|Hellas Verona FC 1903|
special thanks to yuri a.k.a. "rosso da t.o."
Hellas Verona Football Club S.p.A is an Italian football team, based in Verona. The team's colours are yellow and blue and "i gialloblù" (literally, "the yellow-blue" in Italian) is the team's most widely used nickname. The colours represent the city itself and Verona's emblem (a yellow cross on a blue shield) appears on most team apparel. Two more team nicknames are "i mastini" ("the mastiffs") and "gli scaligeri", both references to Mastino I della Scala of the Della Scala princes that ruled the city during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
The Scala family coat of arms is depicted on the team's jersey and on its trademark logo as a stylized image of two large, powerful mastiffs facing opposite directions. In essence, the term "scaligeri" is synonymous with Veronese, and therefore can describe anything or anyone from Verona (eg., AC Chievo Verona, a team that also links itself to the Scala family - specifically to Cangrande della Scala).
Origins and Early History
Founded in 1903 by a group of university students, the club was named Hellas (the Greek word for Greece), at the request of a professor of Classics. At a time in which football was played seriously only in the larger cities of the Northwest of Italy, most of Verona was indifferent to the growing sport. However, when in 1906 two city teams chose the city's Roman amphitheatre as a venue to showcase the game, crowd enthusiasm and media interest began to rise.
During these first few years Hellas were one of 3 or 4 area teams playing mainly at a municipal level while scrapping against city rivals Bentegodi to become the city's premier football outfit. By the 1907-1908 season Hellas were playing against regional teams and an intense rivalry with Vicenza Calcio that lasts to this day is born.
From 1898 to 1926 Italian football was organised into regional groups. In this period Hellas was one of the founding teams of the early league and often among its top final contenders. In 1911 the city helped Hellas replace the early, gritty football fields with a proper venue. This allowed the team to take part in its first regional tournament which, until 1926, was the qualifying stage for the national title.
In 1919, following a return to activity after a four year suspension of all football competition in Italy during World War One the team merged with city rival Verona and changed its name to Hellas Verona. Between 1926 and 1929 the elite "Campionato Nazionale" assimilated the top sides from the various regional groups and Hellas Verona joined the priviledged teams, yet struggled to remain competitive.
Serie A, as it is structured today, began in 1929 when the Campionato Nazionale turned into a professional league. Still an amateur team, Hellas merged with two city rivals, Bentegodi and Scaligera, to form AC Verona. Hoping to build a first class contender for future years the new team debuted in Serie B in 1929. It would take the gialloblù 28 years to finally achieve their goal. After first being promoted to Serie A for one season in 1957-58, in 1959 the team merged with another city rival (called Hellas) and commemorated its beginnings by changing its name to Hellas Verona AC.
Success in the '70s and '80s
The Return to Serie A and the 3 Coppa Italia Finals
Coached by Nils Liedholm, the team returned to Serie A in 1968 and remained in the elite league almost without interruption until 1990. Along the way it scored a famous 5-3 win in the 1972-1973 season that cost AC Milan the scudetto (the Serie A title). The fact that the result came late during the last matchday of the season makes the sudden and unexpected end to the rossoneri's title ambitions all the more memorable.
In 1973-1974 Hellas finished the season in 4th last place thus avoiding relegation, but were sent down to Serie B during the summer months as a result of a scandal involving team president Saverio Garonzi. After a year in Serie B Hellas Verona returned to Serie A.
In the 1975-1976 season the team had a successful run in the Coppa Italia, eliminating highly rated teams such as AC Torino, Cagliari Calcio, and Internazionale from the tournament. However, in their first ever final in the competition Hellas Verona were trounced 4-0 by SSC Napoli.
Under the leadership of legendary coach Osvaldo Bagnoli, in 1982-1983 the team secured 4th place in Serie A (its highest finish at the time) and even lead the Serie A standings for a few weeks. The same season Hellas again reached the Coppa Italia final. After a 2-0 home victory Hellas Verona travelled to Turin to play Juventus where the team lost the Cup in extra-time (3-0 defeat).
Heartbreak would follow in the 1983-1984 season when the team again reached the Coppa Italia final only to lose the Cup in the final minutes of the return match against defending Serie A champions AS Roma.
Hellas Verona AC is certainly most famous for going on to win the scudetto the following season (1984-85) and for its regular presence in European club football in the mid 1980s. In those years its usual lineup was the following: Claudio Garella; Mauro Ferroni, Luciano Marangon, Roberto Tricella, Silvano Fontolan; Hans-Peter Briegel, Pietro Fanna, Domenico Volpati, Antonio Di Gennaro; Giuseppe Galderisi, Preben Larsen Elkjaer and coach Osvaldo Bagnoli. Subs Luciano Bruni, Luigi Sacchetti and Fabio Turchetta were important regular contributors as well.
Although the 1984-1985 squad was made up of a healthy mix of emerging players and mature stars, at the beginning of the season no one would have regarded the team as having the necessary ingredients to make it to the end. Certainly the additions of Hans-Peter Briegel in midfield and of danish striker Preben Larsen Elkjaer to an attack that already featured the wing play of Pietro Fanna, the creative abilities of Antonio Di Gennaro and the scoring touch of Giuseppe Galderisi were to prove crucial.
To mention a few of the memorable milestones on the road to the scudetto: a decisive win against Juventus FC (2-0) set the stage early in the championship; an away win over Udinese Calcio (5-3) ended any speculation that the team was losing energy at the midway point; three straight wins (including a hard fought 1-0 victory against a strong AS Roma side) served notice that the team had kept its polish and focus intact during their rival's final surge; and a 1-1 draw in Bergamo against Atalanta secured the title with a game in hand.
The team made its first European appearance in 1983-1984 in the UEFA Cup and were knocked out in the second round of the tournament. In 1985 Hellas Verona AC were eliminated from the European Cup by fellow Serie A side Juventus (the title holders after their victory the previous year over Liverpool). In 1988 the team had its best international result when it reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals with four victories and three draws. The decisive defeat came from German side Werder Bremen.
These were more than mere modest achievements for a mid-size city with a limited appeal to fans across the nation. Soon enough financial difficulties caught up with team managers. In 1991 the team folded and was reborn as Verona FC, regularly moving to and fro between Serie A and Serie B ever since. In 1995 the name was changed back to Hellas Verona FC.
After a 3 year stay, their last stint in Serie A ended in grief in 2002. That season emerging international talents such as Adrian Mutu, Mauro Camoranesi, Alberto Gilardino, Martin Laursen, Massimo Oddo, Marco Cassetti and coach Alberto Malesani failed to capitalize on an excellent start and dropped to 4th last place for the first time all season exactly on the last available matchday.
That same season, with Chievo Verona also in the country's premier football league, Verona joined Milan, Rome, Turin and Genoa to become only the fifth Italian city to host a Serie A derby (known as il derby della Scala). The first ever Verona derby came on matchday 11 and saw the city's teams both ranked among the top 4 in Serie A. The match was won by the Hellas side, 3-2. Chievo reciprocated the favour in the return match in the spring: 2-1.
Two years later (2003-2004) Hellas Verona struggled in Serie B and spent most of the season fighting off the unthinkable: a disconcerting relegation to Serie C1. Undeterred, the fans supported their team and a string of late season wins warded off the danger. Over 5000 of them followed Hellas to Como on the last day of the season to celebrate (see photo, left). In 2004-2005 things have looked much brighter for the team. After a rocky start Hellas put together a string of results and climbed to third spot. The gialloblù held on to the position until January 2005, when transfers weakened the team, yet they managed to take the battle for Serie A to the last day of the season.
Inaugurated as a state-of-the-art facility and as one of Italy's finest venues in 1963, the stadium appeared excessive for a team (Hellas) that had spent the best part of the last 35 years in Serie B. The original capacity of 40,000 spectators was extended to 45,000 for the 1990 World Cup, making it Italy's 9th largest stadium. Renovations included a roof to cover all sections and improved visibility, public transport connections and services.
The Bentegodi is still one of Italy's finest facilities, yet today both hometown teams struggle to fill the seats. The emergence of Chievo on the Serie A stage in recent years has split the city into two smaller groups of archrival fans, both very loyal to their respective cause. Today, with Chievo constantly battling to survive relegation in Serie A, and Hellas Verona playing to a lower division, after having won a scudetto in 1985, the Sunday crowds are often less than half of the stadium's capacity. The limited attendance and the presence of olympic track rings around the pitch perimeter have somewhat inhibited the fan's warmth and cheer and, as a result, the vibrant atmosphere and sell-out gatherings that characterized the Bentegodi throughout the '70s and '80s have become a distant memory.
Apart from the many local fan clubs whose main role is (for example) to provide a meeting place for fans and friends and organize away trips, since the late 60s many Italian fans rely on organized stadium groups. The main goal is to choreograph fan support with flags, banners, coloured smoke screens, drums, and chanting in unison. For most teams city rivalries, colours, coat of arms, symbols, and the overall iconography have roots in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. As the chosen names of most organized groups, the youth of most members, and the late 60s origins may suggest, the social trend is best understood as part of the popular culture that centres around the year 1968.
The most well known organized fan group of the team was called le brigate gialloblù or "BG" ("the yellowblue brigades"). It came together in 1971 and no longer exists as such. Although to this day virtually all fans call themselves BG members when at the Bentegodi, the hardcore group numbers about a few thousand members. From producing flags large enough to cover the entire curva sud section (virtually a third of the stadium) to singing Giuseppe Verdi's Aida, the BG (and Hellas fans in general) are one of Italy's most dedicated, immaginative and respected supporters.
Most Hellas fans have always kept football and politics apart, but right wing (verona front, hellas army) and left wing (rude boys) groups coexisted within the BG, as they do among today's Hellas fans. Then and now, the wide majority of the fans are joyous and well behaved, however small groups, typically right wing extremists, aiming to provoke, cause outrage and attract attention (whatever the cost) hide behind the BG.
Repeated incidents throughout the 70s and violence in the late 80s drew plenty of media attention and Verona was singled out. (Unfortunately) similar events occur elsewhere in Italian stadiums. The founders and "hard-core" groups within the BG did what they could to keep younger members from emulating or even joining the extremists, yet action needed to be taken. After 20 years, in late 1991 the various BG groups unanimously decided to disband.
Today acts of violence are extremely rare and fans attend games to display their affection for Hellas Verona. However, once or twice a year controversial choruses do make headlines and more needs to be done (by fans, team and local institutions) to keep the trend under check. Smaller organized groups still exist and regularly sing the Aida (the old BG anthem) in tribute.
Hellas Verona fans are twinned with the supporters of Fiorentina. The friendship dates back to the mid 80s, when several viola crowd favourites (Antonio Di Gennaro, Luigi Sacchetti and Luciano Bruni) left Florence and won the scudetto with Hellas Verona. During a match in Florence shortly after the BG disbanded, the Fiorentina supporters payied tribute to the BG showing a banner that reads "20 years of history cannot be erased: B/=\G, we salute you". Note: the /=\ symbol separating the letters represents a ladder (from the Scala family name) and is visible on the team logo as well.
The gialloblù are bitter rivals of Vicenza, Brescia, Chievo Verona, and Venezia AC. Like many other Serie A fans, Hellas supporters have no liking for the Juventus, Milan and Inter (the three biggest clubs in Italian football).
Other players and former coaches
In addition to the 1984-85 line-up listed above, the following players have also worn the Hellas Verona jersey: Aldo Olivieri, Guido Tavellin, Sergio Sega, Ugo Pozzan, Angelo Orazi, Emanuele Del Vecchio, Osvaldo Bagnoli, Sergio Clerici, Gianfranco Zigoni, Emiliano Mascetti, Renato Zaccarelli, Wladyslav Zmuda, Domenico Penzo, Joe Jordan, José Dirceu, Claudio Caniggia, Paolo Rossi, Angelo Peruzzi, Robert Prytz, Dragan Stojkovic, Damiano Tommasi, Gianluca Pessotto, Filippo Inzaghi, Sebastien Frey, Aimo Diana, Adrian Mutu, Mauro Camoranesi, Alberto Gilardino, Martin Laursen, Massimo Oddo, Marco Cassetti.
Coaches: Angelo Piccioli, Giancarlo Cadè, Ferruccio Valcareggi (who coached the Azzurri from 1966-1974, leading them to the 1970 World Cup final), Nils Liedholm, Osvaldo Bagnoli, Cesare Prandelli and Alberto Malesani.