This article was brought to you by The Sideliner as part of The Away End. The Sideliner is a weekly digest that surfaces topical, compelling football content. Along with sharing stories, to honour football’s ability to cross borders, they collaborate with talented artists from all over the world to pay homage to the beautiful game with original illustrations.
Over the past 30 years, Italian football has seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows. And no other club epitomizes that rollercoaster of emotions more than Parma. I Crociati went from being a scrappy lower-league side to a European powerhouse until they were mismanaged into literal oblivion.
Rise to prominence
After decades of languishing in the lower leagues, Parma gained promotion to Serie A for the first time in their history in 1990. The following year, food corporation Parmalat (remember those Ronaldo ads?), owned by Calisto Tanzi, bought Parma and pumped millions into the club. Millions that, as it would later turn out, Parmalat did not have.
With this newfound financial backing, Parma brought in promising young players and hardware soon followed. Between 1992 and 2002, the Gialloblu won three Coppa Italia, one Supercoppa, and four European trophies, and finished runners-up in 1996-97. In fact, Parma was an essential contributor to Serie A’s popularity and success in the 1990s.
During this incredible decade, Parma beat European giants like Juventus, Manchester United, Atlético Madrid, and AC Milan. The little team from Emilia-Romagna quickly became everyone’s favorite underdog. Gianfranco Zola, Faustino Asprilla, Hernán Crespo, “Gigi” Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Juan Sebastián Verón, and Lilian Thuram were all “Crusaders” at one point during the 1990s and helped Parma capture the imagination of the masses.
Nothing lasts forever
All good things must come to an end, and in Parma’s case, everything infamously came crashing down all at once.
For years, Parmalat operated at a massive loss, and by 2003, the company’s shares had depreciated to the point of no return. Calisto Tanzi was indicted for financial fraud mere hours after Parmalat was officially declared insolvent, and later investigations uncovered that the company’s debts amounted to more than €14 billion ($15.6 billion).
From 2003 to 2007, Parma operated in controlled administration until they were bought in an auction by Tommaso Ghirardi. In 2015, however, financial troubles got the better of I Crociati again and the club was unceremoniously dissolved.
Rising from the ashes
A phoenix club was immediately formed in Serie D, and following a record three consecutive promotions, Parma returned to Serie A in 2018, where they have since established themselves as a competitive mid-table side.
Parma’s story is emblematic of Serie A itself: extraordinary achievements and catastrophic failures, the rise and fall of a business empire, and a whole lot of drama. Parma remains a shadow of its former self and they still have management issues, but their worst days are behind them—or so we hope.