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Lo stadio siamo noi: What history does Fiorentina’s stadium have?

Is it really about titles, or is a stadium’s history something more

ACF Fiorentina v FC Torino - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

La storia siamo noi, nessuno si senta offeso (History is us, let nobody take offense)

The Stadio Artemio Franchi is a place which has come in for much criticism lately. It’s long been a source of disagreement between Fiorentina club owners and the local government. For me, it’s a truly special place, far from perfect, but it’s been our home for just over 90 years which surely must count for something. When our own Rocco Commisso, in that by now famous interview with the Financial Times, described it as ‘the shittiest thing ever invented’, well call me over-sensitive, but I took great offence.

When it was built it was regarded as one of the finest examples of architecture in Europe at the time. Designed by Pier Luigi Nervi, it was constructed in the Campo di Marte area of the city, where a military airport had stood. After the First World War, an aeroclub was based here, organising tourist flights and acrobatic events. One of its members was local pilot, Vasco Magrini. When the stadium, then known as the Stadio Giovanni Berta, was officially opened with a game against the Austrian club, Admira Wien, Magrini took to the air in his bi-plane and in a low flight over the stadium just before kick-off, dropped the match ball to the pitch.

That game took place on September 13th, 1931, with Fiorentina winning 1-0, although three days earlier they had also hosted Montevarchi in a practice game. Fiorentina won that test 6-0, Pedro Petrone scoring four goals, the Uruguayan also scoring the only goal in that game against Wien and went on to become top scorer in Serie A that season. The stadium was built just in time for Fiorentina’s first ever Serie A campaign, although it wasn’t quite finished when the season started.

Perché è la gente che fa la storia (because it’s the people that make history)

Previously, Fiorentina had been based at the Stadio Velodromo Libertas, but club owner Luigi Ridolfi, soon realised that a bigger ground was needed to cater for the ever-increasing crowds. All that is left to remind us of that first stadium is a plaque in Via Bellini. There had already been plans for the new stadium to be built at the Cascine park, and later in the Le Cure area of the city, but with the old airport now closed for security reasons, the local city council was able to secure land from the Ministry of War. An athletics track was then added to the original plan. Due to financial difficulties, owing to the ambitious design, the stadium was built in two phases, with the final phase beginning at the end of that first season in Serie A.

That second phase saw the construction of the Curve, along with the three spiral staircases and the Torre di Maratona. The first season at the new stadium saw an average crowd of 18,000, even with the relatively high price of match tickets. In those early years, athletic meetings were often held at the same time as Fiorentina games, with fans able to enjoy the events before kick-off and during the half-time interval.

Florence hasn’t always enjoyed the best relationship with the Italian national team, but this wasn’t the case back in 1933 when our stadium hosted Italy for the first time. Around 25,000 fans braved the rain and thunderstorms on May 7th to watch Italy defeat Czechoslovakia. The following year, Italy hosted the World Cup finals, and Florence was chosen as one of the eight host cities.

The first game at the Stadio Berta saw a small crowd witness Germany come from behind to defeat Belgium 5-2, but four days later it was a much larger attendance as Italy took on Spain. After a 1-1 draw, an even bigger crowd returned the very next day for the replay, which Italy won on their way to lifting their first World Cup. Florence’s stadium has since become something of a fortress for the national side, where they remain undefeated after 22 games.

Our stadium also hosted four games during Italia ’90, and for the European Championships of 1968 it was one of only three grounds chosen for the four-team tournament. World Cup holders England, featuring Gordon Banks and Bobby Charlton, were defeated by Yugoslavia in the semi-final at the Comunale. The crowd who attended this Wednesday night game in early June also witnessed the first player sent-off for England in a full international, Alan Mullery’s red card coming in the last minute.

When talking about our stadium, it can be easy to forget that it also holds these memories of international football. Not just for the Italian national team but hosting games at major international tournaments. For Fiorentina fans, of course, it is filled with games, goals, moments, and players which will always be a part of our clubs’ history. “What history does it have? That they won two championships in 90 years?”. This was the rhetorical question posed by Rocco Commisso in that same interview, but is that really what the history of a stadium boils down to, titles and trophies? Even if you agree with Rocco on that point, maybe it’s time to clear up just what exactly Fiorentina has won at our own stadium, and it’s not just about those two Scudetto victories.

Siamo noi che abbiamo tutto da vincere, e tutto da perdere (it’s us who have everything to win, and everything to lose)

Three of our Coppa Italia trophy wins have come in Florence. In June 1940, Fiorentina won their first ever cup, winning 1-0 the final against Genova in Florence. Our second came in 1961, again the final was played in Florence, and the fans witnessed a 2-0 win over Lazio.

Our last trophy win dates back to 2001, and the return leg of the final with Parma was played at the Franchi. A 1-1 draw was enough for Fiorentina to lift the Coppa Italia in front of their own fans in Florence. Shortly afterwards, the stadium would host the emotional farewell to Manuel Rui Costa.

On a Saturday night in May 1996, the Stadio Franchi was packed with Fiorentina fans, but the team was playing away to Atalanta. They had gathered there to watch the return leg of the Coppa Italia final on the screen in the ground, and after Fiorentina won the cup, they waited in the ground for hours to celebrate along with the team on their return from Bergamo at 3am. This is where they wanted to celebrate, fans and players alike, in their stadium, their home.

Both Fiorentina’s league title wins were confirmed with wins away from home, but the fans would still acclaim their team when they returned to play in Florence. The first Scudetto came in 1956, after a draw in Trieste, and for the final home match of the season Lazio were the visitors to Florence. 50,000 fans packed the stadium, and before the game they were treated to a ceremony featuring local calcio storico players and all the traditional costumes and music that went with it. After the final whistle, and a 4-1 win for the Viola, fans invaded the pitch to carry their heroes shoulder high around the stadium.

Again in 1969, the title win was secured away from Florence, with a famous win at Juventus. A week later, the final game of that campaign was in Florence, when we hosted Varese. This time, the impatient crowd were unable to wait for the final whistle, and as the visitors scored a late consolation goal in a 3-1 Fiorentina win, the fans were already making their way onto the pitch, and not for the first time that day.

Another day of celebration at the Stadio Franchi came in 2017, when the Fiorentina women’s team also won the Scudetto in a 2-0 win over Tavagnacco in front of over 8,000 fans.

La storia non ha nascondigli (History offers no hiding place)

Whatever about ignoring our Coppa Italia wins at our home ground, it’s a little inexcusable to forget about Fiorentina winning a European trophy in Florence. In 1961, the home fans were spoiled, as not only did they witness that Coppa Italia win against Lazio, but two weeks earlier they had seen their side become the first Italian club to ever win a European title. Having already won the first leg of the Cup Winners’ Cup in Glasgow, 2-0, they welcomed Rangers to Florence ten days later. The 50,000 fans who packed the ground in Florence were already in party mood, and when Luigi Milan (who had scored both goals at Ibrox) netted after 12 minutes, they could really start to celebrate. A 2-1-win saw Fiorentina lift the trophy in Florence, another historic moment for the club.

Fiorentina had previously reached the final of the biggest European trophy, the European Cup, in only the second edition of the competition, in 1957. Although they lost controversially in that final in Madrid, to cup holders Real (who would win every one of the first five tournaments), the semi-final second leg had seen one of the biggest crowds to ever pack into the stadium in Florence. On Thursday April 18th, around 70,000 were there to witness a scoreless draw with Red Star Belgrade, which was enough to see Fiorentina qualify for the final.

In more recent times, when the competition had become the Champions League, Fiorentina fans had some great European nights at the Stadio Franchi. In 1999 alone, they would see Arsenal, Barcelona and Manchester United all visit Florence, and Fiorentina emerge undefeated from all three clashes. In 2009 Fiorentina defeated Liverpool 2-0, along with Lyon, to top our Champions League group. Bayern Munich were the visitors to the Franchi in March 2010 in the knockout stage, and although our 3-2 win wasn’t enough to take us through, I’m still glad I was there at a sold-out stadium to witness a Champions League night in Florence.

Questo rumore che rompe il silenzio (this noise which breaks the silence)

We’ve had plenty of experience of empty stadiums in the last couple of years, and we finally understood that phrase that ‘football is nothing without fans’. In reality, it’s the stadium that is nothing without the fans, we are the ones who create the atmosphere, who drive on our team, who intimidate the opposition. A stadium would be just an empty bowl, with nobody to take home those memories, to keep them alive. As you stand there before the game, you can imagine all of the people who have been here before you, who have done just what you are doing, they’ve been singing the Fiorentina anthem here since 1931. You can sense the ghosts that fill the air, the songs of those long passed, you can still see Batistuta running to the corner flag to celebrate, Fantini under the Fiesole, or Baggio leaving the pitch. It’s incredible to think of the footballers that have played here down through the years, the biggest names in Italian and world football.

Nessuno si senta escluso (nobody should feel excluded)

Even just from a Fiorentina point of view, the list of greats could go on and on, Giancarlo Antognoni, Kurt Hamrin, Giancarlo De Sisti, Giuliano Sarti, Julinho, Giovanni Galli, Giuseppe Virgili, Manuel Rui Costa, Gabriel Batistuta, Roberto Baggio, Edmundo, Francesco Toldo, Luca Toni, Luciano Chiarugi, Dunga, Miguel Montuori, Franco Superchi, Davide Astori, Enrico Albertosi, Mario Pizziolo, Pedro Petrone, Ugo Ferrante, Angelo Di Livio, Stefano Borgonovo, Enzo Robotti, Adrian Mutu, Christian Riganò, Claudio Merlo, Sergio Cervato, Daniel Passarella, Ardico Magnini, Giuseppe Brizi, Mario Bertini, Pietro Vierchowod, Moreno Torricelli, Guido Gratton, Armando Segato, Amarildo, Sandro Cois, Pepito Rossi…

As mentioned earlier, the stadium for a long time, until the redevelopments made before Italia ’90, also included an athletics track around the pitch. It has seen stars the likes of Carl Lewis compete here, and in June 1981, Sebastian Coe set a new world record in the 800 metres, a record which would stand until 1997.

The Italian rugby team had a famous win here over South Africa in 2016. Both Pope John Paul II and the current Pope, Francesco, have both appeared at the stadium. The biggest names in music have also performed at the ground, David Bowie, Madonna, The Clash, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, along with plenty of Italian artists. Even the UFOs made an appearance over the stadium in 1954.

This is just a snapshot of the history of the Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence, and for each Fiorentina fan, past, present and future, the stadium will mean something different, but always something special. This stadium is our home, it’s the place where we come together, a place we always want to get back to, and a place always in our hearts. A sense of place, of belonging is something that is not so easy to find in this day and age, but a club’s stadium, which has stood for over 90 years, can still give us that.

La storia siamo noi, attenzione

Our stadium is far from perfect, it needs a lot of work just to bring it up to a decent standard, and if it’s comfort you want, well you’re probably in the wrong place. Depending on the weather, you may either freeze, roast, or get soaked. Then again, if it’s comfort you want, you can easily sit in the warmth of your home and watch the game on TV. For those who do go to the stadium, it’s because we want to support our team, we want to meet up with those who want to do the same, be they friends, or people you only ever meet at the ground. We want to be close to the team, to celebrate with them when we score, when we win, and sometimes to let them know when what we’re seeing isn’t good enough. You want to be a part of it, participate, not just be an impassive spectator.

Ed è per questo che la storia dà i brividi, perché nessuno la può fermare (and this is why history gives you the chills, because nobody can stop it)

Maybe one day, we will have a new stadium in Florence, and for some that would be a welcome event. For others it would be difficult to leave behind a place which has been the club’s home for so long. One thing we do know, is that the Stadio Artemio Franchi will not be bulldozed and demolished to make way for a modern stadium. It is a piece of history, and while the law may look at it just from an architectural side of things, it is also a part of Florence’s history and the history of so many people.

I feel sorry for those who don’t get that, who don’t understand how much a place like this can mean to people, for those who would be happy to just destroy something which has so much value, just because it doesn’t have an economic worth. I know how the world of modern football works, and I can also see where it’s headed, but that doesn’t mean I have to like or accept it.