Why does a small city in Italy have two teams in the same semi-professional league?!
This was my first question when I discovered that there was to be a city derby in the lowly Eccellenza Puglia division of Italian football. As I entered the hospitality section and while eating a Neapolitan speciality accompanied with a traditional espresso, I started speaking to fans and staff alike to help me understand why and how this has come to be.
ASD Molfetta Sportiva 1917, originally founded as Molfetta Sportiva, is the oldest football club in Molfetta, a city of just over 60,000 inhabitants. Its history is varied and the locals are proud of past achievements but over the last few years, times have changed. The original association has been dissolved and then re-founded under a different name on multiple occasions due to financial and legal reasons, all the while jumping from league to league as they start over and over again.
This sadly though is not unique to Molfetta. In the lower and upper reaches of Italian football this has become far too common an occurrence. But what is less common is a city starting a rival, protest club, due to the actions of an individual.
The current owner of Molfetta Sportiva is broadly speaking an unpopular figure due to his extreme hands on approach. He runs the club from top to bottom and he seems to have control on every aspect of its running, from fitness regimes to match day tactics to ticket prices.
Of course, it’s doubtful he works completely by himself and none of us are privy to what happens behind closed doors, but on the face of it, he seems to have the final say on all matters of importance. This has angered fans, who feel that such control in the modern game is unnecessary and maybe even fool hardy. There is also a feeling that Molfetta Sportiva is no longer a club over which its fans have any influence and their opinion on matters is not heard.
And so, in 2015, a protest club called Molfetta Calcio was founded to try and make the people of Molfetta feel involved again and in turn to make them feel valued. Molfetta Calcio aims to create a family friendly atmosphere with a temporary children’s area set-up on match-days with all citizens encouraged to come and be part of the day. Of course, most of the information above I gained from speaking to locals and my own experiences. Other people may have a different attitude and interpretation of events. But what cannot be argued was the tension and electricity in the air for the first ever all Molfetta Debry.
Molfetta Calcio vs Molfetta Sportiva 1917 – November, 4, 2018
As the two teams came out there was a feeling of intrigue and curiosity. With Molfetta Calcio being the home team, their club song was played loudly over the PA system to pockets of applause and cheers. The teams started to play and the fans were quiet for the most part. But within the first 10 minutes a Molfetta Calcio player was sent off. Screams and shouts filled the ground as the player walked off the field of play breaking any form of peace within the stadium.
As soon as play re-started, the heavens opened and heavy rain drenched players and fans alike. The first-half carried on in a balanced manner even with it being 10 against 11. Then, just before half-time, a Molfetta Sportiva player struck a cross come shot which bounced off the left glove of the opposing goalkeeper and fell into the net. As the players celebrated, the crowd was subdued, almost hoping the referee would find a reason to disallow such a fortunate goal. And with that the half came to a conclusion.
The second-half commenced and the action and conditions were similar to the first half. Molfetta Calcio continued to push forward forcing Molfetta Sportiva’s goalkeeper into a number of fine saves. But all of this impetus left space at the back, leading to the next flash point of the game, a second yellow for a Molfetta Calcio player leading to his marching orders. Another unpopular but correct decision from the referee leaving the home team with nine men.
Rather than look to kill-off the game with a second goal, however, Molfetta Sportiva dropped deeper in an attempt to frustrate their rivals. This tactic invited pressure and Molfetta Calcio threw men forward in hope of scoring an unlikely equaliser. And the pressure very nearly told when the home struck the post in the latter stages. However their efforts were in vain and in the last few seconds, things went from bad to worse for the new boys on the block as Molfetta Calcio sent off for stamping on another player. It had been a true local derby in every sense of the word and Molfetta Sportiva had won its first ever edition.
There was almost a delayed reaction from the players in celebrating a first famous victory as the crowd’s frustration turned into fury. The referee and his assistants quickly made their way off the pitch to a number of jeers and gestures. As players and staff were walking down a staircase into the changing rooms, a scuffle broke out, agitating an already raucous crown further. As players and coaches from both sides tried to act as peacemakers, and the crowd seemingly baying for blood, the event became almost theatrical.
It was not clear what happened next but a small part of the crowd suddenly went wild with rage, directing their venom towards one particular Molfetta Sportiva player who started to walk with purpose towards the spectators in question. At this point, the music over the PA was increased to a deafening volume to drown out any chants or insults that were now raining down from the stands. The other players of Molfetta Sportiva grabbed their teammate and forced him down the staircase ending the whole spectacle.
It was a game that will live long in the memory and if there wasn’t history for a rival in the truest sense before this game, there most definitely is now. As I was walking back towards the car-park, the over-riding feeling of the whole event was anger, anger that a small city felt the need to create a protest club and that people were becoming less and less united. In the long run, one can’t help but feel this situation may not be for the greater good of Molfetta.
Words by James Nye