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The remarkable tale of Venezia F.C., a tale of bankruptcy, mismanagement, relegation, Inzaghi and promotion, in Venice
The Stadio Pierluigi Penzo, home of Venezia F.C., is a remarkable piece of sporting architecture. Originally constructed from wood a year before the First World War began, and surrounded by water on three of its’ four sides, it stands as a perfect embodiment of Venice.
It is in the shadow of a typically Italian bell tower, the cornerstone of Italian communities. The ground is only accessible by boat or by foot. The charm and beauty come through its unique infrastructure, with the physical architecture and buildings being the consequence of its water dominated landscape.
“I have the luckiest room in Venice. I can see the stadium from it and watch matches from my window” says Alvise Rogers, a Venezia fan and resident.
Many would have been forgiven for looking beyond the stands and out into the canal, or to the bell tower. For all the beauty of the stadium’s surroundings, time and physical geography have taken their toll, not helped by the fortunes of its tenants. This is the story of Venezia FC; Venice’s primary football team that very much like its stadium, required restorative action to match the grandeur of its surroundings.
Yet for years, football has played no part in this historic city’s international status. A city so steeped in culture through renaissance art and opera, football is almost an unspoken word in comparison. Yet Venezia FC are the product of an ambitious rebirth in 2016, and have eyed to put Venice alongside Rome, Turin and Milan in its footballing output.
It is not so much a case of football being alien to the city. The likes of Alvaro Recoba and Christian Vieri, Serie A royalty, have turned out in the black, orange and black of Venezia in the last twenty-five years. Filippo Inzaghi managed the club between 2016 and 2018, more on that stage of their history later.
The lure of Venice and being able to bring footballing prestige to a city already burgeoning with heritage and cultural status, will no doubt have held sway in attracting such talent to a club yet to reach its potential.
The initial history of the club formed in 1907 as Associazione Calcio Venezia, was a hopeful one. The Stadio Pierluigi Penzo was built six years after the club’s formation. The stadium’s development from a wooden to a concrete structure followed a largely successful trajectory for the club.
This culminated in its’ most successful period, winning the Coppa Italia in 1940-41 and then finishing third in Serie A the following year; the club’s highest league finish to date. However, from this high, Venice’s primary side would spend less than ten seasons in the top-flight over the next eighty years.
They would mostly float throughout Serie B, however after being renamed as Associazione Calcio Venezia 1907 in 1990, the club would spend between 2005 and 2017 in the third and fourth divisions. This coincided with the club’s owner pouring finances into Palermo, his other club project, and an eventual file for bankruptcy in 2002.
Inzaghi and an American in Venice
Two further bankruptcies would occur in 2009 and 2015, as would two further name changes; firstly to Società Sportiva Calcio Venezia and then Football Club Unione Venezia. American lawyer Joe Tacopina along with a group of US investors, bought the club in 2015. They decided it was more beneficial to dissolve the club and start from scratch, rather than try and revive the ashes of previous failed attempts.
“When Tacopina came in I was initially sceptical, but he has so far stuck with his statement and we’ve kept climbing since his investment.” says Alvise.
The next year would see the final name change; to Venezia FC. Tacopina had been part of the consortium that had owned A.S. Roma in 2011, and had bought Bologna a year before Venezia. Consecutive promotions ensued, as would the hiring of Filippo Inzaghi in 2016.
The great Italian striker had been stung as a manager. Appointed AC Milan manager in June 2014, a highly unsurprising move given their penchant for appointing former players with little coaching experience. He would spend just over a year in the job. A record of fourteen wins, and thirteen draws and losses saw him dismissed just 372 days after taking the job.
Inzaghi would take a year away from coaching before taking the Venezia F.C. job in 2016. The club were still in Serie B, and his tenure at Milan had proven that he needed time at a smaller club.
For Venezia F.C. to be matched with a former player and manager of his prestige was perfect. He took them back to Serie B in one season, as well as winning the Coppa Italia Lega Pro.
On the right path
It is understandable that a city such as Venice expects a reputable football team. Take Berlin, a cultural hub for techno music, street art, and a international centre for research and development. The city’s magnificent Olympiastadion was the site of Jesse Owens’ historic Olympic gold in 1936. Yet in Hertha Berlin they have a team that barely scrapes league survival each year.
Yet to even have a team in the top division, as Hertha are in Germany, was worlds away from Venezia’s plight. Inzaghi and Tacopina were setting about changing this however and were getting quick results.
They would finish fifth in their first season back in Serie B, making the promotion play offs before being knocked out by Palermo. Inzaghi had earned a reputation as an impressive coach (one that he likely had no chance of earning at Milan.)
The strides made were incredible and marked the most sustainable ascension in the club’s history. With Inzaghi baying for Serie A blood, it seemed promotion would be inevitable in 2018/19. As is the way with this topsy-turvy club however, spanner’s aplenty would enter the works.
Inzaghi would leave in the 2018/19 off season, poached by Serie A side Bologna. The fans could hardly begrudge him. They had climbed from Serie C to the cusp of Serie A with great speed.
“We were so close in 2018. Having Inzaghi definitely helped and made the dream serious.”
Incidentally he would remain in his new job for less than eight months after winning just two matches in twenty-one. ‘Pippo’ now coaches Benevento, and achieved Serie A promotion in 2020, going one further than he had in Venice. Inzaghi is clearly an astute coach. However his track record is one of Serie C and B success, and mostly failure in the top division. Whether this will be rectified in the coming season, only time will tell.
The future of Venezia F.C.?
Venezia F.C. would slump to fifteenth in Inzaghi’s absence in 2018/19, and marginally improve the following year to finish eleventh. Now they have achieved league stability. However their close dalliance with Serie A three years ago has made these results underwhelming.
Now their problems are infrastructure. Their glorious, unique stadium is crumbling under the influence of water erosion from the canal and lagoon.
The other issue is one of size. The stadium would be the smallest in Serie A were they to be promoted. Bottom placed SPAL even had a larger ground than theirs, with a capacity of 8,500 to Venezia’s 7,500.
“The stadium is amazing, there aren’t many stadiums that you can arrive at by boat. Whilst the exterior is graffitied and derelict, this adds to the charm. Like most buildings in Venice. “
The structural issues make this not a case of merely adding to the stadium’s seating. It is now over a century old, and any redevelopment would likely come at the price of building a new ground. Given the charm and quaint features of this fascinating sports ground, this would be tragic. However, if Venezia are to continue this ambitious plan then this is an area that requires attention.
Part of the fabric
“Football has never been grossly important to Venice like it is in other parts of Italy. We love football, but it is more of a passion and for enjoyment than for being successful”.
This best sums up the spirit of Venezia F.C. This is a club in one of the cultural hubs of Europe, where football pales in significance to the art and food and music. Yet there is a passion and a spirit that comes in supporting the diminutive team, a spirit that has followed them through name changes, bankruptcy and relegation. This is the essence of football, as a culture and a communal practice more than the act of winning alone.
“Will we be a solid top-flight team? Probably not given the strength of teams in the league. However, there is genuine belief that we can get there, and that is enough for me.”