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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Associazione Calcio ChievoVerona are this week’s (and yes, I do mean “week”) feature team. They’ve been Serie A mainstays for a number of years now, and theirs is one of Italian football’s greatest “rags to riches” tales. Take a look at their progress graph and you’ll see what I mean:-

Chievo were formed in 1929 by a small group of football fans from the Veronese borough of the same name. Initially they played as an amateur side, competing against other teams after the players had finished their working day. Their first league season started in November 1931 when they were admitted into Italian football’s eighth tier.

The team’s first incarnation didn’t last long, however, and financial problems forced Chievo to disband in 1936. It’d be a full 12 years before the team resurfaced in the regional Seconda Divisione league before league restructuring in 1959 saw them placed in calcio’s second-bottom tier.

Chievo continued to hover around the pyramid’s lower ebbs until 1964, when businessman Luigi Campedelli took the club over. His arrival coincided with the beginning of of Chievo’s rise through the leagues, and by 1975 they were a Serie D (fifth tier) club. It took 11 seasons of midtable finishes before the team, then known as Paluani Chievo, could mount a serious promotion push, but they were eventually promoted to Serie C2 in 1986.

Stringent stadium regulations in Serie C2 meant Chievo were forced to move across town and share the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi with city rivals Hellas Verona. Chievo’s fortunes only continued to sore, however, as they were promoted to Serie C1 under the tutelage of manager Gianni Bui in 1989.

Playing at a higher level than ever before, Chievo changed their name to their current title in 1989 and finished sixth in Serie C1 in that season. Luigi Campedelli sadly died in 1992, but his son, Luca, would carry on his good work. Aged 23, Luca was Italian football’s youngest club president at the time, and his hand still guides Chievo to this day.

Giovanni Sartori became Chievo’s Director of Football, and Alberto Malesani, a future UEFA Cup winner with Parma, was appointed manager. Malesani helped Chievo achieve a remarkable promotion to Serie B in 1994, but left the club in 1997 when Fiorentina turned his head. Nonetheless, Chievo did the unthinkable in 2001 when they were promoted to Serie A having finished third in Serie B.

The fairytale became a national sensation. Sport pages were clogged not only with the success of Roma, that year’s Serie A winners, but also the “Chievo Phenomenom.” Coach Luigi Delneri had brought an unfashionable side who attracted no more than 4-5,000 fans per game into Serie A, and the fairytale has only continued to grow over the past ten years.

History-wise I’m going to cut things short there. Chievo’s Serie A years have produced some great tales, and I want to explore them later this week. I don’t want to waste time repeating myself.

A few notes on Chievo, then. They’re nicknamed the Gialloblu (“yellow-blues”) or Mussi Volanti (“flying donkeys”) depending on your preference. The second nickname is pretty funny: Hellas fans originally coined it, claiming “donkeys will fly before Chievo reach Serie A.” Chievo fans turned it around when the team reached Serie A and embraced it as Hellas flounded in Serie B and C1.

Chievo don’t attract big crowds, and its only in the past decade that they’ve been able to regularly draw more than 10,000 fans to the stadium. Last season their average attendance was just 12,676, and its not uncommon for Hellas, who’ve played at a lower level since 2002, to attract more fans than Chievo.

The Mussi Volanti haven’t had a great 2011-12 season so far. They’re currently 14th after 17 games, having scored a paltry 13 goals all season. That’s about all I can tell you of Chievo at the moment as I really don’t know all that much about them. More tomorrow.

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Liverpool's 1984 European Cup win in Rome was a catalyst for violence.

Turns out AS Roma don’t exactly enjoy the most harmonious relationship with English fans, and understandably so. Seeing “Liverpool” listed as one of Roma’s rivals in Football Manager (guffaw) first raised my interest. I personally find Liverpool to be one of the game’s most dislikeable clubs (especially at this point in time) but, a couple of unfavourable European ties aside, why would Roma and the Anfield Reds care about each other?

A little bit of research unearths an understandable explanation. I’ve heard of a link between city rivals Lazio and Chelsea, but the crux of the rivalry stems from the 1984 European Cup final. The game took place in Roma’s Stadio Olimpico with Liverpool besting the hometown side 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 finish AET.

Roma, the pre-match favourites, had been humiliated on their own turf. Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani lost their composure and skied the decisive spots kicks, leaving Giallorossi fans to suffer the indignation of watching an opposing team lift Europe’s most prestigious trophy inside their own stadium.

As unpleasant as this situation must’ve been, however, there are far darker reasons for the rivalry’s birth. Localised rioting ensued after the game and a handful of Liverpool fans were unfortunately caught-up in the violence. The celebrations were ruined, but, more importantly, a number of Liverpool fans were hospitalised as a result.

Mark Lawrenson penned an eye-opening recollection of the situation in 2007. He alleges that Liverpool fans were corralled down a tunnel towards a horde of Roman hooligans, who viciously beat the visitors as the idle police watched-on. You’ve got to take such a piece with a big pinch of salt, but it sounds horrific. I’m sure that Lawrenson, a Liverpool great, exaggerated much of his tale, but all football violence is disgusting and completely unjustifiable.

This makes the bad blood pretty clear. If my team’s support ever fell victim to such violence I’m sure I’d resent the offenders too. It only takes a quick Google search to show that Liverpool fans still loathe their Roman counterparts, and sects of the Giallorossi supportership have done little to endear themselves in subsequent ties with English teams.

Liverpool visited Roma twice in 2001 and there were further stabbings. Middlesbrough visited the Eternal City as part of their 2006 UEFA Cup campaign and their fans became embroiled in trouble with local ultras. Further incidents followed after Manchester United’s visit in 2007 and an Arsenal supporters’ coach was set upon in 2009.

It’d be completely wrong to sympathise with the perpetrators of such violence. Hooliganism, unfortunately, remains a significant problem on the peninsula, and its eradication will take years of hard work. However, there’s no way that the English supporters are completely blameless. Finding unbiased, English-language reports on these incidents has been difficult for obvious reasons. Yes, the Giallorossi have a significant hooligan sect, but it’s wrong to tar every Roma fan with the same brush.

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Roma by the Numbers

I must admit to thinking Roma to be more historically successful than they really are. I always knew that their trophy room wasn’t as well stocked as those in Turin and Milan, but I’m surprised by their comparative lack of success.

Italian Championship Winners

1. Juventus (27 titles)

2. Internazionale (18 titles)

-. AC Milan (18 titles)

4. Genoa (9 titles)

5. Torino (7 titles)

-. Bologna (7 titles)

-. Pro Vercelli (7 titles)

8. Roma (3 titles)

9. Lazio (2 titles)

-. Fiorentina (2 titles)

-. Napoli (2 titles)

Further down are Cagliari, Sampdoria, Casale, Novese and Hellas Verona who have each won one Italian Championship.

Roma are eighth in terms of Italian Championships won. Eighth! I always assumed they’d be fourth or, at worst, fifth, but eighth? It seems crazy that a team from a city as great as Rome haven’t been more dominant, especially as I’d always considered them in the same bracket as Juve, Inter and Milan. Three titles is nothing to sniff at, but their Serie A wins are separated by decades (1941-42, 1982-83, 2000-01). They’ve never been calcio’s top dogs for an extended period of time.

They’ve won plenty of other honours, including nine Coppa Italias and two Supercoppas but (a single Inter Cities Fairs Cup aside) they’ve never been hugely successful in Europe. Excuse my ignorance, but I’m almost shocked by this.

I did a few sums to put Roma’s position into perspective. Over the past 79 seasons they’ve achieved an average position of just 7th in Serie A, peaking by winning the title thrice. They’re lowest ebb came in 1951-52 when they finished first in Serie B, their only season outside of the top tier. Now they seem more Tottenham Hotspur than anything else.

In terms of league performances, the last 11 seasons have been the most successful in Roma’s history. They won the Scudetto in 2000-01 and have since finished second six times since. This gives them an average finish of 3.7th (4th, really), which is almost twice as good as their historical average.

Roma are fourth in the all-time Serie A league table, which is closer to what I expected. Still, I’m really surprised to learn that the past decade has been their most successful in Serie A. They’re a massive club with a proud legacy, but I always thought that Roma were built on a gold-laden past. Apparently I was wrong.

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Associazione Sportiva Roma were founded in 1927 as the result of a merger between three existing Roman clubs: Roman F.C., Alba-Audace Roma and Fortitudo Pro Roma. Italo Foschi, a secretary for the National Fascist Party, who wanted Rome to have a larger club to challenge dominant northern sides like Genoa and Pro Vercelli, initiated the merger.

The club settled in the working class region of Testaccio, building an all-wooden stadium there (the Campo Testaccio) in 1929. Thrown straight into the top tier, Roma didn’t become a success side until Serie A’s second official season (1930-31). A team featuring Italian internationals like Fulvio Bernardini (who I covered a few weeks ago) and Attilio Ferraris finished second to Juventus, preceding a credible third-place finish in 1931-32.

A slump in league form saw most of Roma’s high-profile players depart, and they were forced into a rebuilding process in the mid-1930s. Enrique Guaita, an Argentine-born forward, was among those who joined, and his goals helped fire Roma back towards the top. In 1935-36, coached by the Scudetto-winning ex-Casale player Luigi Barbesino, Roma finished second to Bologna by just a single point.

Goal-getter: Amedeo Amadei.

Roma’s inconsistency resurfaced and the Giallorossi (“yellow-reds”) finished as low as 10th the following season. Their first title win in 1941-42 came as a huge surprise, as the capital city side had finished 11th the year before despite making the Coppa Italia final. 18 goals from star striker Amedeo Amadei helped Roma to a three-point advantage over runners-up Torino.

Again Roma struggled to establish dominance. They finished 9th a year after winning the title and continued to struggle after Serie A’s post-World War II resumption in 1946. They went into a slump, never finishing above 15th between 1946 and 1951. They were relegated after a wretched 1950-51 campaign saw them finished 19th, although the league was tight and they were just seven points behind ninth-place Udinese.

The Serie A exodus didn’t last long, however, and Roma won promotion at the first time of asking under future Azzurri coach Giuseppe Viani’s tutelage. 1951-52 remains Roma’s only season outside of the top flight to date.

The Giallorossi slowly re-established themselves as a top-half side, and achieved yet another second-place finish in 1954-55 with Englishman Jesse Carver at the helm. Originally Roma had finished third, but they were bumped to runners-up when second-place Udinese were relegated after a betting scandal.

Unable to establish themselves as one of Italy’s top sides, Roma’s up-and-down Serie A fortunes continued. They did achieve some success in cup competitions, however, and won the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (a precursor to the UEFA Cup/Europa League). They beat Birimingham City 4-2 in the final, and won their first Coppa Italia three years later with a win over Torino.

A second Coppa Italia followed in 1969 as Roma continued to fluctuate around Serie A’s midtable. The 1970s were just as successful on the cup front, but Roma never finished above third in Serie A. During this period they added the 1972 Anglo-Italian Cup and 1979-80 Coppa Italia to their trophy room, before finishing as Serie A’s runners-up in 1980-81.

Bruno Conti, an exceptionally quick and skilful winger, was among Roma’s star players at the time. His Roma career lasted from 1973 to 1990, and he even managed the club after Luigi Delneri’s departure in the 2004-05 season. Conti made a total of 372 Serie A appearances in his career and won 47 Italy caps, scoring five goals. Today he works as Roma’s Director of Football.

The Giallorossi had been within touching distance of the Scudetto on plenty of occasions, and the hunger for gold was returning. The Eternal City exploded into celebration at the end of the 1982-83 season when a dominant Roma side won Serie A with games to spare.

Roma were unable to repeat the feat in 1983-84, finishing second, but they did manage to win the 1984 Coppa Italia. They also competed in the 1984 European Cup (Champions League) final, taking a feared and respected Liverpool side to a penalty shootout that the English side went on to win.

Yet another Coppa Italia win came in 1985-86, but Roma’s league form was slumping again. By 1991 they’d added another Coppa Italia and put forth a losing effort in that year’s UEFA Cup final, but Roma were regularly finishing 8th and 9th in Serie A. To this day they’ve never been able to establish themselves as the number one side in Italy, often following-up Scudetto victories with season of mediocrity.

The 2000s marked a shift in Roma’s fortunes as the club splashed-out on big money signings like Gabriel Batistuta, Hidetoshi Nakata, Walter Samuel and Brazilian midfielder Emerson. 2000-01 was hugely successful, and Roma won their third Scudetto with a 3-1 last-day win over Parma.

Roman hero: Francesco Totti.

Captain and local hero Francesco Totti emerged as a true Roman icon around this time, and his performances were instrumental in the club’s success. I don’t even need to explain the phenomenon that Totti has become. He’s a unique player, one of the finest of his generation, and one that the Giallorossi will struggle to replace when he leaves or retires.

Roma continued to spend big. Aldair, Cafu, and Vincenzo Montella had already arrived at the club, and enfant terrible Antonio Cassano signed for €30 the following season. The Giallorossi finished second in 2001-02, missing out on a fourth Scudetto by a single point, but did capture that year’s Supercoppa.

Big financial troubles surfaced in 2002-03, an inevitable result of the previous couple of seasons’ big spending. Batistuta was loaned to Inter to cover his wages, and Cafu was released to AC Milan. Christian Chivu’s 2003 signing was delayed and only secured by the FIGC’s own money. Roma, however, slowly recovered. More shares were released onto the stock market, and approximately €80m was injected into the club in order to keep it afloat.

Roma have continued as calcio’s perennial nearly men ever since. They’ve won a further two Coppa Italia’s since 2003 and finished as Serie A runners-up an astonishing five times. This season they’ve undergoing something of a revolution under new American owner Thomas Di Benedetto and manager Luis Enrique. The transition to a slick, possession-based team hasn’t been easy, but things are finally starting to pick up for Roma. I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

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Can veteran striker Antonio Di Natale help bring the Scudetto to Udine?

Aside from an unrecognised pre-FIGC championship in 1896, Udinese’s closest brush with Scudetto success game in 1954-55. Hopes weren’t high going into the season: the Bianconeri had finished 16th the previous year, staving-off relegation with two play-off draws. Another season of struggle was expected, and Udine did little to defy the expectations in the early stages.

They started the season at home to champions Inter and were beaten 2-0. A 3-1 defeat at Napoli followed, and Udinese suffered a humiliating 5-0 drubbing at Catania next. Shipping goals and rooted to the bottom, Udinese were in trouble already. This changed with the signing of Umberto Pinardi, a defender previously of Juventus and Como.

Pinardi’s arrival provided the attack-minded Bianconeri with improved balance and defensive solidity. Udinese ran-out 3-0 winners over Genoa in Pinardi’s debut and only lost another three games all-season, the last of which came on December 12th (2-0 vs. Sampdoria). The defensive strengthening had had an obvious immediate impact.

Game after game drew Udinese closer and closer to table-topping Milan. The Scudetto race opened-up, and a Bianconeri hot streak moved them to within four points of the title favourites by May 1st, 1955. The teams met in Udine for a vital contest on that date, with Milan on 39 points and Udinese on 35. Anxiety filled the Stadio Moretti, but the Zebrette tifosi knew they were within touching distance of a first Serie A championship. The excitement was palpable.

Disaster struck in the game’s early stages when Udinese ‘keeper Gianni Romano was stretchered off after a collision with Gunnar Nordahl, Milan’s Swedish forward. Substitutions weren’t allowed in 1955, so the Bianconeri were forced to solider-on against the strongest team in the league with just 10 men.

Instead of capitulating, Udinese rallied. They showed incredible grinta and fire to battle through the 90 minutes, and they emerged with a miraculous 3-2 victory. Now the title race was well and truly on. The momentum was with Udinese, and all they had to do was overturn a one-point deficit to claim the Scudetto.

Sadly, Udinese lost their form. Milan collected 9 points from their last 5 games, and the Bianconeri couldn’t keep-up the pace. Dropped points to Pro Patria, Novara and Torino proved decisive, and Udinese finished on 44 points (four short of Milan’s 48).

Udinese have come close since, finishing fourth in 1956-57 and 2004-05 and third in 1997-98. Nothing, however, has matched the excitement of the 1954-55 title race. They finished a superb fourth last season, thrilling the peninsula with some of the most exciting, attacking football in Europe but ultimately finishing 16 points behind champions Milan. This season, however, I believe that Udinese have the potential to mount their strongest title challenge since 1955.

The Bianconeri have conceded just seven league goals this season. That’s an average of 0.5 goals per game: a marked improvement on last year’s still-respectable 1.13. Udinese’s average goals scored has decreased from 1.71 to 1.29, reflecting a shift in coach Francesco Guidolin’s philosophy. Udinese have added defensive steel with compromising much of their attacking verve.

The three starting centre-backs – Danilo, Maurizio Domizzi and Mehdi Benatia – are having excellent seasons, but they aren’t the only reason for Udinese’s new watertight defence. ‘Keeper Samir Handanovic must now be considered among the best in the world. The 27-year-old Slovenian has looked unbeatable at times over the past few seasons, and he’ll surely be the subject of some big money bids next summer. Udinese have the best defence in Italy (Lazio are second with 11 conceded), and Handanovic’s form has been a huge contributing factor.

Udinese are currently second in Serie A, level with leaders Juventus on points (30). Their next two fixtures should give us an idea of their title credentials. Udinese face Lazio on Sunday and Juventus ahead of the winter break on Wednesday. The Zebrette have already played Milan, Inter, Napoli and Roma, but these games could be the toughest of their season so far.

Antonio Conte’s Juventus haven’t steamrolled their way to the top of the league, but they’re efficient, functional and undefeated. The young coach has made an excellent start to top-tier management, and Udinese will do well to keep their dominant midfielders (Pirlo, Vidal, Marchisio et al.).

Lazio, meanwhile, have a new lethal spearhead in Miroslav Klose and a rock-solid defence. Edy Reja’s men are just two points behind Udinese and are one of Serie A’s toughest teams to beat, having lost just twice all season. Udinese must match these teams if they’re to make a serious Scudetto bid. This is one of the most competitive leagues in recent years, and there’ll be plenty of teams waiting to take Undinese’s place if they stumble.

Much of the Bianconeri’s success hinges on their talisman, Antonio Di Natale. Guidolin’s 3-5-1-1 system is designed to feed the ageing striker, and Udinese are highly reliant on his goals. Toto has struck 10 times in Serie A this season; 56% of Udinese’s total (18). Wing-backs Dusan Basta and Pablo Armero are next in line with three each. Antonio Floro Flores, Di Natale’s deputy, is yet to score in nine appearances.

The statistics say everything about Toto’s importance, and a long-term injury would likely derail Udinese’s title hopes. Still, the Bianconeri have a balanced XI with a solid defence, drive on the flanks and a midfield blend of guile and grinta. Udinese’s intangibles make the team a sum greater than their parts, and a bit of luck should see them push Juve & co. all the way to the wire.

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As if being implicated in a match-fixing scandal wasn’t bad enough, Udinese’s 1954-55 campaign would end on an even worse note. Arrigo De Pauli, the club’s deputy president, was killed in a car accident en route to watching Udinese’s pre-season friendly with Torino. He died only a few hours after the Bianconeri’s punishment was announced.

Udinese’s dream season had turned to the darkest of nightmares. Lazio, Bologna and Triestina cherry-picked the squad but the Bianconeri soldiered-on with the barebones. Spearheaded by new forward Giuseppe Secchi’s 22 goals, Udinese finished 1955-56 as Serie B champions and thus secured an immediate top-flight return.

Finishing fourth in their first season back, Udinese enjoyed another extended period in Serie A and survived until 1962. The slide resumed, and the Bianconeri’s yo-yo reputation continued. They were in Serie B for two seasons before dropping down to Serie C. Giuseppe Bertoli returned as an advisor but Udinese finished just 11th in Group A (1964-65).

The Bianconeri’s primavera (youth) team fared much better and captured their Scudetto equivalent. This saw a number of primavera players promoted to the senior squad in 1965-66 and the team performed much better, finishing second.

Udinese’s performances had improved, but financial restraints forced them to continually sell their better players to bigger sides year after year. It took Udine over a decade to achieve promotion: they finally achieved it in 1978, a year that also saw them win the Anglo-Italian Cup.

Having been out of Serie A since 1962, Udinese were in no mood to mess around in Serie B. The club’s new board helped mastermind a barnstorming season from which Udinese claimed 55 points and a quick return to the big time. The Bianconeri had a torrid 1979-80 campaign, and won just three Serie A games all season. Their points total (21) should’ve seen Udinese relegated, but, ironically, the very thing that had started their demise in the first place ended up saving them.

Investigators unearthed an illegal betting pool ring involving multiple players and clubs. Milan, who’d originally finished third, were the most severely implicated. Along with Lazio (originally 13th), Milan were relegated which meant survival for Udinese and Catanzaro (originally 15th and 14th respectively).

Marquee signing: Zico.

The 1980’s progressed with a highlight sixth-place finish in 1982-83. Udinese, by this point, were regarded as one of the peninsula’s stronger sides, and they hoped to cement that status with a blockbuster signing on June 1st, 1983. Brazilian legend Zico, 33, joined Udinese after a minor financial hiccup. A record 26,611 season tickets were sold for the season ahead, and Zico was soon turning on the style at the Stadio Friuli.

Zico’s new team started the season excellent, soaring as high as third, but Zico was injured in a March clash with Brescia and the Bianconeri missed him badly. They were sixth by the time he returned to fitness, and finished ninth (just five points from third) at the end of the season. Zico made a telling contribution, scoring 19 of Udinese’s 47 goals.

A troubled season followed for Udinese and Zico. Injuries and suspensions limited the Brazilian to a handful of appearances as his team finished 11th. Legal problems arose for the Zico in May 1985 and he immediately went AWOL. Zico re-appeared in Brazil after an appeal five months later, having clearly had enough of Italian football. He was never seen in an Udinese shirt again.

Meanwhile, The Biancroneri’s slide continued. Gianpaolo Pozzo took over in 1986 and was met with a baptism of fire as the club were implicated in another betting scandal. Their original punishment of relegation was overturned and replaced with a nine-point penalty for the 1986-87 season. This ultimately saw Udinese relegated, and they were in Serie B for 1987-88.

Udinese’s most notable yo-yo period followed. They were promoted and relegated four times between 1988 and 1995, never staying in the same division for any longer than two years. 1994-95 saw them promoted as Serie B runners-up, and they’ve been a top tier side ever since.

Thus starts the story of today’s Udinese. Alberto Zaccheroni was appointed manager in 1995 and Pozzo redefined the Bianconeri’s philosophies. Udinese focused their energies on setting-up a comprehensive scouting network to unearth cheap, unknown talents as a way of acquiring quality players for severely reduced fees. It’s a strategy that serves them incredibly well even today, and it has allowed the small-town side to maintain their Serie A status without considerable expenditure.

Udinese finished 10th in 1995-96. In April 1997 they scored an excellent 3-0 win over Juventus (despite playing most of the game with 10 men) and came fifth in Serie A to qualify for the UEFA Cup. Zaccheroni’s boys continued their rapid improvement in 1997-98, finishing third in Serie A before the talented coach was whisked away to AC Milan. German striker Oliver Bierhoff followed him to the San Siro after 57 goals in 86 Bianconeri appearances.

The 1990s closed with Udinese finishing sixth and eighth in Serie A. They fell into the table’s lower half in 2000-01 when they finished 12th (but still won the Intertoto Cup, that holy grail of European competition). Roy Hodgson came in for 2001-02 but was fired after badmouthing the Friuli side in the English media.

Luciano Spalletti, who’d originally managed the Bianconeri in the 2000-01 season, returned to Udine in 2002. The club’s fortunes improved immediately: Spalletti took Udinese to sixth in his first season back and seventh in his second. This was something of a golden era for Udinese. Armed with a squad of talented players like Sulley Muntari (he was a good player once upon a time, honest…) David Pizarro, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Felipe, Spalletti took the Bianconeri into the 2005-06 Champions League after finishing fourth in 2004-05.

Serse Cosmi took over when Spalletti left for Roma, and Udinese finished third in a tough Champions League group featuring Barcelona, Werder Bremen and Sporting Lisbon. Now well-known for their attractive, attacking football, Udinese finished 10th in 05-06, 10th the following season, and seventh in 2007-08.

They experienced another European high in 2008-09 by making it to the UEFA Cup quarterfinals. Udinese were sadly defeated by Werder Bremen, but it’s still an impressive achievement for a city of less than 100,000 inhabitants. The Bianconeri finished seventh in Serie A again but missed-out on UEFA Cup qualification.

2009-10 was grim. Udinese took several strides backwards and finished 15th, 11 points from Europe and nine from the relegation zone. Antonio Di Natale’s continued growth was one of the season’s only bright spots: the gifted poacher scored an outstanding 29 goals in 35 Serie A games.

Experienced coach Francesco Guidolin came in for 2010-11’s start and the Bianconeri rose again. Last season was one of Udinese’s best: they finished fourth, qualified for the Champions League and wowed Europe with some of the most exciting football on the continent.

The Bianconeri are top of Serie A by one point at the time of writing. They’ve solidified their defence (only 7 goals conceded in 14 games) without compromising they’re attacking verve, and are in a great position to make a genuine Scudetto push. This season is far from over, but Udinese are in better health than ever.

Sources

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*I’m going to split this into two separate posts. Udinese’s website has an exceptional (English-language) history section and I don’t want an overlong article. I’ll post the rest sometime tomorrow morning.*

Antonio Dal Dan. Photo credit: http://www.udinese.it

Udinese Calcio were formed in 1896 as Societá Udinese di Ginnastica e Scherma’s (Udinese Society of Gymnastics and Fencing) footballing section. They are the second-oldest club in Serie A (after Genoa, who formed in 1893) and had a brush with championship success in their very first year.

Treviso sides Pg Ferrara and Istituto Turrazza welcomed Udinese to their city as part of a three-team tournament in 1896. Udinese defeated Turrazza on September 6th and Ferrara two days later to win the competition but the FIGC (Italian FA, basically) wasn’t formed until 1898, meaning that the Zebrette’s triumph remains unrecognised.

These fixtures weren’t Udinese’s first, though. A Societá team had competed against Bologna in Rome a year earlier, with King Umberto of Italy among those in attendance. This game coupled with the Societá’s Treviso triumph helped increase calcio’s importance in Udine, but it would take football a few more years to displace gymnastics and fencing as the city’s favoured sports.

Antonio Dal Dan, “the pioneer of bianonero football,” was an influential figure during this period. He captained Udinese to both victories in Treviso, and played a big role in getting the club (now named Associazione Calcio Udinese) enlisted with the FIGC in 1911. Udinese, now captained by Luigi Dal Dan (Antonio’s son), defeated Juventus Palmanova 6-0 in their first game as a FIGC-registered side.

Udinese took part in their first FIGC Championship in 1912-13, playing against two sides from Padova. The Zebrette defeated both, and this was enough to see them promoted to Italy’s top tier. They stayed there until football was suspended for the First World War in 1915, finishing ninth and fifth.

Football returned in 1919, and Udinese emerged from the conflict with a new president, Earl Alessandro of Torso. 1920 marked a future legend’s debut. Gino Bellotto, an all-rounder capable of operating anywhere on the pitch, played 17 consecutive seasons at Udinese: a record that still stands today.

Having peaked with a second-place league finish and Coppa Italia final the previous year, 1922-23 was dismal for Udinese. The Zebertte took just five points from a 22-game season and were predictably relegated to the second-tier. Returning to the Prima Divisione at the second time of asking, Udinese were promptly relegated after finishing 10th and refusing to take part in the relegation playoffs.

Back in the second tier, Udinese endured another torrid season and were relegated for a second consecutive year. In a bizarre twist, however, the FIGC decided to overturn the Bianconeri’s relegation. The federation ruled that Udinese were too big a club to play in the third tier, so they were spared demotion. Can you imagine the uproar such a move would cause today? How times change.

The league’s reconstruction in 1929 had an adverse effect on Udinese, who were put into Serie C (the third tier) despite finishing sixth the year before. The second tier had previously consisted of a series of regional divisions. These divisions were combined to form a single league (Serie B) comprised of teams relegated from the top flight (Serie A) and those who’d finished in the previous season’s promotion places. Thus Udinese wound-up in the league below.

Udinese immediately won Serie B promotion, but struggled with mounting financial problems and were relegated two seasons later. Thus began a lengthy period in the third tier that eventually ended with final stage victories over Brescia, Reggiana and Savona in 1939. The Bianconeri’s decade ended with a comfortable tenth-place Serie B finish.

The 1940s were moderately more successful. Udinese stayed in Serie B until World War II, when football was again suspended and players returned home for fear of being drafted. After a brief sojourn in Serie C, the team returned to Serie A for the 1950-51 season after two consecutive promotions.

This was a period of great change in Udine. Local entrepreneur Giuseppe Bertoli became the club’s president and used his personal funds to erase nine million lira of Udinese’s debt. It took numerous managerial changes for Bertoli to find a balance but the Zebrette were eventually promoted with ex-Azzurri ‘keeper Aldo Olivieri in-charge. Udinese finished second, one point behind champions Napoli.

Udinese were able to maintain the nucleus of their promotion team, which helped maintain stability and team spirit for the next season. They finished a credible 9th in 1950-51 (Serie A) and 11th the following season, despite a morale-sapping 7-2 home loss to Juventus.

Bertoli stepped down as president at the end of the 1951-52 season and handed the reigns to his son-in-law, Dino Bruseschi. Bruseschi brought Olivieri back to Udine but the team struggled and only avoided relegation with a 3-2 defeat of Pro Patria on the last day of the season.

Out went Olivieri, in came new coach Peppino Bigogno and a host of new players. It was another disappointing Serie A campaign, however, and Udinese finished on level points (26) with SPAL and Palermo. In those days Serie A used playoffs to separate teams who finished with the same points total, so the three teams would have to play against each other to determine who’d finish in the second relegation place.

Udinese drew both of their fixtures (0-0 vs. SPAL and 1-1 vs. Palermo), making the clash between SPAL and Palermo pivotal. SPAL, fortunately for the Bianconeri, won 2-1, condemning the Aquile to relegation and saving Udinese’s neck.

1953-54 had been deeply disappointing, but 1954-55 was a real rollercaoster. The Bianconeri finished second after a season full of twists, turns and intrigue. I’ll refrain from going into too much detail at the moment as I want to cover the season in greater detail later this week, but it was an astonishing campaign.

Udinese should’ve been jubilant after such an excellent finish but the season ended in disaster. Suspicions arose over a fixture with Pro Patria two years earlier and Udinese were relegated to Serie B following an FIGC investigation. It was a hugely controversial verdict and protestors flooded Udine immediately after. Bianconeri fans and alumni have protested the club’s innocence ever since.

To be continued.

Sources

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