1969 may be remembered by a lot of people for the first man on the moon (if you believed, the put a man on the moon) and for others it would mean Woodstock, although how much they would remember is doubtful. For us Fiorentina fans, 1969, and today, May 11th in particular, is all about winning our second Scudetto.
That Sunday was the penultimate day of the Serie A season, and Milan’s draw at home to Napoli the day before gave Fiorentina the chance to clinch the title. It had been a battle at the top between Fiorentina, Cagliari, and Milan during the 1968/69 campaign. The early leaders had been reigning champions Milan before Cagliari took over at the top. Fiorentina, with just one defeat, would eventually take sole ownership of the top spot in early March with a win over Lanerossi Vicenza, on the same day that Cagliari suffered a home defeat to Juventus.
Now Fiorentina would need to win away to Juventus to mathematically secure the Scudetto win. Saturday night had seen some Viola fans already celebrating in Florence when news came through of Milan’s draw with Napoli, in the mistaken belief that Fiorentina were already champions. In reality, they had one hand on the title, with a lead of two points over Milan, and Cagliari a further point behind. Napoli had already helped our cause the week before when they had beaten Cagliari, all but ending their title hopes.
Milan, and their president Franco Carraro didn’t take their slip-up against Napoli too well. Less than a month earlier, Fiorentina had been capable of winning 3-1 at the San Paolo, before Napoli decided to destroy the scudetto ambitions of first Cagliari, and now Milan. Fiorentina were managed that season by Bruno Pesaola, former Napoli player and manager, who had been in charge at Napoli the previous season and taken them to a runners-up spot in Serie A. Napoli, meanwhile, were now managed by Giuseppe Chiappella, a man who had spent most of his playing career at Fiorentina and had managed the Viola up until this season.
At the final whistle at the San Siro the anger of the Milan players and officials exploded. There were strong words between Carraro and Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino at the end of the scoreless draw, and the Napoli team would be forced to wait for two hours after the game before they could leave the ground. The police had tried to clear the area around the stadium, but even at that late hour, when the Napoli bus finally exited the San Siro, it did so under a barrage of stones and bottles.
Fiorentina had trained at the Filadelfia ground the day before, and for the game at the Comunale, over 10,000 Fiorentina fans were expected to arrive. With the game kicking off at 4pm, and a full house anticipated, the gates and ticket offices would be open from 1 0’clock on that Sunday afternoon. Along with the large numbers who travelled from Florence and other parts of Tuscany, there would be many more Fiorentina fans arriving from towns and cities in Piemonte. Half an hour before kick-off the ground was already full, and there looked to be as many Fiorentina flags as those of the home team.
This was never going to be an easy tie, even if Juventus were out of the title race, the team were still playing for the highest league position possible in order to increase their bonus. They had been one of the favourites at the start of the season and would certainly want to win their final home game against the team which had not only beaten them in Florence but were now deemed the best team in Italy. Added to that was our record in league games away to Juventus. Since Fiorentina’s arrival in Serie A in 1931, they had only managed to win twice in Turin against Juve, and the last time they had tasted success in this fixture was back in the 1955/56 season, the season of our first Scudetto win.
It was an understandably nervous Fiorentina in the opening half. Both Pietro Anastasi for Juventus and Fiorentina’s Luciano Chiarugi had early efforts sent high over the bar, and after that it had been Juventus who had seen most of the ball without ever really troubling the Viola defence. That changed in the 34th minute when Franco Superchi pulled off an important save from Giampaolo Menichelli. Just a few minutes later and Superchi again denied Menichelli after he had been put through on goal by the Spaniard Luis del Sol. Those two saves kept the game scoreless at the break, and three minutes after the interval Fiorentina finally made the breakthrough.
Sandro Salvadore fouled Amarildo outside the area, and the Brazilian stepped up to take the free kick himself. The ball went around the two-man wall, but what should have been an easy catch for Roberto Anzolin instead saw him spill the ball and Chiarugi was quickest to react. The Fiorentina fans could now start to celebrate. 25 minutes later, and the party could surely begin. The Viola began a counterattack with Claudio Merlo’s pass to Chiarugi, and after beating the Juve defence, he played a perfect ball through to Mario Maraschi and his first time shot went past Anzolin and found the net, despite Gianfranco Leoncini’s desperate chase to foil his effort. This was Maraschi’s 14th league goal of the season, Fiorentina’s highest scorer.
The final 20 minutes were played out without much else to report, apart from Pesaola sending on Francesco Rizzo for Amarildo to allow the ex-Cagliari man his part in that glorious day in Turin. The final whistle saw the Fiorentina fans explode with joy, some managed to make it on to the pitch despite the efforts of the police. The players carried their manager shoulder high in triumph, and even the home fans sportingly applauded the new league champions. Something that would be hard to imagine today, with a rivalry which would only become one of hatred many years later, when another Scudetto dream was dashed.
When they finally left the stadium, Via Roma near the stadium was the scene of hundreds of car horns blowing and Fiorentina flags flying from their windows. Back in Florence, when news filtered through at around 6pm, the streets of the city centre and along the Arno River, were invaded by celebrating fans. Many of those had been waiting at the Sports Kiosk just off Piazza della Repubblica, connected by telephone with Turin. Hundreds more waited for the news at Bar Marisa beside the club’s stadium. With flags flying all across the city, some headed for Piazza della Signoria intent on raising the Fiorentina flag from Palazzo Vecchio, but they would need to wait until the next morning, as the doors were locked.
The foreign tourists must have wondered what was happening as their relaxing stroll through Florence was interrupted by delirious locals. The Fiorentina president, Nello Baglini, along with Pesaola and the players, first had to head to Milan. They were guests of honour on the TV programme Domenica Sportiva, which went on air at 10:10pm on the main channel. Earlier, just after 7pm, those who were not out on the streets celebrating would have been able to watch a deferred showing of the second half from Turin.
Before the season started, Baglini had been criticised by many Fiorentina fans. They had already seen their hero Kurt Hamrin leave the club, and now both Enrico Albertosi and Mario Brugnera had joined Cagliari. Baglini had also been present at the San Siro for the Milan game, and speaking to the press afterwards he claimed that he had never suffered as much, waiting for the final whistle. Baglini spent most of his time in Milan, a fact which had also been cause for complaint from the Viola faithful.
The atmosphere had changed throughout the season, as Fiorentina went from strength to strength, and new manager Pesaola had turned this young team into champions. That was something that even Bruno Pesaola himself scarcely believed possible after taking over. After a pre-season friendly he apparently stated that if he managed to win the Scudetto with this team he would become a monk. That promise was never kept, and although at one stage it seemed like the manager would be heading straight back to Napoli the following season, he did remain at Fiorentina until 1971
The Fiorentina fans would wait long into the night for their heroes to return to the city, and the celebrations would continue for days. The players who brought such joy to the Fiorentina faithful should never be forgotten: Franco Superchi, Claudio Bandoni, Giuseppe Brizi, Ugo Ferrante, Eraldo Mancin, Bernardo Rogora, Paolino Stanzial, Pierluigi Cencetti, Giancarlo De Sisti, Salvatore Esposito, Claudio Merlo, Giovan Battista Pirovano, Amarildo, Luciano Chiarugi, Giancarlo Danova, Mario Maraschi, Giorgio Mariani and Francesco Rizzo, along with their manager Bruno Pesaolo, and his staff which included Alberto Baccani, Amilcare Ardovini, Ubaldo Farabullini, Mauro Marradini and Bruno Anselmi, together with club president Nello Baglini and his DS Carlo Montanari, and the board of directors Emilio Mengoni, Sergio Ristori, Alfredo Senatori and Ugolino Ugolini.
Over 50 years have passed since that unforgettable Sunday May 11th, and who knows how long more we’ll have to wait to witness those scenes again, if ever. The number one song in the UK charts that weekend, was Get Back from The Beatles. Maybe one day we can do what John Lennon and Paul McCartney asked, and get back to where we once belonged.