Those who live in San Marino – and who are any good at playing football – have a chance (thanks to dual nationality) of playing for the San Marino national team. Currently the aim is to win a game given it is almost 20 years since this last occurred. The team very much hope to welcome the Italian national side to San Marino for a World Cup or European Championship qualification match at some point.

The neighbours only ever having faced each other in friendlies the last of which Italy won 7-0.