Pisa's club mascot Il Vituperio is a composite of a fearsome-looking gentleman in blue-and-black stripes clutching the city's Leaning Tower, as if saving it from collapse. But it's his football club – not the city's, and perhaps Italy's, most recognisable building – he should really be worrying about.
Languishing in the regional lower leagues for more than a decade, having gone bankrupt and changed its name twice, the Pisa of the present day stand little chance of resurrecting the high-flying days of the 1980s.
It was then that extravagant owner Romeo Anconetani, famed for terrorising whichever poor coach happened to be in charge that week, was splashing out on international names to make the Neroazzurri (the Black and Blue) a new force in the Italian game. The likes of Brazil's Dunga, Dutchman Wim Kieft and our very own Paul Elliott passed through Pisa's doors, although even then the club failed to gatecrash the higher end of Serie A. An Italian Cup semi-final defeat to Napoli in 1989 was the nearest they came to winning any silverware.
By the 1990s, the club had brought in Diego Simeone, Henrik Larsson and a young Christian Vieri – but with little return on their investment, and by 1994, Pisa had dropped down to Serie C1 and Anconetani's days were numbered.
Floundering financially, the club went bust and only re-emerged when a handful of local enthusiasts formed AC Pisa, playing in the regional league. A more substantial team of backers then formed Pisa Calcio 1995 and attempted to push the club back up the ladder.
Through all this ignominy, supporters turned out at the Arena Garibaldi in considerable numbers for vital games, illustrating that the club's fan base has remained despite their team's lowly status.
Now under the ownership of Maurizio Mian, the Neroazzurri face a more positive future, but they're still swimming around in the largely amateur leagues and regaining their Serie A status will involve an arduous haul. So don't expect to see Il Vituperio smiling any time soon.
A short walk from the Leaning Tower, the modest Arena Garibaldi currently has a capacity of 16,000, down from its original 25,000. Crowds turn out in the low thousands, with home fans clustered in the Curva Nord and away fans in the Curva Sud. It's normal to pick up tickets on the day, with the most pricey being under the one covered stand, the tribuna coperta. If you're coming from the main station (just over a mile away, to the south), hop on bus 2.
Club address via di Gello, 25 - 56123 Pisa
Telephone 0039 0508 313150
THE CITY GUIDE: PISA
Pisa's Aeroporto Galileo Galilei is south of Centrale Station (tel: 050 500 707, www.pisa-airport.com). Hourly trains run to the city centre in just five minutes while the CPT
city bus (number 3) departs from the airport every 15 minutes, costing
Behind the Leaning Tower on Campo dei Miracoli (tel: 050 560 464, www.pisa.turismo.toscana.it)
Recently saved from collapse, the Leaning Tower has re-opened to visitors. Tours take place every 40 minutes; book at www.opapisa.it to avoid queues.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
Take her for some romantic contemplation. Sit on the Ponte di Mezzo
(central bridge) and admire Pisa's waterfront and the Logge di Banchi
on the bridge's south side. This was once Pisa's silk and wool market
and looks fantastic after dark.
For regular updates on the crazy world of Italian football, see our blog Serie Aaaargh!
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