Some would say Gianluca Vialli brought music to a football field – not rock music or any type of alternative music we normally associate with football, but classical music.   An all action but highly technical striker Vialli was one of Italian football’s favourite sons – a virtuoso on the field for Juventus, Sampdoria and Chelsea. 

Even speaking about Vialli in the past tense feels strange – he was so young when he died and recent years saw the truth about his private fight with cancer come to light.  He was a very ill man, just one look at him could tell you that. However, it’s hard to believe that not 18 months ago he was on the field at Wembley with Mancini celebrating the Italian national team’s success at Euro 2020.

One week on from his sad passing I am walking through the streets of Cremona the city where it all began.  Viialli started his club career at local club Unione Sportiva Cremonese in 1980 where he made 105 league appearances scoring 23 goals.

His performances impressed Sampdoria who signed him in 1984. It was here he came to wider notoriety before going onto enjoy an illustrious trophy ridden career in Serie A and in England.

Gianluca Vialli was pure class – everything he did exuded elegance and quality. And it doesn’t take you long in Cremona to see that this is a elegant city. 

The city of Cremona is especially noted for its musical history and traditions, fitting for a virtuoso footballer who brought an incredible level of artistic quality to a football field.

Get the Violins Out – Cremona

Cremona might not have a distinguished Serie A history, but it has a musical tradition that goes back to the 12th-century.  Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music; Cremona is one of the most important centres in Italy for stringed instruments.

Thanks to its most famous native Antonio Stradivari, Cremona became renowned as a centre of musical instrument manufacture in the 17th century.  To the present-day the handmade instruments created here are widely considered to be a summit of achievement in traditional violin craftsmanship – so much so that the resident home football club are often known as I Violini.

First stop in Cremona was the Piazza Sant’ Angelo the birthplace of Unione Sportiva Cremonese. 

This though is not a grey city – unlike the shirt colours of the home side – it is a sleepy city of 70,000 on the Po River just over an hour south of the bustling city of Milan by train. The city is inexorably intertwined with violins and other stringed instruments. Such is the extent of production there are more luthiers — makers of stringed instruments — in Cremona than footballers.

Violins are shaped, carved, chiseled, sanded and varnished out of very special pieces of wood into instruments. Here but the football team are chiseled out of equally refined things – the colours of grey and red (Grigiorossi) shirt colours unique to Italy and possibly Europe.

The Beginnings

In 1914 the grey and red shirts first appeared in a friendly against Vicenza. 

And five years on the ground that we currently now know as the Stadio Giovanni Zini appeared, renamed from the Campo Polisportivo. It attained this new name after a goalkeeper who had died in WWI.

Cremonese was a member of Serie A in its first edition that used a round-robin format. They finished bottom and were relegated. The club then entered into a long period of decline languishing in the lower leagues until the 1970’s.

By 1984, they had achieved promotion to Serie A once again with one-year spells also enjoyed during seasons 84-85, 89-90 and 1991-92.

Wembley Stadium 1993

Under the guidance of legendary coach Gigi Simoni, the Grigiorossi won the Anglo-Italian Cup at Wembley Stadium on 27 March 1993. In that final the club defeated Derby County a club with a long standing tradition of participation in European football by 3-1.

The trophy was the brainchild of Calabria born Luigi Peronace, an Italian based in London who had made his name as a football super agent in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As a tournament it was clumsy and beset by organisational problems as well as hooliganism. And, despite the glorious historic names in both the English and Italian leagues it would be the likes of Genoa, Brescia, Notts County, Swindon and Derby County who would become known as legends of the tournament.

Derby County were outclassed by Cremonese in front of an impressive crowd of 37,024 but very few Italian fans actually travelled. The vast majority of those in attendance (35,000) were from England and supporting the Rams. In the words of Allan Parry the match commentator its not often the runners up are awarded medals to greater applause than the winner.

The ‘Spaghetti Tournament’ had its critics but the memory of that afternoon in London lives on in Cremona especially where football is concerned. Aside from some domestic success in Serie C and Serie D that victory at Wembley is one of the few high points in the club’s history.

That was until spring 2022.

Season 2021-2022 had seen Italian football beginning on a high after the national teams success at Wembley. And while Lecce ultimately triumphed to win Serie B the Grigiorossi managed to be runners up and win a return to Serie A.

The Giovanni Zini Stadium

Outside the Giovanni Zini stands an arch with the title ‘Campo Polisportivo’ displayed at its top. Initially known as Campo di Porta Venezia the stadium was inaugurated on 2 November 1919 and has been home to the club ever since.

Over the years the structure has maintained its original soul, but changed drastically in appearance, becoming as it is today a modern stadium very suitable to the demands of Serie A. Since 2007, the square in front of the stadium and the main stand have been named after Domenico Luzzara, the President of Cremonese from the late 1960’s to the early 2000’s. The Curva Sud meanwhile (where the core of the most loyal home fans gather) is named after Erminio Favalli, a former footballer and Cremonese manager.

In 2017, following the promotion of Cremonese to Serie B the roof of the Curva Sud was built and in 2018 the new Distinti sector, also equipped with a roof, was inaugurated.

By virtue of the promotion to Serie A secured on 6th May 2022, further modernisation works occurred.

First came the laying of a new turf (equipped with an underground heating system), and the replacement of the stadium lighting was rolled out along with new audio systems.

For the players who would arrive new changing room areas and technical areas were installed while for VIP’s came the upgrading of the press stand. Finally, the creation of the exclusive skyboxes in the Distinti side of the stadium and new hospitality lounges in the Central Tribune finished off the stadium in lieu of the big names arriving.

Serie A Returns – Cremona v Monza

Granted Monza are not one of the bigger names in Italian football but Cremonese’s survival hopes hinged on wins against the fellow Lombardy club. This was the first ever Serie A meeting between the two sides and Monza could not have went into it on any less of a high given the previous week’s draw with Inter Milan.

Cremonese began this game as the only team in Serie A yet to win a game this season, and that looked set to continue when Ciurria gave Monza the lead. Things then got worse for the home side after a VAR awarded penalty kick. The scorer was Gianluca Caprari who stepped up and confidently swept the ball home in front of the travelling fans.

HT: 0-2

It was Monza who scored the third goal of the game; Caprari securing a double sweeping home after being set up by Petagna.

Cremonese in fairness tried to mount a fightback. First a goal bound header was clawed out of the net then Ciofani headed home to give his side a slim chance of staging a comeback.

And the fightback was well and truly on as the game entered the last 10 minutes.

Pickel looked dangerous for the home team but it was Dessers who put the ball beyond the visiting goalkeeper to make it 2-3. There then came a late onslaught, which never looked truly convincing, and the final whistle came leaving Cremonese still bottom and facing a daunting midweek Coppa Italia trip to Napoli.

FT: 2-3

REFEREE: Davide Massa

VENUE: Stadio Giovanni Zini (Cremona)

ATTENDANCE: 11, 519 (Away 1,500)