Fiorentina may have been purchased by an Italian-American recently, but it has long been an International brand. Like Viola Club New York, Fiorentina Fan Club Tokyo started off very modestly, with a few Fiorentini taking their love for team and city abroad and introducing it to those they met in their new home. Creating the fan club was a way for these fans to fill the void of being away from their beloved Artemio Franchi. Flavio Gori, President of Fiorentina Fan Club Tokyo, and his friend Paolo Staccioli opened the Fiorentina Fan Club Tokyo in July 2013. The Fiorentina Fan Club Tokyo is officially recognized by Associazione Centro di Coordinamento Viola Club in Firenze and flies their fan club banner in the stadium. In our conversation with the Tokyo Fan Club we discussed everything from their inception, the significance of October 20th, 2013 and the future of Fiorentina under the new leadership of Rocco Commisso.
Today the Fiorentina Fan Club Tokyo has over 45 members. They are made up of both native Fiorentini and local Japanese that cheer on Fiorentina from their homes and restaurants in Tokyo and Osaka. This group of friends organizes group dinners and apertivos to discuss Fiorentina. They also play on a recreational soccer team named, of course, after their favorite club. They meet to watch Fiorentina games at a sports bar in Shibuya during the wee hours of the Tokyo mornings. Flavio tells us, “Watching games is a nightmare for us considering the huge time difference we have with Italy. We always hope for games around 2:30 pm Italian time, which means 9:30 pm here in Japan.” Paolo adds, “In the past it wasn’t easy [being a Fiorentina fan in Japan] because of the lack of live news, Serie A TV coverage and Internet. Now with games on pay-TV and the internet, it’s very easy for us to follow every moment of daily news and of course the live matches on the weekend.”
One thing that is interesting is how tied in to Japanese culture both Firenze and Fiorentina are. “Luckily Fiorentina is linked to Firenze by Japanese people, so if you mention Fiorentina to them they recognize the name. People all around Japan know the names of Batistuta, Rui Costa and some other big-name players that have played for Fiorentina in the past.” Remember the recreational league they play in Tokyo? One rival team they have is Napoli Samurai.
For these two men who immigrated from Firenze to Tokyo, creating this club was about finding comradery, fueling their fanaticism, and continuing their childhood family traditions. Flavio, who grew up near Firenze, told us that most of his relatives are very big fans of Fiorentina. Since an early age, he always felt a sense of belonging with Fiorentina and an affinity for the Viola color. He remembers with great reverence his first time to the Franchi at age 7 as well as traveling with the Ultras to Pisa for a game in 1990. Paulo grew up in a similar situation in a family full of Fiorentina fans 30 minutes from central Firenze in Tuscany’s beautiful countryside.
When asked about the best moment that he was ever a part of, Paulo gave us a quintessential Fiorentina fan response. He tells us this story, “It was during the first leg of the 1989-90 UEFA Cup [against Juventus] at the Stadium “Comunale Vittorio Pozzo” in Torino. We lost [the game] 1-3, but the Fiorentina fans surely won the supporter cup. We were yelling for all 90 minutes of the game, overwhelming the home team’s supporters.” Paolo told us “[cheering for] Fiorentina is a commitment to fight against the big football clubs with stripe jerseys, at times suffering but taking joy in the small victories.” For Paolo, he still rues the 1981-82 season. “I bought my first season ticket at the age of 14. That season we fought until the last game to win the Scudetto against the Gobbi. Unfortunately, J……s (Paolo can’t even bring himself to say Juventus) took it from our hands by cheating.”
Flavio also introduced us to Marco Palmieri who has been a member of the Tokyo Club for 2 years. Marco has been a fan since the first time his father brought him to the Artemio Franchi as a child to watch Batistuta and Rui Costa. Marco shares that he is most excited about the future of Fiorentina under new owner Rocco Commisso, “He is providing the supporters with energy and passion again.” Marco adds, “He is creating a team with a good mix of experience and young talent. I hope we can again enjoy watching Fiorentina playing for us.”
All three men agree the future for Fiorentina under Rocco is bright, though Paolo wasn’t originally convinced. “After his first appearance, he blew out all of my doubts by showing his passion, his determination and his business knowledge. What I liked most is what Commisso and Barone said, there is no Fiorentina without the Fiorentina supporter, you`re very important for us. For a fan like me is a strong energy drink!!”
Flavio adds his thoughts on Rocco. “I never met Rocco, but I feel really good about his ownership. I am sure he is the right man for our Fiorentina. I love how practical a person he is! Rocco has already done a good job keeping Federico Chiesa and bringing in Boateng, he is the terminator that Fiorentina needs.”
Remember when we mentioned October 20th, 2013? This date probably stands out more than most for Fiorentina fans, but this night holds even more significance for the Fiorentina Fan Club Tokyo. Flavio tells us, “That was the night we organized our first dinner at a Tokyo sports bar and after dinner we all watched the match together.”
Paolo adds, “This game was against the hated vecchia signora (Old Lady). Everybody at the pub was very excited, but after the first half finished the score was 0-2 for the Gobbi. It was a half where we had to watch the machine gun of Tevez and Pogba in front of La Fiesole. It was very hard to imagine success in the second half.”
The group of Viola fans stayed through the early morning hours and were rewarded for their commitment. Paolo excitedly says, “Four goals from the Viola, with an astonishing hat trick by Giuseppe Rossi and a goal from Joaquin not only made the Artemio Franchi burst with joy, but the Sports Pub where we were watching the game just blew up from our jubilation.” Flavio says, “I went to work at the office directly after the game without any sleep. My face looked like a zombie, but I was so happy!”
The Fiorentina Fan Club Tokyo has accomplished a lot and grown significantly since their first gathering in 2013. They assure me they will continue to do what they have been doing for the past 6 years. They will continue to organize dinners for their members, stay up into the early Tokyo hours to watch their favorite team’s games, and do everything they can to help expand Fiorentina’s fan club abroad.
In closing I asked Flavio what his ultimate dream is as the President of Viola Club Tokyo. Flavio responded very quickly and confidently, “One thing. To be able one day soon to give Rocco and Joe Barone our Fiorentina fan club t-shirt and see them wear it proudly.”
Forza Viola in tutto il mondo!