Football is sacred to most, but in Florence, miracles of biblical proportions have occurred before…
As so often happens with cities famous for culture, Florence take their football very seriously. Unlike Milan, Turin and Rome, Florence only has one football club, meaning that the affection shown for ACF Fiorentina is localised and powerful. It all started in 1926 when Club Sportivo and Palestra Libertas merged to create Fiorentina. Their club identity is taken seriously; the badge is worn like a sign of honour while the purple kits are renown not only in Italy, but across Europe, as the unique football colours of the La Viola.
Their competitive past is nothing to be ashamed of either. During the 50s and 60s, Fiorentina competed at the top of Italian football and took home two Scudetti in that period. They also house an impressive six Coppa Italias, making them part of the fabric of Italian football history. Despite their consistent finishes in the top half of the Italian first division, Fiorentina went through a traumatic period at the beginning of the millennium which saw the club become extinct before rising in biblical fashion.
It all started in 2002. La Viola suffered a dreadful campaign in which they finished 17th in an 18-team league. Relegation for the second time in their history, however, was the least of their worries. Fiorentina’s economic problems were published, illustrating a $50 million debt and an inability to meet the financial sign-up requirements of Serie B. The club were judicially declared bankrupt and all of their player contracts were declared null. Officially, ACF Fiorentina ceased to exist, however the spirit of the club lingered.
There was a slight loophole, which Diego Della Valle spotted. The leather entrepreneur and CEO of Tod’s realised that a new club could be officially established into the Italian football league at the highest non-professional level, Serie C2 (the 4th division). So, Della Valle, being the keen businessman that he is, spotted that Florence, a city renowned for her passion for football, was lacking a football club. And so, Associazione Calcio Fiorentina e Florentina Viola was born.
Two month after the death of Fiorentina, 22,000 ticket holders and 5,000 additional fans travelled to Umbria to watch Florentina Viola compete in the 4th division of Italian football. The fans, still in mourning at the loss of Fiorentina, accepted this new Florence-based club and showed their support to Della Valle for attempting to replace the irreplaceable.
Florentia Viola won its Serie C2 group comfortably thanks to the help of Angelo Di Livio, the only player to stay in Florence after the disaster. Instead of being promoted to the third division of Italian football (Serie C1), the club was instead promoted directly to the second division (Serie B) due to the Caso Catania dispute.
Italian football is no stranger to controversy, and this is no different. Serie B side Calcio Catania claimed that S.S. Robur Siena fielded an ineligible player in a 1-1 draw which saw Catania relegated, whereas the two extra points they would have gained through victory would have taken them out of the relegation zone. In disastrously comic fashion, Catania were awarded a 2-0 victory, before the result was overturned, and then eventually re-awarded keeping Catania safe.
Partly due to this monumental cock-up, the Federazione Italiana Givoco Calcio (Italian Football Federation) decided to let Catania, along with Genoa and Salernitana, stay in Serie B as the league was expanding from 20 teams to 24. With an extra team needed to fill Serie B’s quota, Florentia Viola were promoted directly from the 4th division to Serie B for “sports merit”, or, in other words, having history.
While all of this was happening, Florentia Viola bought back the rights to use Fiorentina’s name, badge and celebrated shirt design; re-incorporating itself as ACF Fiorentina once again. The club flag was famously re-erected over the City of Florence to much excitement and emotion. The following season, La Viola finished in 6th and managed to win their subsequent promotion play-off final against Perugia to return to the Serie A. Fiorentina had died, been reborn in the 4th division and climbed three leagues in two years to re-establish themselves as a top division club; a comeback of Lazarus proportions.
Today, Fiorentina is consistently challenging for European football despite having far fewer resources than that of the clubs surrounding them. There is a sense of religiosity surrounding La Viola: based in one of the most Catholic countries in the world, with feverish support from her fan base, Fiorentina illustrated one of the most renowned reincarnation tales from the Bible. The club is locally believed to constantly overachieve due to some higher power, but realistically, it is footballing faith and passion which make Fiorentina remarkable.