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Festive Fiorentina, A Tale of Christmas Games of Long Ago

The Christmas break is here, but it wasn’t always like that

ACF Fiorentina v AC Chievo Verona - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, now that we’ve played our last game of the year and need to endure two weeks without Fiorentina to entertain us. This has been the traditional festive break for quite some time now, although they did experiment with an English style Christmas just a few years ago. In the 2018/19 season, games were played on December 26th and 29th. It wasn’t a particularly happy one for Fiorentina, as we lost at home to Parma on the day after Christmas, and then played a scoreless draw at Genoa three days later.

It had been a long time since Fiorentina had played a game on December 26th, the previous occasion was in 1971, a scoreless draw at home to Inter. Fiorentina went into the game third in the table, a point ahead of Inter, and the draw allowed Juventus and Milan to pull further ahead at the top. Unlike the two clubs ahead of them, Fiorentina had allowed for some family time for their players over Christmas. On Christmas Eve they were allowed to remain at home, and while Christmas Day was spent in a hotel in Sesto Fiorentino, their families were allowed join them for a Christmas lunch. The game attracted a crowd of over 60,000 to the Stadio Comunale, plenty of people happy to get out of the house the day after Christmas.

The president of the Players Association, Sergio Campana, stated that this should be the last Christmas that players were forced to play during the festive period and spend so much time away from their loved ones when it was a time to be spent with family. The following season 1972/73, the clubs were in action on Christmas Eve, the last occasion when this would happen.

Fiorentina were at home again, up against Helenio Herrera’s Roma side. Just a week before, Roma fans had been involved in a pitch invasion towards the end of their game against Inter at the Stadio Olimpico. The visitors had been winning 2-1 at the time, and were then awarded a 2-0 win, with Roma having to play their next two home games at a neutral venue. Just 2,000 of the expected ten thousand Roma fans travelled to Florence on the 24th, with a large police presence in case of any trouble.

Fiorentina were in sixth place, a point behind Roma going into the game. It was Nils Liedholm’s young Viola side who came out on top. 18-year-old Domenico Caso gave the home side the lead after half an hour, but Valerio Spadoni levelled the game just two minutes later. It was the Florence native, Andrea Orlandini who scored the winner six minutes after the interval. Giancarlo Antognoni, in his first season at the club, came on as a sub for Caso in the second half. Over 30,000 Fiorentina fans went home happy to celebrate Christmas that year.

The previous occasion that Fiorentina played on Christmas Eve, was back in 1966. They needed to travel to Ferrara, to take on SPAL. Giancarlo De Sisti put the Viola ahead five minutes before the break, but halfway through the second half the home side leveled the game. Ten minutes from time it was Kurt Hamrin, in what would be his final season in Florence, who grabbed the winner, a goal which even had the home crowd applauding.

The year before that, in 1965, Serie A was in action on December 26th. A decision which the newspapers were very critical of yet again. The Corriere Della Sera spoke of how on the day, which is the most important holiday for families, the players in Italy would have to treat it as a normal Saturday, as the next day would see them all on the pitch as on any given Sunday. They even showed photos of some of the players celebrating Christmas early with their children. It wasn’t a great Christmas for Fiorentina fans either, as the 25,000 fans who braved the rain at the Stadio Comunale saw their side lose 1-0 to Roma.

In 1961 it had gone better for the home crowd, as on Christmas Eve Fiorentina defeated Venezia. Aurelio Milani and Hamrin scored the goals in that 2-0 win. Up until now, I’ve told you of games played on the 24th and 26th of December, but as hard as it may be to comprehend it these days, there was a time when you could head to the stadium and watch Serie A football, on Christmas Day itself.

In fact, even the Coppa Italia was often played during the Christmas period, especially back in the 1930’s. The first time Fiorentina played a game on December 25th, came in that competition back in 1938. Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, so why not play a round of the Coppa Italia? Fiorentina at the time were in Serie B after relegation the previous season and had made it to the last 32 of the competition by seeing off Verona, and Prato after a replay. On Christmas Day they travelled to take on Serie A side Genova 1893. Despite coming back from two goals down to level the game early in the second half, they went on to lose 5-2. Newspaper reports were of the opinion, that with more precision from the home forwards, and without the exploits of the Fiorentina keeper, Luigi Griffanti, the deficit would have been much bigger.

Fiorentina did go on to win promotion back to Serie A however, and the following season brought much better success in the Coppa Italia, as they went on to claim their first ever trophy, by beating Genova in the final. The top division clubs entered into the competition on Christmas Eve 1939, and Fiorentina were at home to Serie C side Manlio Cavagnaro, better known as Sestrese. It was a muddy pitch that day at the Stadio Giovanni Berta in Florence, the game played in very poor weather conditions.

Luigi Pantani scored for the visitors six minutes before the break, but at that stage, Fiorentina had already scored five goals. They added another two after the break, the game ending 7-1, with 19-year-old Romano Penzo scoring four goals, and Piero Antona bagging himself a hat-trick. The Viola scored plenty more goals on their way to the final, beating Milan 5-0 in a replay, Lazio 4-1, and in the semi-final, a 3-0 win over Juventus. They lifted the trophy in June 1940 thanks to their 1-0 win in Florence over Genova. A Coppa Italia campaign which had all kicked off on Christmas Eve.

Which brings us to the last two Fiorentina games played on Christmas Day. The very last time which Serie A held their fixtures on December 25th was in the 1960/61 season, and Fiorentina were at home to Lanerossi Vicenza. Only 11,000 fans were at the stadium that Christmas Day, the lack of public transport also adding to the difficulties. This would appear to also be the last year in which national newspapers could be bought on December 25th and 26th. Those who did venture out that day in 1960, witnessed Fiorentina’s first home defeat since April 1959. The only goal of the game came in the 68th minute, scored by Giorgio Puia.

It’s Christmas, so let’s end this tale with a happy story, and another Christmas Day match, in 1955. Fiorentina had a five-point advantage over the chasing pack and had a home game against a Triestina side struggling near the bottom of the table. They made harder work of it than was expected but grabbed the all-important two points thanks to a first half goal from Julinho.

If anyone thinks that fixtures being moved to fit the TV schedule is a modern problem, it also happened back in 1955. Serie A was going ahead on New Years Day, but two games were moved to December 31st to be shown live on RAI television. Not only that, but they were both played at the same stadium, the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Roma were playing Atalanta and Fiorentina were up against Napoli. This was a home game for Napoli, but because of crowd trouble at a recent match, they had been forced to play at a neutral venue.

The first game kicked off at 12:45 and Roma beat Atalanta 3-2. After that, the large crowd, and the TV audience, were treated to plenty more goals. Fiorentina took a 2-0 lead with the goals coming from Miguel Montuori and Giuseppe Virgili. Napoli pulled one back before Virgili grabbed his second. Napoli then made it 3-2 from the penalty spot in the 75th minute, but just a minute later, Montuori’s second restored Fiorentina’s two goal lead. That was the final goal in a 4-2 win. Fiorentina went on to win their first ever Scudetto that season, with a 12 point gap over Milan.

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas, even without Fiorentina, but maybe it’s for the best, our players have a chance to recharge and spend time with their families. It wasn’t always that way in Italy’s Serie A!