Do you remember the first time?

The joy of the stadium: a day at Bentegodi, some years ago

di Richard Hough

The column of the saturday from Richard Hough for all the Verona-lovers speaking english. 

Enjoy.

 

It was probably the worst game of football I’ve ever seen.

A tedious 0-0 draw in a match which neither side seemed to want to win.

Played at a snail’s pace, both teams were content to retain possession deep in their own half. Zero pressing, few shots on target, just two corners in the entire game and only eight fouls committed, four by each side. The exceptionally high number of passes completed, as defenders leisurely knocked the ball about between themselves, suggested that something strange had happened.

 

When the final whistle blew, it sparked the biggest party Verona had seen in decades.

 

It was 18 May 2013, the end of a very long journey for Hellas Verona, and my first game at the Bentegodi.

 

Just three years previously, Hellas had been struggling in the Lega Pro. These were darks times for the club. They had spent much of the 2000s struggling between the foot of Serie B and the depths of Lega Pro. Midway through the 2007/08 season, an unknown Tuscan coach named Maurizio Sarri was appointed in a desperate bid to reverse the club’s downward spiral. After a disastrous run of form, taking just one point from six matches, Sarri was replaced by Davide Pelligrini, the coach he had succeeded just 3 months earlier!

 

Despite the farcical depths to which they had slumped, Verona’s notoriously loyal fans had stuck by their team, averaging over 14,000 fans a game and boasting over 10,000 season ticket holders, even in Lega Pro!

 

Things only really started to improve for Hellas with the appointment in November 2010 of ex-Inter defender Andrea Mandorlini. When he arrived, Hellas were second bottom of the Lega Pro Prima Divisione. After an initial sequence of five consecutive draws, Hellas embarked on a run that propelled them into the play-offs. After beating Sorrento in the semi-final and then Salernitana in an ill-tempered final, Verona returned to Serie B after a 4-year absence.

 

Having set themselves the objective of staying up, Mandorlini’s newly promoted Hellas almost secured an immediate promotion to Serie A, thanks to a remarkable record of eight consecutive league wins, ending the season in 4th place, but losing out in the play-off semi-finals against Varese.

 

Going into the 2012-2013, expectations were high. Mandorlini was confirmed as coach and incoming president Maurizio Setti set the minimum objective of a play-off spot. After losing to Padova on 4 March, Hellas didn’t lose another match that season, a 12-game unbeaten run that left them requiring just a single point against Empoli on the last game of the season to secure automatic promotion. Empoli, coached by a certain Mr Maurizio Sarri, also required just one point to secure their place in the playoffs.

 

It was a classic case of what the Italians like to call ‘un biscotto.’ Of course, the origins of this term are, by definition, shrouded in mystery, but it is thought to derive from the murky world of horse racing, where a biscuit would be mixed with a stimulant or sedative, depending on the desired outcome. The term was adopted in the world of football following a series of dubious results, amongst the most notable of which was a 2-2 draw between Sweden and Denmark at Euro 2004, which saw Italy eliminated from the tournament on goal difference.

In this case, there is no doubt that Hellas merited promotion. They boasted the best defence in the league and, in Daniele Cacia, the top goal scorer with 24 goals. But Verona’s most consistent player that season was a young Brazilian starlet named Jorginho who, as we know, would go on to bigger things.

From my spot in the ‘curva di tribuna’, the crumbling terrace underneath the Curva Sud, I have to confess, I was disappointed with what I saw on the pitch that day. But the party afterwards, well, that was something else!

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