Stadium: Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, 1963, capacity 38,402
The StadioMarc’Antonio Bentegodi is one of Italy’s iconic stadiums. Built in 1963 the venue’s only fault is that it may be too big for Chievo and Hellas Verona, the teams it houses.
The ground was renovated for the World Cup in 1990 and became a superb arena for football, with an extra tier, a new roof, better visibility and fantastic transport connections to and from the city of Verona. In 2000, work began on the bottom tier as new improvements were needed, but unfortunately these were never finished.
In Italia 90 the stadium hosted games in Group E which contained Spain, South Korea, Uruguay and Belgium. The venue also hosted Yugoslavia’s enthralling 2-1 victory over Spain in the second round.
Historically the stadium was home solely to Hellas Verona, but after Chievo’s promotion in 1986 the two clubs started to share the ground. Chievo’s Ultras hold the Curva Sud Inferior and, despite being small in number compared to their city rivals, they are no less proud.
“Come si scrive Ciampion Lig” (“How do you write Ciampion Lig”) … certainly not like that. Of course it was tongue-in-cheek, an ironic gesture emphasising the Chievo fans’ own incredulity at their team’s success, success that saw them on course for a Champions League spot during their first ever season in Italy’s top flight.
In the end, it wasn’t to be, with the Flying Donkeys finishing fifth in the 2001-02 season and outside of the Champions League spots. Just five years later, with a little help from the Calciopoli scandal that led to Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio all being banned from Europe, spelling “Ciampion Lig” was the least of Chievo’s worries; they were in it – well, at least the preliminary stage.
It was an astounding achievement for a club whose existence was for so long peripheral, even non-existent in the eyes of their powerful overweening neighbours Hellas Verona. This was Chievo’s time and their fans were keen to remind their city bedfellows.
In a game against Livorno the Clivensi (Chievo supporters) produced a banner that read: “Chievo frazione di Verona, provincia d’Europa” (“Chievo district of Verona, province of Europe”). A club from a tiny suburb of Verona that is home to 3,000 inhabitants were competing in Europe’s premier football competition. Their success became known as the “Chievo phenomenon” and how the Veronesi loathed it.
Writing in the Guardian back in October 2001, Tim Parks, the author of A Season with Verona, gave his own account of the Chievo area: “I’d lived in Verona more than 10 years before I stumbled across it, a miserable case of working-class suburb overflowing into declining semi-industrialised fenland”.
Parks conveys the haughtiness that every Verona loyalist expresses towards Chievo, both the place and the team. Chievo’s nickname in Veneto dialect is “Ceo” which means kid. Their story is certainly a child’s fairytale: the ugly duckling that blossomed and became a swan, flaunting its feathers among Calcio’s elite. It is fanciful but not far from the truth. Chievo fans may be maligned by their city rivals for their miniscule fanbase and they are not renowned across Italy, but they have still played their part in Chievo’s romance.
Some regard Chievo’s North Side as the “the only real group of Ultras”. Apparently a few boys formed the group over a beer in 1994, in a bid to start a movement of ardent fandom that would help their cause of claiming the Curva Nord as their own domain. Normally residing in the Curva Sud inferiore of the Stadio Bentegodi, they move to the Curva Nord on derby days to accomodate the greater number of visiting Verona fans.
In the early years, the group’s symbol became the Looney Tunes character Marvin the Martian, who, as a member describes, “encapsulates Chievo and above all the North Side who were aliens in the world of professional football”.
When Chievo faced Napoli in 2000 an overly offensive banner abusing the visitors (the content of which remains elusive) led to five members of the North Side being expelled, creating profound divisions. New leadership re-asserted the group’s basic ideals, including a non-violent, apolitical stance and a rejection of official twinnings and rivalries. These are not your usual Ultras and this episode best captures their idiosyncrasies.
Later that year Chievo’s promotion to Serie A saw the North Side flourish and the Flying Donkeys were followed more feverishly than ever before. As a result various sub-groups formed. These include Ultras Chievo (1999), who have now dissolved but were allegedly ‘”less good-natured” than North Side, Chievo 1929 and Gate 7, who were formed as recently as 2013.
Although the North Side Ultras profess to have no rivals, Chievo’s prominence has seen Verona develop a new-found hatred for their once “fictitious” neighbours. The return of the Mastini to Serie A in 2013 saw the first Derby della Scala in over a decade.
There were murmurings of trouble and stories than the Clivensi had thrown objects and sticks at the Verona team bus. But as many of the Veronesi will tell you, historically this is not the Veneto derby they get worked up about. The Veronesi never believed this rivalry would materialise, as demonstrated by the banner they unfurled during their 1995 derby in Serie B: “When donkeys fly we will play this derby in Serie A”. Needless to say Chievo’s success and Verona’s struggles in the last decade have allowed the Clivensi to revel in a touch of schadenfreude.
Having written about Catania’s Ultras last week, the contrast is striking. If you were to juxtapose Chievo with the Sicilians, you would have to say they are the saints of the Ultra world. The Chievo story is unique and in a small way their fans have left an indelible mark on the pages of the club’s history. Whether you call them magnanimous Ultras or just fans, the Clivensi offer a passionate and loyal support that follow and fly with their donkeys wherever they can.
Classic player: Sergio Pellissier
Chievo’s rise to power was born with the new millennium. Unlike the great teams of the past, such as Genoa or Torino, or the more constant Juventus and Milan, their history is not as prominent. One man who has embodied this mesmeric, intriguing and unlikely journey is Sergio Pellissier. Over the past decade and a half he has created Chievo’s history and more remarkably has helped them hold on to (or regain) their Serie A status.
Starting his career in Turin in 1996, the rugged forward was loaned out to Varese for two seasons before eventually being sold to Chievo from Torino in 2000. After two more years on loan at SPAL, a club in northern Italy, he was back in Verona, this time ready to prove that he was worthy of his place.
Pellissier has some pace and skill, but his main strengths are his persistence, his movement and his opportunism. He has scored some truly outstanding goals, but his bread and butter usually have the same familiar patterns.
Perhaps one could describe him as an archetypal “Grande Bomber”, who only need a moment to sum up a situation before heading or rocketing the ball past a despairing goalkeeper from inside the box. If you ever find yourself in the bizarre act of trawling through the archives of Chievo’s best goals, you will find a very similar trait when it comes to Pellissier.
The reoccurring theme is that he managed to hit almost everything that comes to him first time. His instinct is truly superb and he certainly can lay claim to being one of those rare breeds of strikers that simply wants to find the net.
His goalscoring average is impressive, havinging managed to score on average 10 goals a season in a team that has rarely given him the best supply. Would he have done better for a larger club? Who knows, but his value for Chievo has been second to none.
The Chievo captain is now 34 years of age and his appearances are not as frequent as they were. When looking back over time there is no doubt that his goals and drive have kept the team in the division. He may not have the universal appeal of Paolo Maldini or Javier Zanetti, but to fans of the Flying Donkeys he is just as important. When Calcio ruled the world, Pellissier was just getting started at Chievo.