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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