With the promotion of Hellas Verona to Serie A at the end of last season, Italian Football fans are in for a real treat – the renewal of the Derby della Scala, contested between Hellas and Chievo. Named after the della Scala princes that ruled Verona during the middle ages, it’s the newest yet one of the fiercest of all the derby rivalries between two teams from the same city in Italy.
As few as 12 years ago, any thought of a Verona derby in Serie A was ridiculous. So much so that the very notion inspired the joke that eventually gave Chievo their eternal nickname when Hellas fans famously held up a banner that read “you’ll be in Serie A when donkeys fly!” Now, the joke is well and truly on Hellas because while the Mastini (Mastiffs) have been out of the top flight since 2002, the Mussi Volanti (Flying Donkeys) have only had one season in the second tier since 2001.
Chievo is a Cinderella story that you’d need to be pretty cold hearted to not appreciate on some level. Hailing from a tiny suburb of only a few thousand inhabitants, when local businessman Luigi Campedelli became Chairman in 1964, they were playing in Seconda Categoria – the 9th and bottom tier of Italian senior football. Under Campedelli’s leadership, they reached 4th tier Serie C2 in 1986, the year after Hellas won their first and only Serie A title. This promotion into the ranks of professional football meant they had to vacate their tiny football ground/paddock on the outskirts of town and enter into a ground sharing arrangement with Hellas in Verona’s 40,000 seat municipal stadium ‘lo Stadio Marc Antonio Bentegodi’.
When Campedelli died in 1992, having taken his club to Serie C1, his son Luca, just 23 years old, took over and immediately won promotion to Serie B where they met Hellas for the first time. Then ultimately, at the end of season 2000/01, by virtue of their third place finish in Serie B, Chievo completed the set having played at every step in the Italian football pyramid.
All the predictions were that they’d be instantly relegated to right back where they came from. Instead they led Serie A for six consecutive weeks and ended their debut season fifth, achieving a berth in the UEFA Cup, the same season that Hellas was relegated. In 2005/06, thanks to the match fixing scandal that saw a number of top teams disqualified, they achieved their highest ever Serie A finish of 4th – Chievo had blazed their remarkable journey, from Seconda Categoria, all the way to the Champions League.
But not everyone’s a fan of this fairytale. Following Hellas’ promotion back to Serie A back in May, Twitter’s most prominent English speaking Hellas fan, Charles Ducksbury (@cducksbury), over a sequence of tweets, launched this tirade:
Let me explain Chievo to you all and their president Campedelli. Now Campedelli was a Hellas Verona supporter and even tried to buy Hellas but failed. So he bought another small team in the city, Chievo (just Chievo, not Chievo VERONA). Now instead of the club having their own identity, over time they changed their shirt colours to the same as Hellas (yellow and blue), they added ‘Verona’ to their name, changed their badge to an old Hellas symbol (knight riding a horse). After promotion to B they moved to the same stadium as Hellas, and their fans were even put on our Curva Sud for home games. But the worst part is their fans don’t mind this. It’s difficult for Hellas to have a true rivalry with them because a) they have no fans to be rivals with and b) other games are much more important historically (far too many to mention). We haven’t played them since 2001-02 season so I suspect the next few games against them will be tense and probably violent affairs. But after that the novelty of Chievo will wear off, their ‘fans’ will stop going and they’ll drop back to C.
I can understand his frustration. If a tiny little suburban Roman club changed its colours to yellow and red, moved into ‘lo Stadio Olimpico’ and changed its logo to Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she-wolf, it’s fair to say I’d have issues. For that reason, Charles’ rant struck a real chord with me.
But it has always been my experience in life that there are two sides to every story, so I asked one of the finest of Chievo’s Twitteristi, Stefo Lehmann (@ChievoVerona), if he’d like to provide us with an alternative take, to which he happily obliged:
Up until 2001, when Chievo reached Serie A, in Italian football it was unheard of to have Chievo fans contemplate a Serie A debut. Small clubs never made it and were not supposed to, as Serie A was a playground for the wealthy teams from the biggest cities, plus a handful of mid-size cities which mostly took turns acceding then relegating.
This status quo lasted from the early 1900s to 2001 (Pro Vercelli, pop 40,000, being a notable exception) when Chievo surprised the world by winning a spot in Serie A. Most Italians hadn’t heard of the team or neighbourhood, so it was a shock to all. The Washington Post devoted a full page, Disney produced a documentary, and an Italian economist wrote a book analysing the neighbourhood club’s uniqueness and debt-free business model. The book, “Fenomeno Chievo: Economia, Costume, Socie – una squadra di quartiere contro il calcio miliardario,” led bigger clubs to question the rationale of spending millions, and for a decade this changed the way many soccer teams in Italy were managed.
Needless to say, as a Verona-born soccer fanatic, how could I not support this soccer phenomenon? More importantly, how could all Veronese not support it? Lamentably, this being Verona, a provincial town, many people didn’t see this as a fascinating development, rather it was an encroachment on Hellas’ position.
So the last decade of Verona soccer has been characterized by Hellas fighting not to disappear completely and Chievo challenging the conventional wisdom in Serie A and in the European Cups. Needless to say, this situation has caused extreme resentment and envy. These sentiments became louder and more frequent as Hellas and Chievo fates began taking diametrically opposite paths, with Chievo surging to B and Hellas filing for bankruptcy within a couple of years of each other in the early 1990s.
The false claims perpetuated by envious Hellas fans:
- The name Verona was added to Chievo, not to emulate the bankrupt and plummeting Hellas, but to let Italians know where in Italy Chievo was located! Again, nobody had any idea where this rising club was from.
- The Chievo emblem, a knight on a horse, is not a Hellas symbol, rather it’s the symbol of the city’s founding family, the Scaligeri! Hellas cannot appropriate the city’s patrimony for itself. Chievo is also from Verona after all. Must Chievo fans deny that Romeo and Juliet existed in their city, too?
- Chievo moved to the Hellas stadium. Of course it did! What options did Chievo have? Stay in its 2,000 capacity field? The Bentegodi stadium is owned and operated by the city, not Hellas. There is no other stadium in the city. When Chievo became professional in 1986 it had the right to use the city stadium and also needed a bigger venue. The city certainly wasn’t going to build a new stadium for Chievo!
- The Chievo fans asked to use the Curva Nord instead of the Curva Sud used by Hellas fans, but local law enforcement arrangements mandated that the Curva Nord be used by visiting fans. The claim that Chievo fans wanted to take over the Curva Sud is another complete falsehood.
- Yes, colours changed half a century ago to yellow and blue. And guess what? ALL professional sports teams in Verona are yellow and blue. Did Verona’s basketball team (Teznis Scaligera) and its volleyball team (Marmi) also steal the colours from Hellas?
So the battle lines are drawn. These are the things that make this local rivalry so unique, completely unlike any other in the world today that I know of, and just to add the icing on top, as of right now honours are totally even. Chievo and Hellas have won four games against each other apiece and there have been two draws. This year’s Verona derbies will be compulsive viewing, both on and off the pitch. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of this story has in store for us.
Categories: Roma/Italian Calcio
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/