The tale of Fiorentina is one of a type rarely told outside of Italian football. One of Serie A's great names, the Florence club not only lost their top-flight status and financial footing in 2002, they even lost their name.
Following the collapse of owner Vittorio Cecchi Gori's media empire, the Viola were sent spinning into administration. Demoted to Italian football's lowest professional division (Serie C2), the club with two scudetti, six Coppa Italias and a European trophy had to change its name and re-emerge as Florentia Viola.
A year later, the new owner, shoe baron Diego Valle, bought back the name (albeit with the new acronym ACF) and led the club up two flights 'on sporting merit' into the newly-expanded Serie B. Promotion the following season – after a nail-biting play-off with Perugia – meant Fiorentina had squeezed back into Serie A after three years of freefall.
Having scrambled back to top-flight status, Fiorentina immediately put it in danger, surviving relegation in May 2005 only because they had a superior head-to-head record against Bologna and Parma. Then they were relegated by default, fingered in the Calciopoli scandal, but survived on appeal – and overcame a 15-point penalty to qualify for Europe.
Fiorentina fans, perhaps the most passionate in the Italian game, are used to such melodrama – they just find it hard to react in moderation. Gathered in the Curva Fiesole, the Viola faithful were responsible for the most imaginative and colourful displays of choreography at the height of ultra mania in the early 1990s.
Then, as now, they reserved their most passionate displays for the visits of Juventus, bitter rivals since beating the Viola to the scudetto in 1982 with help of a hotly-disputed penalty in the season's final game.
Eight years later, Juve applied the salt by beating Fiorentina in the UEFA Cup final. Such was the trouble caused by Viola ultras in Turin that the return leg was played outside Florence. Weeks later came the ultimate blow, the club selling fans' idol, Roberto Baggio, to Juve. Riots predictably raged in Florence for several days.
The Ultras' fire has never died so a visit to the Artemio Franchi is to bear witness to parochial purple rage. Provided you're not black-and-white striped – or, in regrettable, isolated cases, black – it's an entertaining diversion from neck-strain at Renaissance galleries.
With a capacity of 45,000 in a football-mad city, getting a ticket for big games at the Artemio Franchi can be tricky. If you've ordered from the club, pick up your tickets by 1.30pm on the Friday before the match from counter 16 at the stadium. Nearby bars Marisa (Via Carnesecchi 1) and Stadio (Via de Manfredo Fanti 3r) also sell tickets. The ground is near Campo di Marte station – four trains an hour run from central Santa Maria Novella.
Club address Viale Manfredo Fanti, 4 50137 Firenze
Telephone 0039 055 5030190
CITY GUIDE: FLORENCE
The nearest airport is Pisa's Galileo Galilei, which lies to the west. Direct trains from the airport leave every hour and cost 4.40 Euros one way. A direct bus service also runs every hour or so from Pisa airport run by Terravision (not the band!) (tel: 06 3212 0011).
The main tourist office is north of the Duomo at Via Cavour (tel: 055 290832). However, if you're arriving by train or bus there is a smaller office at Piazza della Stazione 4 (tel: 055 212 245).
Brunelleschi's Duomo, the city's signature building, is the fourth largest church in the world (entry 6 Euros, except Sundays). Highlights include the seven stained-glass roundels.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
In the winter, a trip to the Teatro Comunale is recommended. The symphony orchestra performs a new programme every week between January and March. Contact the ticket and information office on 055 213 535 for further details.
For regular updates on the crazy world of Italian football, see our blog Serie Aaaargh!
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