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A Coppa win for Fiorentina and my (almost) 20 years a Viola without ever seeing a trophy

Coppa Italia win in 1996, my time as a Fiorentina fan, and a little bit of Franco Battiato

AS Photo Archive Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Torneremo ancora, ancora e ancora

(We will come back again, again and again)

May 18th 1996, twenty five years ago today Fiorentina won their fifth Coppa Italia trophy. As Fiorentina fans, we are well used to waiting for our rare successes. This win was the club’s first trophy in 21 years, and while the next win would come just five years later, for me it would come six months too early. May 18th, 2021, today, is the day Italian music lost one of its true maestros, Franco Battiato. You’ll also find his words mixed in here with this story.

The 1995/96 season saw Claudio Ranieri take Fiorentina to fourth place in Serie A, level on points with third placed Lazio. This would give them a place in the UEFA Cup, but a win in the Coppa Italia would mean taking part in the Cup-Winner’s Cup instead. The road to the final had begun back in August 1995 with a 2-1 win away to Ascoli, having gone a goal down to the then Serie C1 side.

The next round saw Fiorentina face another Serie C1 side, this time making light work of Lecce. The goals in that 5-0 away win were scored by Rui Costa, Gabriel Batistuta, Anselmo Robbiati and two from Francesco Baiano. The quarter-final would see us take on Serie B side Palermo over two legs. The first game at home gave Fiorentina a slender 1-0 lead, thanks to a Batistuta second-half penalty. At the Stadio La Favorita, goals from Ciccio Baiano and Rui Costa in a 2-1 win sent the Viola into the semi-final stage.

Here, they would face a Serie A side for the first time in that season’s competition, with two games against Inter in February. A Batistuta hat-trick saw Fiorentina take a 3-1 lead into the second leg at the San Siro. Another goal from the Argentinian kept up Fiorentina’s 100% run in the competition so far, the 1-0 win confirming their place in the final.

May 2nd saw Atalanta travel to the Stadio Artemio Franchi for the first leg, and Batistuta’s seventh goal in that season’s tournament gave Fiorentina a 1-0 win to take to Bergamo. In the league that season, Fiorentina had already defeated Atalanta in both games, another 1-0 win in Florence, and before that a 3-1 away win back in December. 3,400 Fiorentina fans would travel to Bergamo, hoping to see their side finally win another trophy, while back in Florence, over 30,000 were in the Stadio Franchi to watch the game on big screens.

Ma come scusare le iene negli stadi...

(But how to excuse the hyenas in the stadiums..,)

In Bergamo, the Atalanta Ultras were waiting at the train station to greet the trains arriving with the Fiorentina fans. Stones hailed down as the police escorted the visitors on to the waiting buses to take them to the stadium, while the away fans were able to use stones gathered from the railway tracks to return fire. Meanwhile, outside the ground another battle was taking place between the home fans and the police. Rocks and bottles were met with tear gas from the police. Flares were also sent flying inside the stadium by Fiorentina’s followers. Even after the game, when the away fans were finally allowed to leave the ground at 11:30pm, on their way back to the train station cars were destroyed and shop windows smashed. Between 6pm and 2am, the police in Bergamo had been kept busy, with injuries reported on both sides of the divide.

Back in Florence, it was a party atmosphere, but also a nervous wait as the first half ended scoreless. Fiorentina certainly hadn’t sat back to defend their 1-0 lead from the first leg, and it was thanks to Atalanta goalkeeper Fabrizio Ferron that the home side were still in the tie at the break. He had pulled off saves from Batistuta and Francesco Flachi, while Francesco Toldo had little to do apart from a routine save from a free-kick.

After the break, with just three minutes played, Fiorentina finally made the break through. A Rui Costa corner was met first time by Lorenzo Amoruso, who’s right footed strike sent the ball past Ferron who could only stand and watch as it found the net. Ferron made another fine save from Batistuta, but just before the hour mark, the Argentinian scored his eight goal of the competition. Rui Costa had managed to get past Ferron but his effort was then blocked by Paolo Montero, the ball eventually found its way to Bati and from there he was never going to miss. 2-0 on the night, 3-0 on aggregate, game over.

Fiorentina fans in both stadiums could finally celebrate, and those back in Florence would wait at the Franchi until 3am when Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Claudio Ranieri and his Fiorentina team arrived to let the real party begin. The stadium exploded with noise as the players entered the pitch carrying the Coppa Italia and the fans would celebrate this victory long into the night.

The next Coppa Italia to find its way to Florence came at the end of the 2000/01 season. Roberto Mancini took the glory, although it had been Fatih Terim who had taken Fiorentina to the final. This time the fans could celebrate after hosting the second leg at home. That came on June 13th 2001, and six months later I found myself living in Florence.

La stagione dell’amore, tornerà

(The season of love, will return)

I arrived too late for the glory days. I missed our last trophy win by six months. I would not have the chance of seeing the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Rui Costa, Francesco Toldo at the club, and much too late to witness Roberto Baggio in a Fiorentina shirt.

I cannot claim to have been a Fiorentina fan since birth like most people of Florence. I grew up in Ireland where English football was the main interest, and as a child of the 80’s and 90’s, Liverpool had been my team. By the time I moved to Italy, I had already lost interest, fallen out of love, with English football in general. The arrival of the Premier League, Sky Sports and all the hype that surrounded it just wasn’t for me.

Ancora un altro entusiasmo ti farà pulsare il cuore

(Yet another enthusiasm will make your heart beat)

While some may see a person turning their back on a team they supported as a betrayal, in reality I didn’t leave my former love for another. We had grown apart, drifted away from each other over time. I wasn’t from the city, or even the country where that team played their games. I had never even been to their stadium to see them play. It was a long distance relationship, and while sometimes they can survive, in this case, it eventually came to an end.

I wasn’t looking for a new companion, a new interest, but I was excited by the idea of living in a city with a top flight football club, a stadium, and the possibility of being able to attend live matches. It was never meant to be anything serious, and it certainly wasn’t love at first sight either. When I arrived it was a club struggling to survive, and not just on the field. It was a team that had almost given up, where players weren’t even getting paid and an owner in all sorts of trouble. Not that I was in search of glory, but with the fans also protesting against the club owner, and later the manager and players, it wasn’t exactly the atmosphere I had been hoping for.

Shock in my town

When the inevitable happened, and Fiorentina were relegated, I resigned myself to the fact that I would now be watching Serie B football, if I decided to continue going to the stadium. That summer of 2002 however, saw things go from bad to worse for the local club. They were eventually declared bankrupt, and at the start of August, Fiorentina football club had ceased to exist. For me it was hard to get my head around what had just happened, I had only recently arrived here and already my chance of attending football games had gone. For the local fans, this was absolute disaster, their club had just been taken away from them.

Nuove possibilità per conoscersi

(New possibilities to get to know each other)

Luckily, a new club was born. Diego Della Valle came in, someone who looked like he had a lot more sense than the previous owner. It did mean having to start at the bottom, Serie C2, and also playing under another name for now. Florentia Viola was how the club were officially known, but it was never a name that Fiorentina fans would use.

This is where my relationship with Fiorentina started to become a little more serious. Even some of the locals that I knew and work colleagues, were asking me what I was doing going to watch this team take on the likes of Poggibonsi, Montevarchi, Aglianese and Gubbio. I didn’t really have an answer, I just knew that I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t abandon this team now, a team that only included one player from the previous season, Angelo Di Livio.

I desideri non invecchiano quasi mai con l’età

(Desires almost never get old, with age)

The night I realized that this was true love, was not a night of glory or success. It was a rainy night in Florence in early October, as I cycled to watch a mid week game. I went there that night on my own, as nobody I knew was interested in sitting in the wet on a Wednesday evening to watch a game against Forlì. The game, like the weather, was a damp dreary affair, and ended scoreless. It also saw us lose ground to the early league leaders, Grossetto. Sitting there that night, getting soaked, it hit me, this was the real thing, there was now no escape for me, I had become a Fiorentina fan come what may.

What came was no win in our next three games, two defeats and a draw which would cost Pietro Vierchowod his job as manager. Alberto Cavasin came in, and after a battle with Rimini, we came out on top and achieved promotion. The usual summer of discontent in Italian football would see us placed in Serie B the following season instead of C1. That season would also see us take back the name of Fiorentina and would see the club play in purple once again.

Io ti guardavo e sognavo una vita tutta con te

(I looked at you and dreamed of a whole life with you)

It would see Alberto Cavasin eventually make way for the man who had been in charge of Atalanta when Fiorentina had won that Coppa Italia in Bergamo, Emiliano Mondonico. We would need a play-off to win promotion back to Serie A. That would see one of my favourite nights at the Stadio Franchi, as we saw off Perugia and won our place back in the top flight of Italian football. I celebrated in a crazy Curva Fiesole and after the game on the pitch.

Strani giorni, viviamo strani giorni

(Strange days, we’re living strange days)

The first season back in Serie A, I was at the stadium on a scorching Sunday afternoon in May to see us survive relegation on the final day of the season. It was the season of Dino Zoff and his ‘cattivi pensieri’, those bad thoughts coming from too many refereeing decisions going against us.

Schiacciata degli abusi del potere

(Crushed by the abuses of power)

Cesare Prandelli arrived for the 2005/06 season, where we finished fourth and qualified for the Champions League. The Calciopoli scandal however, would see us deducted points, and lose our place in Europe. It also saw us start the following season with minus 15 points. Yet somehow we ended up in sixth place, without that deduction we would have finished third. Still, we were now back in Europe, in the UEFA Cup. At this stage I had moved back to Ireland, but managed to get back to Florence for games when I could. That season I came over to see Fiorentina compete in European competition for the first time, against Dutch side PSV. We even made it to the semi final stage, only to lose out to Glasgow Rangers in a penalty shoot-out.

I was at the stadium the day Florence stood with our manager Cesare, after the death of his wife Manuela, a minute’s silence that will never be forgotten.

Since then we’ve competed in the Champions League, and had famous wins over Liverpool. Coming up against my ex club, there were no mixed emotions. I wanted Fiorentina to win, and that was that, I was a Fiorentina fan no matter what. I was at the Stadio Franchi when we beat Bayern Munich, but lost out on away goals.

Of course we’ve also had seasons where we never even came close to any success, the Siniša Mihajlović era, then Delio Rossi. He did at least provide some entertainment on the bench, and his attack on Adam Ljajić cost him his job as Fiorentina manager.

Vincenzo Montella arrived, and took us back into Europe. He also brought us to another Coppa Italia final, that infamous game where we lost to Napoli. We even reached another Europa League semi final.

Ne abbiamo avute di occasioni, perdendole

(We’ve had opportunities, losing them)

Under Paolo Sousa we dared to dream for just a little while, top of the league before falling away. We then shed tears as we bid farewell to our captain, Davide Astori, taken from us at just 31 years old. We saw our players battle on after the tragedy as the fans and city rallied behind Stefano Pioli’s team.

The end of the Della Valle era finally came, and ended at a low point, just as in their first season with Fiorentina in Serie A, we avoided relegation on the last day.

Rocco Commisso has since taken over, but the two seasons so far have seen only disappointment. Hopefully, given time, he too can bring us some more glory days, some great nights at the stadium. Over the past almost twenty years I’ve been able to enjoy wathcing players such as Angelo Di Livio, Christian Riganò, Fabrizio Miccoli, Martin Jørgensen, Luca Toni, Adrian Mutu, Sébastien Frey, Stevan Jovetić, Alberto Gilardino, David Pizarro, Borja Valero, Giuseppe Rossi, Joaquín, Mohamed Salah, Davide Astori, Bartłomiej Drągowski, Gaetano Castrovilli and Franck Ribéry.

Lo sai che il sogno è realtà

(You know that the dream is reality)

It’s been an almost twenty year period in which I’ve never seen Fiorentina lift a trophy. So yes, Rocco Commisso was right in his recent controversial press conference, when he said that we are not a club that is familiar with winning anyway. This is not the reason we support Fiorentina, but what we have always been able to do is dream, and have some hope. This is something that the last few years have taken away from us, right now we cannot even dare to imagine our team qualifying for Europe, never mind winning a trophy. That is all that Fiorentina fans are asking for right now, to give us back some hope. We’re not asking for the Scudetto or to win the Champions League, all we want is to be up there challenging where it belongs. Fiorentina fans do not deserve yet another season of anonymity, of seeing players and a club owner celebrate avoiding relegation once again. I have celebrated many times over the years watching Fiorentina, despite never actually winning anything, but I find it hard to celebrate this current team and our present situation.

Rimettiamoci la maglia, i tempi stanno per cambiare

(Let’s put back on the jersey, times are about to change)

Now that this season is coming to a close, it’s time for Rocco Commisso to make some important decisions. Soon, hopefully, our fans will be back at the stadium to support Fiorentina, but if the club continues as it has done over the last couple of seasons, the owner, and the players, will be left in no doubt as to what we expect from our team.

Non cambierà, non cambierà

sì che cambierà, vedrai che cambierà.

(No it won’t change, it won’t change, yes it will change, you’ll see that it will change)