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Fiorentina’s Serie A debut came against Milan at the San Siro (but to win there took quite a while)

A look at our early games away to Milan and our long wait for victory at the San Siro

San Siro General Views - FC internazionale Archive

As Fiorentina head to the San Siro to face Milan in our last game before this excellently timed break for the World Cup, let’s take a look back to our first ever game away to Milan.

That game also happened to be our first ever game in Serie A, and it also took place at the San Siro. Fiorentina had topped Serie B at the end of the 1930/31 season, giving the club its historic promotion to Serie A. Our debut in Serie A would come just five years after the club had been formed, against Milan who had been in existence since 1899. 1926 didn’t just bring the arrival of Fiorentina into Italian football, it also saw the first match played at the San Siro stadium in Milan.

Those days, it was home to Milan, as Inter wouldn’t move there until after the Second World War. Milan’s city rivals did however take part in the first game at the new stadium. At the time Inter’s home was the Campo Goldoni, close neighbours of Milan when they had played at the nearby Campo di Viale Lombardia.

Now, Milan had moved to the other side of the city, to the San Siro quarter. Before the 1926/27 season kicked off, Milan inaugurated their new home with a friendly game against their rivals Inter, a club founded when members of Milan left to start a new club in 1908 in protest at the organisations ban on foreign players.

It wasn’t a happy debut for Milan at their new ground, losing 6-3 on September 19th, 1926. A Milan player did at least score the first ever goal at the San Siro when Giuseppe Santagostino opened the scoring in that derby, before Inter went on a rampage scoring six without reply until Milan managed a couple of late consolation goals. The following day, on the same pitch, Milan and Inter joined forces in another friendly game, as they took on DFC Prag.

So, this club founded in 1896 by German Jews in Prague, became the first of many international teams to play at the San Siro stadium. They had lost 1-0 to Padova the previous day, and against a team made up of eight Inter players and three from Milan, they again suffered defeat, going down 4-1 this time.

The DFC Prag club would not survive the Second World War, and when the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia some of the players managed to escape the country. Those who didn’t were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps.

Among the players who lined out at the San Siro that September day in 1926 were goalkeeper Fritz Taussig and midfielder Pavel Mahrer. They both later ended up in the Jewish Ghetto and concentration camp in Terezin, north of Prague.

Here they would also play in a football league organised in the camp, where teams were divided up according to the work you did in the Ghetto, butchers, electricians, kitchen workers etc. Taussig, like so many others, was later transported to Auschwitz where he was killed.

Mahrer had left DFC shortly after that game at the San Siro and moved to America. Here he spent a number of years playing for both the Brooklyn Wanderers and the New York Hakoah, and also the Hakoah All Stars when New York merged with Brooklyn Hakoah. Here he would have played alongside Béla Guttmann, the Hungarian who would later go on to manage Milan in 1953. Mahrer returned home and ended his career back at DFC Prag, but he survived the Second World War and later left to live in America until his death in 1985.

A couple of weeks after that friendly with Prag, Milan kicked off their league season, with the first competitive game at the San Siro. It was to be another disappointing debut at the new ground, as they lost to Sampierdarenese. On the same day, October 3rd 1926, Fiorentina were playing their first ever league game. Milan were competing in the top tier, known as the Divisione Nazionale while Fiorentina were in the second tier, the Prima Divisione. At the Stadio Velodromo Libertas in Florence, they enjoyed a win over Pisa.

By the time Fiorentina reached that Serie A season of 1931/32, they had outgrown their ground in Via Bellini. At Campo di Marte, the stadium we now call the Artemio Franchi was built and originally called the Stadio Giovanni Berta. Like the San Siro, it was ready just a year after construction began, although not quite finished when Fiorentina began playing there.

Unlike Milan’s stadium, Fiorentina’s has always belonged to the city. At the time Milan was owned by Piero Pirelli, son of the founder of the giant Pirelli tyre company. It was he who would build the stadium for the club, though it was later bought by the city less than ten years later. Pirelli would many years later go on to be Inter’s main sponsor for over 25 years.

A week before Fiorentina travelled to take on Milan on the opening day of the 1931/32 season, they officially opened their new ground with a friendly game. They recorded a 1-0 win over Admira Wien thanks to a goal from new signing Pedro Petrone. The striker was 26 years old when he arrived from Uruguay, and already had a wealth of experience. He had scored over one hundred goals in his seven seasons at Nacional, while also having a very successful international career.

At the 1923 Copa America he scored in all three games as Uruguay won the competition. 1924 brought even more success, as first Uruguay won the Olympic gold medal in France with Petrone’s seven goals making him the highest scorer at the Olympics. Uruguay returned home to host the Copa America and they retained their title with Petrone the competition’s highest scorer with four goals in their three games.

Petrone’s four goals also helped them retain their Olympic title four years later in the Netherlands. A year before he joined Fiorentina, Uruguay were confirmed as the world’s best team when they won the first ever World Cup. At the tournament which they also hosted, Petrone only took part in one game, and that group game turned out to be his last with the national side.

A new stadium and a world champion striker weren’t the only changes at the club. A promotion to Serie A would bring other new faces to strengthen the squad, and also a change of manager. The Hungarian Gyula Feldmann was replaced by Hermann Felsner. The Austrian had spent over ten years at Bologna, where he had won two league titles.

Arriving from Bologna with the manager came Alfredo Pitto, who had played against Petrone when Italy lost to Uruguay in the semi-final at the 1928 Olympics, and forward Antonio Busini. Other new signings included Giuseppe Bigogno from Legnano and Gastone Prendato of Padova.

Milan also had a new manager, after three seasons in charge, the Austrian Engelbert König was replaced with the Hungarian József Bánás. Piero Pastore returned to the club, the striker who would also become an actor, had spent the last two seasons at Lazio. Bánás had been manager of Cremonese the previous season, and defender Giuseppe Bonizzoni also arrived from the Serie B club.

Fiorentina had come up against both Bánás and Bonizzoni on their way to topping Serie B, winning 3-1 at home and playing out a scoreless draw away, against Milan, however, it would surely be a much stiffer task.

A week before the game, while Fiorentina were opening their new stadium, Milan were away in France. They took on Olympique Nice where two goals near the end of the game from Pastore and captain Mario Magnozzi gave them a 2-0 win. The Sunday before, while Fiorentina drew 2-2 at SPAL, Milan had an easy 8-0 win over third tier club AC Crema.

Giovanni Moretti had recently left Crema to join Milan, and it had been seen as a modest transfer market by the club, who unlike many others, including Fiorentina, had not gone to South America looking for new players.

There were plenty of Fiorentina supporters who travelled to Milan by a specially organised train, not wanting to miss this historic debut. Fiorentina were finally mixing with the big guns, and a game at the San Siro was a great way to start. It was Sunday, 20th September, with a 3 o’clock kick-off.

Fiorentina lined out with Bruno Ballante in goal, Lorenzo Gazzari, Renato Vignolini, Mario Pizziolo, Giuseppe Bigogno, Alfredo Pitto, Gastone Prendato, Antonio Busini, Pedro Petrone, Giuseppen Galluzzi, and Raffaele Rivolo.

They were up against Dario Compiani, Luigi Perversi, Giuseppe Bonizzoni, Luigi Moroni, Orlando Bocchi, Francesco Pomi, Pietro Arcari, Giovanni Moretti, Piero Pastore, Mario Magnozzi, and Giuseppe Torriani.

It was a Fiorentina team which was still getting used to playing together, and it showed. Petrone also struggled up front, his first game in the Italian league failing to live up to its promise. While the attack failed to impress, those at the back held strong against a solid Milan outfit, in particular Gazzari and Bigogno.

Gazzari was possibly at fault however, when Milan took the lead within the first 20 minutes. His attempt at a clearance only found Magnozzi who made no mistake. After that, the Fiorentina backline pulled together to snuff out any further attacks from the home side.

Busini had Fiorentina’s best chance to level the game in the opening half, but his effort was saved by Compiani and they went in still one goal down at the break. Shortly after the interval Petrone did have a decent attempt go just wide while Busini forced the keeper into another save with his powerful shot. Petrone then tried his luck from a free kick, but it was well off target as the crowd jeered the Uruguayan’s effort.

With 15 minutes remaining Fiorentina won themselves a corner. It was taken by Rivolo and Prendato was the man who sent it to the net. Prendato had been the top scorer in Serie B the previous season, and while it would be Petrone who would go on to be Fiorentina’s main goal scorer that season, Prendato had just scored their first goal in Serie A, and it would earn the Viola a draw at the San Siro.

While it ended all square at the San Siro, and at the end of the season Fiorentina and Milan were level on points in fourth place, when Milan came to Florence it was Prendato again who was the hero. He scored twice in that game as Milan suffered a 3-0 defeat.

Bánás left Milan at the end of the following season. Fiorentina again took a draw from the San Siro, this time having led 2-0 at the break, and in Florence they handed Milan their heaviest defeat of the season with a 5-1 win. Fiorentina finished the season in fifth place, seven points ahead of Milan.

At that stage both Petrone and Felsner had left Fiorentina, the manager and player’s falling out and the player heading home. Fiorentina suffered relegation in 1938, and in their seven visits to the San Siro they had failed to record a victory.

That 1937/38 season saw Bánás return as manager of Milan, and by his side as Technical Director was none other than Hermann Felsner, the man who had led Fiorentina in that first game at the San Siro. Fiorentina suffered a 3-1 defeat in Milan that campaign, in a season which saw them achieve just three wins as they fell to the bottom of the table and saw their Serie A adventure come to an end.

Their exile lasted just one season, and while the 1939/40 campaign saw them survive relegation again only because of goal difference, they did win the club’s first ever trophy. Giuseppe Galluzzi, who had played in that first game at the San Siro, took over as manager during that season, and would again face Milan away, but this time in the Coppa Italia.

While Fiorentina again failed to win at the San Siro, the 1-1 draw did force the tie to a replay. When the sides met again in Florence five days later, Fiorentina ran out 5-0 winners, and went on to beat Juventus in the semi-final and Genoa in the final to lift the Coppa Italia.

When the 1942/43 season came around, the last before football finally came to a stop in Italy during the Second World War, Galluzzi was still in charge. He would finally lead Fiorentina to an away win against Milan, however, they would still be without a win at the San Siro.

Because of the power outages in the city, and the difficulty this caused for fans trying to reach the stadium with no trams running, Milan had been forced to move to Inter’s Arena Civica. Fiorentina won 3-1 here on the fourth day of the season.

Fiorentina would need to wait until over 24 years after their first visit to the San Siro to taste success there. It was worth waiting for. When Fulvio Bernardini took his side to Milan in December 1955, they arrived on the back of eight consecutive defeats away to Milan. The season before, Fiorentina had actually managed to win at the San Siro, but that had come against Inter, who were now sharing the ground since 1947.

That 5-3 win came in January of 1955, but when they returned in April it was normal service resumed as they slumped to a 4-0 defeat to Milan. Milan went on to win the Scudetto shortly afterwards but when Fiorentina returned to face them on day ten of the 1955/56 season, it was the Viola who were top of the table.

Unbeaten so far, they had a one point lead over Inter, with Milan four points behind Fiorentina going into the San Siro clash. The Viola scored twice in the opening quarter of an hour, the goals coming from Miguel Montuori and Giuseppe Virgili. No further goals meant Fiorentina had finally beaten Milan at the San Siro, which put them three points ahead of Inter in second with Milan now trailing by six points.

Bernardini’s side did the double at the historic stadium that season as they also beat Inter and went on to win their first ever league title, finishing the season with 12 points to spare over Milan in second, with Inter a further two points back in third place.

We’ve only managed to win 13 of our 82 league games away to Milan, but the first ever win against them at the San Siro led to our historic Scudetto success. Over 90 years have passed since our debut in Serie A, but games against Milan at the San Siro are still a special occasion, and though the wins are rare, it only makes us savour them all the more.

Who knows, this current in-form Fiorentina side may just give another blow to Milan’s hopes of retaining their league title, and give us more memories to treasure.