It’s April 10, 2004, the 29th match day of the Serie A season. At the Stadio Del Conero, Ancona are about to host Bologna. As the kick-off time approaches the loyal fans make their way to the stadium; that evening’s attendance of just over 10,000 is towards the lower end of the spectrum for the season. Given the year that Ancona are having, though, that is hardly surprising.
It only takes 12 minutes for an old familiar feeling to take hold in the hearts of Ancona fans as Bologna take the lead. A penalty from Hidetoshi Nakata doing the damage. This day however was to be unlike the 28 that had come before, because, rather than relenting, the Dorici fight back and by the final blast of Massimiliano Saccani’s whistle they have clamoured to a 3-2 victory.
It was their first win of the season, 29 gut-wrenching matches in. It would matter for little in the end as the club ultimately sank back into the depths of Serie B, but that hideous zero in the win column had finally been replaced.
It is 3:30pm on the 23 September, 2017, the opening day of the season in the Marche Prima Categoria Girone B, Italy’s seventh and third-to-last tier of football. Less than two kilometres to the east a light sea breeze is coming in from the Adriatic Sea as fans make their way in large numbers to the stadium. However, they are not here to see local side Falconara 1973, but rather a club who up until a few weeks previously did not exist at all: Unione Sportiva Anconitana. All through the match that would follow the fans sang and chanted to their hearts content, willing this new team on to a victorious start. Then it came 18 minutes into the second half, a free kick from deep right was floated in towards the back post where it was duly met by the free head of Tommaso Colombaretti.
Not the most glamourous of beginnings, but it was three points accomplished nonetheless. The newest and shiniest version of football in Ancona was up and running, the Biancorossi were back from the dead.
Like many other areas of Italy, the introduction of football in Ancona was very heavily influenced by the English, particularly by sailors arriving into the city’s port on merchant ships. It was from watching and copying these sailors that the idea for a club grew and in March 1905, in a warehouse by the docks, Ancona was born.
The club would adopt their red and white kit not long after thanks to a local by the name of Pietro Recchi. One day while working in Liverpool, England, Recchi managed to find enough free time to be able to attend a football match. Enthralled by what he saw, Recchi promptly bought a set of red jerseys and accompanying white shorts, which he duly brought back home to his newly founded team. However, to be able to use the new jerseys an opponent needed to be found. Thus, Recchi took it upon himself to board incoming vessels and propose matches against the British sailors, many of whom duly obliged.
While the club was said to be founded in 1905, the first records of an official match don’t date until 1911, when Anconitana took on an English team known as Britagna. The match itself would end in a draw.
From then up until 1992 the club would spend its time bouncing between Serie C and B, never really making any inroads on the upper echelons of the game. A fourth-place finish in the 1939/40 Serie B season being the high point. History would be made with an inaugural promotion to Serie A for the 1992/93 season. However, it would prove to be as brief a stay as possible with the club finishing some 11 points off the pace and second bottom.
The following years would see a decline in club fortunes, falling as they did back into the third tier. But it was not before the club was revitalised, and by 2003 they were back in the top flight for only the second time in their history. From here, however, like a lad who’s had too much to drink on a night out, things were about to get messy.
The Serie A season of 2003/04 would prove one of monumentally bad proportions for Ancona. Owning the worst defence (70 goals conceded) and the worst attack (21 goals scored), the Biancorossi would finish rock bottom with only two wins and 13 points. What’s more, the club used a staggering 46 players over the course of the year.
One of them was Mario Jardel, whose brief stay on the Adriatic coast produced one of the more embarrassing moments of the season. Signed in January, the Brazilian striker was introduced to the fans during half time of the Ancona vs. Perugia match. Standing on the pitch, Jardel soon went over to greet his new adoring public. However rather than walk to greet the home contingent Jardel turned and started towards the visiting Perugia supporters, who like the home fans were also decked out in red and white. He was quickly stopped by team manager Gianluca Petrachi, but the damage had been done – forever more in the eyes of Ancona fans Jardel was the man who walked to applaud the wrong supporters.
He was soon gone and, not long after, so was the club. Beset by off-field problems, relegation back into the second tier proved too much for the finances to cope with. Within weeks of the Serie A season ending, the club folded. Shortly after that again on August 7, 2004, the man who had failed to keep the club afloat, President Ermanno Pieroni, was arrested by the Guardia di Finanza. Charged with fraud, he had allegedly illegally obtained up to €10m in contributions to cover the ever-growing black hole in the club’s accounts.
All this was put to one side however when a new Ancona was founded and placed in Serie C2, the lowest rung of professional football at the time. Backed by the Schiavoni family, who were local to the area, the new club took on the name Associazione Calcio Ancona. After finishing 11th in their first year the club grew quickly and, by the 2008/09 season, had once more returned to Serie B.
Two seasons of doing the bare minimum to survive would duly follow before the old familiar face of the footballing Grim Reaper appeared in town once more. Racked with debt and defaulting on payments, the club was expelled from the division and once more disappeared like a beach at high tide.
Things looked very bleak for the future of football in Ancona. Attempts to rebuild the club in Serie C2 and Serie D never got off the ground and it look as if football in the city would have to take a year sabbatical. However, a solution was eventually found to help Ancona live once more. On August 10, 2010 a local club going by the name San Lazzaro Piano duly changed their name to SSD. Unione Sportiva Ancona 1905 and moved into the city itself. Four days before this up to 700 people had attended a meeting at the old Stadio Dorico to ratify the transfer of the club and the creation of the new Ancona. An Ancona of the fans as it was planned to be.
The latest incarnation of Ancona would immediately win promotion from the amateur Eccellenza division into Serie D. However, the expected promotion the following season failed to materialise, nor did it come the year after. Fears were beginning to grow that the club was beginning to become bogged down in a league unbefitting of the club’s stature. They need not have overly worried as the following year they finished nine points clear at the top, successfully returning to the professional ranks.
Two high-end finishes in the next two campaigns suggested hope for the future. But, yet again, it would prove just another false dawn. Off-field problems became apparent once more for the 2016/17 season, which in turn caused a ripple effect to events on the pitch. By December the club was facing penalties from the league because of non-payment of wages to staff and players for the months of September and October. As the months rolled on the seriousness of the situation became truly clear as debts of over €1m were being declared. A statement on March 31 declared that Ancona in its current state would be unable to register for the championship the following season.
Even if the club could be saved, which was virtually impossible it didn’t matter anyway as on the pitch the team went into freefall and finished bottom. That summer (2017) the inevitable happened and Ancona for the third time in 13 years went out of business.
Things were now just a mess, attempts to restart proved unfruitful as any proposed new entity missed the deadlines to register the club in either Serie D or the Eccellenza divisions. It well and truly looked like football in Ancona was dead and buried.
But calcio just has a way of surviving and, by the middle of August, one final throw of the dice was about to be made. Stefano Marconi, the President of a newly formed club called US Anconitana Asd, put forward the idea of starting from the lowest level of Italian football: the Terza Categoria. His proposal was given credence when the Ultras of the Curva Nord threw their support in behind the project. Marconi duly registered the new company in the league and football in Ancona was saved.
Before a ball was even kicked, for once some good news arrived. On August 31 the board of the regional footballing committee of Marche admitted Anconitana into the Prima Categoria instead. It was a mighty victory for the club. Not only had they gotten the fans onside, but they would now start from a higher level.
As the football calendar ticks over into the closing stages of the 2017/18 season, Anconitana sit well clear at the top of the Prima Categoria Marche Girone B, on the road back to where they once were. Thirteen years on from the sights and sounds of Serie A, Ancona find themselves in a much different environment to that night against Bologna on April 10, 2004. But, given what they’ve been through in the intervening years, it’s a miracle that they find themselves anywhere at all.
Words by Kevin Nolan: @KevinNolan11
Kevin is an Irishman who loves to watch calcio no matter how lowly the level, Parma being his team of choice. Besides the @GentlemanUltra, he also writes for @ItalianFD.