Here on Viola Nation, we have been lucky enough to talk to an Empoli fan who will be in the away section for Fiorentina's match with the azzurri on Sunday. Here, he explains the origins of this local match, and how historically the match has not been considered as a derby.
On Sunday, 15 November, the week before the Round 17 match between Fiorentina and Empoli, the Viola blog labaroviola.com posted "An open letter to Empoli FC," directed towards the Blues fans. In this letter, managing editor Tommaso Fragassi stated that from the Florentine point of view, the next game at the Stadio Artemio Franchi is not a "derby." Florence considers the cities of Siena and Pisa (and consequently the games against their local teams) as historical regional rivals, but not Empoli.
The reaction from Empoli began a few hours later that morning, with a long list of insults and disapproval against the Fiorentina blogs. The core of the criticism is: "You Viola don’t lose a turn to be unpleasant and snooty. That’s why we can’t tolerate you!" And so on and so on, with a lot of local stereotypes that only someone born in Tuscany could understand, from one side to the other. The Empolesi are appointed by the Florentines as "cousins from the countryside," and in response the Viola are called "the ducks" (an animal not known as crafty...). Honestly, some of the Florentines found this question stupid and of course think the game with Empoli is a worthy derby.
But are Florence and Empoli (and their football teams) really rivals? Empoli, established 31 kilometers west of Florence in the Fourth Century as a port on the Arno river, has been a faithful part of the Florentine Republic since the Middle Ages. Even in football there wasn’t much competition until the 1980s, despite the the two clubs being founded in the same decade (Empoli in 1920, Fiorentina in 1926). Fiorentina always played in the Serie A, Empoli Serie B or Serie C.
The ’80s were the golden age for the city of Empoli. Having become one of the most industrialized and richest cities in central Italy, it celebrated the football team’s participation in Serie A for the first time. The first derby in Serie A was in 1986, when newly-promoted Empoli won 1-0 thanks to a goal by Swedish winger Johnny Ekstroem. In a fair play atmosphere, even the Florentines applauded the Blues. The return match in Florence finished 1-1, and in the 1987-88 season, we had another two draws. At the end of the season, Empoli were relegated. The Blues and the Viola had to wait ten years to play another game. On 28 September 1997, the newly promoted Empoli played the fifth derby against Fiorentina in Serie A, again at the Stadio Franchi. One of the greatest Viola players of all time, Gabriel Batistuta, scored for Fiorentina. In the end Empoli scored two goals… final score 1-2 and the Blues charged through Florence!
Since that time, the Viola fans have realized that Empoli F.C. is not only a sympathetic and poor team from the border of the county, but a fierce and proud club with an original model of self-sufficiency based on young players from the local area. In the 2002- 2003 season, after Fiorentina’s relegation, Empoli Football Club was the only Tuscan club in Serie A for the first time ever. Do they deserve to play a game with Fiorentina as a derby match? What a shame to lose against the "cousins from the countryside!"