Pyro On The Pitch #14: Venezia vs Hellas Verona, Serie B, 19/10/1997

We took our first look at Italy’s rich domestic fan scene back in People On The Pitch #9, with Salerntiana’s invasion of Pescara and their pitch. Check out that article for our original introduction to Italian ultras but we are certainly not stopping there, as we now once again head to Serie B in the 1990s.

Background:

The idea of two clubs merging together is one that most supporters instantly balk at, and understandably so. Most modern mergers involve smaller clubs, but some examples of famous teams who exist as the result of mergers include Ipswich Town (1888) and Newcastle United (1892) in England; FC Twente (1965) and FC Utrecht (1970) in the Netherlands; Hamburger SV (1919) and 1.FC Köln (1948) in Germany; and Fiorentina (1926), AS Roma (1927) and Sampdoria (1946) in Italy.

All of the above became huge staples of the community, and any opposition to a union with a local rival at the time of the merger has been long forgotten. Of course these were of a different era, with the proposed merger of Sampdoria with enemies Genoa in 2001 being an example of a modern mash-up that was never going to fly.

Many other Italian clubs have complicated histories of name changes and mergers, one of which being Venezia FC from the city of Venice, founded as Venezia Foot Ball Club in 1907 after the union of Palestra Marziale (Martial Gym) with Costantino Reyer. Over the years they would also be known as Association Calcio Venezia, Società Sportiva Serenissima, Associazione Fascista Calcio Venezia, Calcio Venezia, Calcio VeneziaMestre, Associazione Calcio Venezia 1907, Società Sportiva Calcio Venezia, Foot Ball Club Unione Venezia, and Venezia Football Club Società Sportiva Dilettantistica before finally simplifying back to Venezia FC in 2015.

The main merger in question with regards Venezia occurred in 1987, as club chairman Maurizio Zamparini took over as owner of financially weak neighbours Mestre, also of Serie C2 at the time. The clubs were fused together and became Calcio VeneziaMestre, moving to Mestre’s Stadio Francesco Baracca and adding orange to Venrzia’s traditional black and green strip.

Naturally none of this went down well with many supporters in Venice, particularly the team being moved out of town. In response, Calcio Venezia – a new amateur team claiming the true spirit of the club and wearing the traditional black and green strip – was formed and entered the lower leagues at the start of the 90s.

But there was those who were not opposed to the changes and accepted it as part of football. While old ultras groups at the club such as Panthers, Brigate Neroverdi (Black-Green Brigades) and Gioventu’ Neroverde (Black-Green Youth) had already dissolved pre-merger, Vecchia Guardia (Old Guard) of 1986 continued to offer support into the new era and were joined by a large new group who’s name reflected the reality: Ultras Unione VeneziaMestre.


Banners of groups such as Front, Kaos, and Ultras Unione, Venezia vs Casale, 90/91.

The name VeneziaMestre only officially existed for two seasons and the club moved back to the Stadio Pierluigi Penzo in Venice upon their promotion to Serie B in 1991 (a result of the combination of talent from both former teams), the popularity of which saw the collapse of the amateur Calcio Venezia side. The change of ground also gave rise to new legacy sides in Mestre, who were now without a team.

The memory of the merger was still maintained through the kits (the neroverdi now the  arancioneroverdi) and through the terraces, as the huge Ultras Unione VeneziaMestre banner hung for many more years. The progress that had seen the club rise from Serie C2, to Serie C1 to Serie B continued, and hopes were high as the 97/98 season started that this would be the year top flight football would return to Venice for the first time since the 1940s.

Another side in Serie B that season with an eye on promotion were recently relegated Hellas Verona, who had been unexpected Serie A champions in 1985. Financial collapse soon after brought demotion and the folding of the club, reborn simply as Verona in 1991 before becoming Hellas Verona once more in 1995.

Verona of course possess one of the top followings in the country with dozens of ultra groups throughout the years, spearheaded by the historic Brigate Gialloblu’ (Yellow Brigades) to which many sub-groups claim allegiance. Despite the name being originally drawn from left-wing influences (based on the terrorist Brigate Rosse group, founded in 1970), the Verona curva became known as mostly right-wing by the 1980s, although the peaceful co-existence of left-wing groups such as Rude Boys prove that love of the club trumps politics.


Hellas Verona supporters following a goal during a home match against Udinese, 90/91.

The Match:

1997: A fine sunday in October sees a packed Stadio Pierluigi Penzo in Venice, named after a World War 1 fighter pilot. The ends of the ground are unusual in having no discernible sides or roof:

Many Veronese have made the 121km journey for the clash between two of northern Italy’s famous historical cities:

Before the teams come out, it’s scarves in the air time in Venezia’s curva sud:

With the arrival of the two squadrons green and orange smoke is let off, thickly billowing in an impressive  effect:

Zooming back we can see the reason that this match is eligible for a POTP entry, as a white smoke bomb has made it’s way into the penalty box. A fireman dutifully jogs over to remove it:

The rest of the smoke continues to rise:

A text banner is also unfurled among the home fans, but unfortunately we cannot make out what it says:

Demonstrating a common expression of displeasure, the Venezia ultras banners are placed upside down, probably in lament of some sort of disagreement with the club. From this shot we can also see the “VeneziaMestre” portion of the Ultras Unione banner.

With the comparatively short distance between the cities, the two clubs are among each other’s known rivals and as always security personal are on hand:

While nothing major occurs, carabinieri are on the scene at the away end as the traditionally belligerent Verona supporters get extremely animated at some sort of injustice:

At the other end, Venezia’s capos watch on pensively:

In the end, a single second half goal is enough to give the home side the win and send curva sud bouncing to see out the day:

The scoreline would be repeated when the sides met again in March 1998 with both results being crucial in Venezia’s ultimate 2nd placed finish and promotion to Serie A, while Verona would have to wait another year. The dream of Zamparini had been realised, but whether the merger from 11 years before was a success for the city or remained a soulless selling out of the Venezia’s football tradition, is up to you.

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Cold War Classic #10: West Germany vs East Germany, 1974

Our regular guest series over on MuseumOfJerseys.com is back, with installment number ten of the Cold War Classic. In each edition we usually discuss a vintage east vs west international matchup from the Cold War era, specifically relating to the amazing and fascinating kits of the time and their evolution. Detailed backgrounds are included, and all retro kits relevant to the story are expertly illustrated in glorious colour by MOJ top boy Denis Hurley.

This time, regular POTP readers will remember the piece as part of Politics On The Pitch #5 – Groups of Death part 2, with our look at the all-Germany derby of 1974 now immortalised with kit illustrations.

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Cold War Classic no.10 – West Germany vs East Germany, 1974

When the short-lived, post-World War 2 state of the Saar Protectorate – administered by the French, but German in every other way – took part in their one and only World Cup qualifying campaign (for 1954), the geographically selected group was always going to see them come up against their West German countrymen.

The World Cup would come to West Germany itself 20 years later – by which time Saarland had been long absorbed back into the Federal Republic of Germany (as the West was formally known) – and it seemed inevitable that the remaining, third post-war German state would not only qualify for the first time, but also be drawn alongside the hosts for a debut showdown between capitalist west and communist east…

READ ON

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Football Special Report #5: Estonia vs Scotland, World Cup 98 Qualifier, 09/10/1996

In the previous edition of the Football Special Report, we looked at a classic post-reunification East vs West German club clash that featured one of the greatest strikes of all time (of the hand-to-face variety rather than a football kick). Now we fast forward a few years to Estonia and one of the shortest matches of all time.

Background:

Back in Supporter Snap Back #2, we talked about the somewhat regular pairing of Scotland and Switzerland in the early 90s through both international and club competition. But the Scots’ true rivals of the decade have got to be Estonia, with no less than 6 meetings between the two nations in 7 years from 1993 to 1999.

 
Flags of Scotland and Estonia.

While Scotland had come off the back of World Cup 90 and Euro 92 participation when the sides originally met in World Cup 94 qualification Group 1, Estonia were participating in their debut campaign after independence from the Soviet Union and unsurprisingly it was the experienced Scots who won the first encounter 0-3 on front of 1800 fans in Tallinn in May 93. The tally was repeated in the return tie at Aberdeen’s Pittodrie less than a month later, but this time it would also be the scene of Estonia’s first ever goal in competitive football – their one and only goal in the group as it would turn out.


Estonia score their historic first competitive goal against Scotland in Aberdeen, World Cup qualifier, 02/06/1993.

Portugal, Italy and, of course, Switzerland all finished ahead of Scotland, meaning USA 94 would be the only major tournament of the 90s that they would miss out on. After their return to a finals at Euro 96, Estonia loomed once more in the Autumn as the pair would again be battling it out for World Cup qualification in a tough Group 4 also featuring Austria and Sweden (and Belarus and Latvia).

On August 31st, Scotland started their campaign with a satisfactory draw in Vienna against Austria before defeating Estonia’s southern neighbours Latvia 0-2 in early October. On the same day Estonia also picked up their first win of the group, with a 1-0 victory over Belarus after the reverse scoreline when the sides had already met in Minsk in August.

Next up, five days later on October 9th, Scotland were to play Estonia and the team made the short Baltic journey north from Riga – obviously the result of excellent fixture scheduling by the Scottish Football Association also employed by Ireland in Latvia and Lithuania in June 93. A huge away contingent of the Tartan Army had watched the Scots win in Latvia and doubtlessly many also followed the squad across the border for the second of the double header.


Scottish banners in Riga showing their fantastic away support, Latvia vs Scotland, 04/10/1996.

All was normal up to this point, but at the under-21’s match the night before the game the Scottish staff discovered partial temporary floodlights in Tallinn’s Kadriorg Stadium not fit for international football, at least in their opinion. After making a complaint to FIFA, the governing body’s executive committee in Zurich agreed to move kick-off forward on the morning of the match from the originally scheduled 18:45 to 15:00 local time, eliminating the need for the inadequate floodlights.


Temporary floodlights in Tallinn's Kadriorg Stadium, 08/10/1996.

The Estonians were horrified at this last minute change, both from a logistical and television rights point of view, and threatened not to show up. The rescheduling also negatively effected Scottish supporters at home, as a school shooting memorial on BBC Scotland meant the game could not be shown live.

The Match:

An impressive 800 Scottish supporters are in attendance at the Kadriorg, giving the away fans an remarkable 80% share in the crowd of  the reported 1000 in attendance:

It’s time for the teams to come out and Scotland emerge in their classic mid 90s baggy Umbro shirt that had been debuted since the Euros (much nicer than either the Euro kit or the following World Cup kit in our opinion):

But the Estonians have been true to their word and are not present, giving Scotland a 100% share of the sides involved in the match. Witty as ever, the Scottish supporters make the most of the situation with chants like “One team in Tallinn” and “We only play in the daylight”:

The accused floodlights sit sheepishly by, their once dim glow now a distant memory never to be seen again:

The team lines up for one national anthem…:

…beefore jovial captain John Collins of AS Monaco shakes hands with the Yugoslavian referee, clearly loving the novelty of the occasion:

Much like Chile’s non-encounter with the USSR in 1973 (check out Politics On The Pitch #5 for more info), the Scottish team prepare to start a match against no opposition:

The ref blows his whistle and the Scots kick-off. Unlike with Chile though, where the home side scored a goal before the farce was ended, the whistle blows again three seconds later, as – shockingly – there is no opponent present to contest the match:

The away side are delighted as it seems the three points are their’s without having to break a sweat. Heroic captain Collins, among other players, emotionally raises his arms in glorious victory, like a lion rampant:

As the players stroll off they applaud their support, who amazingly sang for 100% of the match:

Not everyone is enjoying themselves quite so much, as a stoned faced Andy Goram storms off with eyes facing the down:

Perhaps this is more in attempt to keep attention away from his mismatched salmon goalkeeper shirt with yellow shorts and socks:

The Scottish occupied main stand continue to sing and will enjoy the rest of their night in the Estonian capital, with one step closer to France 98 completed:

Aftermath:

Or so they thought. As it turned out there would be another difference to the Chile-USSR affair, as in this instance FIFA did not award the game to the Scots with a 0-3 walkover as had originally be expected.

Following an executive committee meeting in November it was decided for the game to be replayed on neutral ground, much to the annoyance of the SFA. Accusations from some quarters were thrown at Swede Lennart Johansson, president of UEFA and chair of the committee, at attempting to give his native land an advantage in the group by forcing their rivals to replay the tie.

Funnily enough, at least one player would in fact be on home ground, as the Stade Louis II was chosen as the venue – stadium of John Collin’s Monaco. On February 11th, 1997, the game at last took place, with Johansson’s evil Swedish plan seemingly working as the Estonians were able to hold the Scots to a 0-0 draw (perhaps channeling Sweden’s period of rule over Estonia from 1558 and 1710).


Monaco hosts an international; is that a totenkopf in the middle of the Scottish flags? Estonia vs Scotland, World Cup qualifier, 11/02/1997.

Just over a month later, the sides would play again in Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, with a 2-0 victory for Scotland. But on April 30th, dastardly Sweden would again damage Scottish qualification hopes with a 2-1 defeat in Gothenburg.

With Sweden taking on Estonia on the last game of the group, it would be nice to conclude the story with the Baltic state redeeming themselves and throwing off their Scandinavian yoke once again to cause an upset allowing Scotland to qualify. It wasn’t to be, as the World Cup 94 3rd placed team won 1-0.

However Scotland’s win over Latvia at the same time, itself a former Swedish dominion, gave them 23 points anyway – two behind Austria but two ahead of Sweden. While the rest of the second place finishers entered play-offs against each other, this total made Scotland the best placed runners-up in qualifying which delivered an automatic qualification spot – much to the displeasure of a fuming Mr Johhansson no doubt.

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YouTube Links:

Scotland vs Estonia, 1993
Latvia vs Scotland, 1996
Estonia vs Scotland, 1996
Estonia vs Scotland, 1996
Estonia vs Scotland, 1997

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