Pride of venice
The story of Venezia
THE great cities of Italy such as Rome, Milan and Turin are all home to famous clubs with long and well-known histo- ries.
But we have come across an interesting tale from the city of Venice. When people visit the city, they do not have the faintest idea that there is a football club in the middle of its maze of canals, which can only be reached by boat.
It’s a club that has been around for over 100 years and that has had to struggle with financial difficulties for most of its history, including bankruptcies, poor management and long spells in the lower levels of Italian football.
But now, thanks to an ambitious group of American investors led by Joe Tacopina (a celebrity attorney from New York), they have hired the former World Cup, Champions League and Serie A winner Filippo Inzaghi as coach to lead the club back to the top.
The club was founded on December 14, 1907 and moved into their current stadium in 1913, the Stadio Pierluigi Penzo - named after a World War One pilot.
It is the second oldest stadium in Italy and surely the only venue where players and supporters arrive by boat. It is intimate with a capacity now of about 7,450.
However, the record attendance of 26,000 was for a Serie A match against AC Milan in 1966.
On September 11, 1970, a tornado hit Venice and caused considerable damage to the ground. With the club’s decline in the 70s and 80s, only partial repairs were ever completed and so, because of safety issues, the capacity was reduced to around 5,000. When the club got back into Serie A in 1998, temporary stands were added to try and increase the capacity but, again, since then it has reverted to its current limit. During the early years the club plodded around in Serie B, never coming close to going up. That was until 1939 when Venezia finally gained promotion to Serie A and then two years later won the Coppa Italia and finished in third place, their highest-ever position, the following year. In the next few seasons, Venezia started losing their best players to rival clubs, including the likes of Ezio Loik and Valentino Mazzola who moved to Torino and who sadly died in 1949 in the Torino air disaster. The club yo-yo’d between the top two divisions, until we reach the 1966-67 season and the club was relegated again. This time, though, it would be over 30 years before they would return to Serie A. Winning promotion in 1998, they finished in 11th place with some notable players, including Alvaro Recoba, Filippo Maniero and goalkeeper Massimo Taibi (some might recall that he joined Manchester United to replace Peter Schmeichel in 1999 and played only four matches in which he conceded 11 goals and was sent packing back to Italy, where he joined Reggina). The following season they got through four managers and were relegated, but bounced straight back up again, only to have an even worse season in 2001-02 - sacking three managers, only winning three matches and finishing rock-bottom. The owner Maurizio Zamparini abandoned ship and went on to buy another club (Paler- mo). He took most of the team with him, leaving Venezia bankrupt.
After more financial woes, including another bankruptcy, they were taken over by a Russian oligarch Yuri Korablin and the club ended up in Serie D (the top level non-professional league in Italy).
In 2011-12 they won the title, but, again, more money problems surfaced. The Russians pulled out of the club, leaving it heading for a third bankruptcy.
This is when Joe Tacopina stepped in. He could have bought the team, paid off the debts and started the next season with a points deduction and other measures to penalise the team.
Instead, he let the club fold and then took it over and relaunched the club with a new modern name Venezia FC, fresh-looking playing strip and redesigned badge.
The team were placed in Lega Pro, the third tier in Italian football which has 60 clubs split across three groups of 20 clubs each, with the
highest finisher in each group gaining one of three automatic places in Serie B.
He then went to work on getting the locals back interested in supporting the team, hotels in Venice would sell tickets to tourists for reduced prices (remember Venice averages 20 million tourists a year). Within weeks of taking over, the club had sold more than a thousand replica shirts.
On the pitch, things were looking up as well with new coach Inzaghi’s passion and emotion on the touchline inspiring the team to play attacking, aggressive football that made them hard to beat. In fact, they ended the 2016-17 season top with 80 points, having won 23 of their 38 games, losing just four and were 10 points clear of Parma (another fallen giant of the Italian game). They also won another trophy, the Coppa Italia Lega Pro, a knockout competition for the 60 Lega Pro sides. It meant they ended last season with a memorable league and cup double. During the summer, they visited the United States to play friendlies, while at the same time looking at the American market to pick up some bright young players, with trials in Tacopina’s native New York being heavily promoted.
His other major off-field success has seen a rise in Venezia’s social media popularity, comparable to any of the big clubs and not just in Italy.
In just two years, Venezia have risen from the dead and are just a division below the elite where they believe they belong. A place which looked beyond them now has a fantastic chance of becoming a reality.
At the start of this season, Tacopina and Inzaghi made some shrewd transfer dealings with players who have experience of Serie B and securing the loan deals of promising players from Juventus and Milan. They were unbeaten in their first five games, admittedly with four draws to their name.
This is a club looking to go places. With their unique location and history, it will be interesting to follow their progress this season and beyond…
Moving on up: The Venezia team