It has been said that on June 7 1992, the sound of the car horns in the centre of Ancona were so loud and continuous that the locals could still hear them reverberating in their ear drums weeks later.
A fever had taken over the coastal city that Sunday. It was the day that the local team, Ancona Calcio, were set to confirm their first ever promotion to Serie A. And while a few thousand lucky souls had made the trip to Bologna to watch their team play out a 1-1 draw in the pouring rain, those left behind made sure that the whole town was adorned in red and white in preparation for the wild celebrations.
At the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, there were tears of joy at the final whistle as coach Vincenzo Guerini ran towards the crowd leaping like a madman, blowing kisses in all direction. Meanwhile, the man who had brought the team from the brink of extinction to these glorious heights, proudly watched on.
Edoardo Longarini was blessed with two nicknames during the 1980s. Those that admired him for his success as a businessman and football president, dubbed him the “King of Ancona,” while those who were unimpressed by his seemingly shady corporate dealings and churlish attitude, christened him “Al Cafone” (a slang word that translates as “peasant” but is used to describe someone with caddish or boorish behaviour).
Longarini is most famous in Italy for a notorious court case that has dragged on for more than 30 years following a dispute between his building company, ‘Adriatic Construction’, and the city council of Ancona. In 1977, his company was awarded a contract to complete post-war reconstruction work in Macerata, Civitanova and Ariano Irpino. A second contract was also negotiated for regeneration work in Ancona. The total value of the combined works exceeded €1 billion in today’s money.
However, due to a lack of public funds and some regulatory issues, the paperwork was never signed and the work was cancelled. But not before Longarini had used the proposed contracts as collateral to secure significant funding from elsewhere. As a result, he sued the state. and after a long and drawn out inquiry, Longarini was awarded more than €1.2 billion in compensation. Unfortunately, the decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court and is still the subject of an ongoing appeal process to this day.
Longarini was born in Tolentino, in the province of Macerata, and graduated as an accountant. He started his first business in 1956 and also dabbled in politics as secretary of the Falconara Marittima branch of the Christian Democrat Party (Democrazia Cristiana). Following his success in the construction business, he later branched out into the media world as editor of the Marche, Umbria and Tuscany Gazettes. He also indulged his love of football by taking control of his local team Ancona Calcio.
At the end of the 1983-84 season, Ancona were languishing in Serie C1 and had to complete their schedule without a coach following Luigi Mascalaito’s sudden switch to Modena. It transpired that Mascalaito had been in secret talks with the Canarini for months but neglected to inform his current team, who were unable to recruit a replacement at such short notice.
With the club in decline on and off the pitch, there were suggestions that Ancona would not survive another season unless an investor could be found. However, following some financial restructuring, the coach was replaced and new players were recruited. Aware of their difficulties, Edoardo Longarini engaged in negotiations to become the sole director of the club.
At the time, his ill-fated construction projects were still scheduled to go ahead and Longarini was seen by many as the local boy done-good, the saviour who would revive the city as well as its struggling football team. And while the city redevelopment plans were ushered into a maze of complex red-tape, the football dream at least became a reality.
Following his arrival, share capital was reduced and new shares were issued in order to balance the books. Camillo Florini was installed as club president, while Longarini adopted the title of Honorary President. With Longarini and Florini pulling the strings, the club enjoyed three seasons of mid-table stability in Serie C. Giancarlo Cadè had been drafted in as coach, and by 1988, things finally started to fall into place as Ancona cruised to the Serie C1 title, ending their 38-year absence from the second tier.
After a year of consolidation in Serie B, Vincenzo Guerini was recruited as coach and two years later, the impossible happened: i Dorici were promoted to Serie A, prompting unheralded scenes of jubilation in the city.
Ancona fans celebrating their historic promotion to Serie A at Bologna’s Stadio Renato Dall’Ara
As well as delivering top flight football, Longarini was also behind the construction of a new stadium, christened “Stadio Del Conero.” In true Longarini style, the building work took slightly longer than planned and the club played their first five home games in the top flight at their old Stadio Dorico home.
Ancona’s stay in the top flight was short-lived as they were relegated the following year. However, they did manage to reach the final of the 1993-94 Coppa Italia, where they fell 6-1 on aggregate to Sampdoria. By 1996, they were back in Serie C and Longarini was caught up in the wide scale Tangentopoli fraud investigations. As a result, he was forced to give up his role at the club.
Longarini was initially charged with fraud but was later cleared; although, many dark shadows still surrounded his business dealings. What’s more, his exorbitant compensation claims would have had a direct economic impact on the local economy in Ancona, a fact that left a bad taste in the mouth for many of his previous admirers. In fact, those in the city that once crowned him “King,” now cursed any mention of his name.
Despite his ongoing legal issues, Longarini found it hard to stay away from football. From 1999, he spent four years in control of the Rome-based club Lodigiani, during which time the club were relegated twice before finally being sold to the Cisco group in 2003. And since 2005, he has been the owner of Serie B side Ternana Calcio, where he has remained a deeply unpopular figure amongst the club’s traditionally left-wing fan base.
Promises of a new stadium and a return to Serie A have yet to materialise and a lack of interaction with the local community has turned many fans away. Longarini has resisted many calls to sell up and leave Ternana, instead preferring to carry out a restructuring process (in 2016), which included the controversial appointment of his son Simone as president.
There is no doubt that the man with a love of procurement also has a genuine passion for the game. His continued presence and financial support at Ternana in the face of such animosity seems to be driven by an honest desire to deliver success on the pitch. But after 12 years at the helm, he has yet to hear the echoes of a thousand car horns ringing in his ears.
Words by Neil Morris: @nmorris01
Neil was seduced by Italian and Spanish football at a young age thanks to the likes of “La Quinta del Buitre”, Sacchi’s Milan, Cruyff’s dream team and Batigol. His football obsession has taken him all over Europe but he currently lives in Spain where he works as a freelance writer/editor. A first novel is also in the pipeline. When he is not writing, he heads for the sierras to indulge his passion for mountain biking.