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. The Hellas Verona fans outnumber Chievo’s by some distance. They are the team of the Verona in their eyes and dont look fondly on the “upstarts” from the suburbs. The Verona derby is much more colourful when Hellas are at home.
“Shits! Thugs! Worms! Turds! Communists!” the boy yells out of the train window. The police look on unfazed. “Fascists! Slavs! Kurds! Bastards! Terroni!” He then pauses to answer his mobile phone: “Ciao mamma … no we’re still at the station in Vicenza … no we didn’t have much homework this weekend I’ve already finished.”
The train begins to pull away from the platform “Momento, Mamma” putting his hand over the microphone he leans out the window again. “Fuck off you assholes you are a disgrace to Italy”. He returns to addressing his mother “Sorry Mamma, the Butei [boys in Veronese dialect] are making a bit of a racket, anyhow we’re just leaving the station now so put the pasta on for around 6.30 and I should be back when it’s cooked.”
This anecdote is taken from Tim Park’s A Season with Verona and it recounts a teenage boy returning from a Verona match against Vicenza who alternates between yobbish football fan to Mamma’s little angel.
It is a Jekyll and Hyde moment that portrays the capricious nature of football supporters and elements of Italian life in general. One moment you are worrying about whether you will be home in time for dinner, the next you find yourself standing in the Curva Sud of the Stadio Bentegodi screaming obscenities at opposition fans, players and, of course, officials. Just ask Tim Parks.
The setting for William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona boasts a rich history, including Roman ruins, renaissance culture and the world’s largest open-air opera venue. Its biggest club, Hellas Verona, is an expression of Veronese identity and a symbol of civic pride.
The clue is in the club’s name and nickname. In 1903, when the Gialloblu [yellow and blues] were formed in Verona’s prestigious school, the Liceo classico Maffei, a Greek teacher coined the name Hellas – Greek for patria, homeland or country. One of their nicknames – Gli Scaligeri – also has historic connotations. It is a reference to the former Lords of Verona who brought the cities of Padua, Vicenza and Treviso under their control in the 14th century. There is a vehement local pride and the Ultras of Hellas Verona stand as defenders of their coat of arms and club colours.
When discussing the world of the Italian Ultras, let alone Verona, it would be impossible not to mention the Brigate Gialloblu, who say: “Against hypocrisy and compromise – we hate everybody.” Formed in 1971, their name has become synonymous with the tifosi (fans) of Hellas Verona and, despite their official dissolution in 1991, they remain infamous today.
Although some of the Verona Ultras have a notorious reputation for expressing far-right political views, the name Brigate Gialloblu allegedly has its origins in the left-wing student movement of the late 1960s and is a reference to the Italian red brigades. In fact a left-wing sub-group called Rude Boys coexisted peacefully with a number of right-wing factions within the Brigate, namely: Gioventù Scaligera (Scaligera Youth), Verona Front and Hellas Army. Their love for Hellas far outweighed their ideological differences.
To distinguish themselves and create a hostile atmosphere, the Brigate would stop at nothing to abuse and provoke opposition fans and players. This has seen racism plague the Curva Sud. One of the more distasteful incidents back in the 1980s involved fans throwing bananas at Cagliari’s Peruvian, Julio César Uribe, one of the first black players to play in Italy.
The Brigate Gialloblu were as fanatical, original and intransigent as any fangroup in Italy. Having formed ties with Chelsea’s hooligan group The Headhunters in the mid-1970s, elements of the group adopted the mores of English supporters. This even included making business cards that read: “Congratulations you have just met the BG,” an idea inspired by the calling cards left by English hooligans on their victims after a fight.
One particular contingent, known as Associazione Stalle Umane (Human Stable Association) particularly embraced the hooligan ways, drinking beer in excess and living up to the slogan “Veronesi tutti matti” (“the Veronesi are all crazy”).
In the mid-1980s the group’s reputation grew with the team’s success. Thousands travelled to support Hellas in Europe after they won their first and only Scudetto in 1985. This signalled a golden era and the eclectic Curva Sud was rarely devoid of humour. During a trip to Como, Verona Ultras turned up at the Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia with blow up rafts, beach mats and flippers changing the words of the Italian song “Stessa Spiaggia, Stesso Mare” (“Same beach, Same Sea”) to chant: “This year nothing changes, all to Como like the beach”. Perhaps it was satire mocking the easy nature of playing Como, or perhaps it was emphasising the sheer number of Veronesi who had flocked to watch a game played on the shores of Lake Como, however it gives you a picture of their ingenuity.
Nevertheless, a game at Brescia in 1986 demonstrated their chaotic and violent tendencies. After being provoked by some Bresciani, it is thought that around 5,000 Verona fans descended on Brescia hell-bent on causing havoc. The Veronesi proceeded to ransack Brescia, vandalising the station, damaging cars and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
The president of Verona at the time, Ferdinando Chiampan, called the fans criminals and threatened to withdraw the team from Serie A. The police shared this view and 12 arrests were made. The Curva Sud demonstrated their solidarity displaying a banner against Roma reading: “Not 12 but 5,000 guilty”. However, in 1991, following a tumultuous clash with Milan fans, the various parts of the Brigate Gialloblu unanimously decided to disband after some judges wanted to put the group on trial for being a “criminal organisation”.
Although they no longer officially exist, many Verona Ultras still label themselves as Brigate Gialloblu members. Verona’s return to Serie A in 2013 marked the end of one of the club’s darkest eras after having spent 11 years away from the top flight. If this wasn’t enough, the Verona faithful also had to watch their city rivals Chievo enjoy life in Serie A during their absence. However their stalwart passion has not wavered and even after their relegation to Serie C1 in 2007 an incredible 10,000 season tickets were sold in a league which averaged an attendance of around 2,500.
Their return to Italy’s elite has seen old rivalries reignited, notably with Chievo, Juventus, Milan, Atalanta and Napoli, the latter a fixture that brought the satirical best out of the Veronesi after they revealed a banner reading “Neapolitans… Sons of Juilet”. It was a humorous response to a previously unveiled Napoli banner which taunted Verona’s romantic heroine Juliet, proclaiming she was a whore.
While many presume Chievo are Hellas’s fiercest rivals, the Veneto derby that really raises the blood pressure is against Vicenza. Indeed Verona’s promotion to Serie A last season coincided with Vicenza’s slide into the lower Lega Pro league, which will have given the Veronesi untrammelled joy.
Whether they are producing spectacular choreographies, unfurling witty banners or chanting “Forza Verona Ale” to the tune of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, the Brigate Gialloblu and Hellas supporters as a whole remain respected across Italy. Much like the story of Romeo and Juliet, the Veronesi have been embroiled in a tale of scandal, feuds and romance, the only difference being their true love never seems to die.
Classic player: Antonio Di Gennaro
It is nearly impossible to mention Hellas Verona without mentioning the Scudetto winning side of the 1984-85 season. It was during these heady days that Antonio Di Gennaro made himself crucial to Hellas, giving matchwinning performances when it mattered.
Di Gennaro grew up in Florence and made his debut with his home-town club in 1976. The promising midfielder played 44 times for the Viola, scoring four goals. His aggressive, powerful and pacey style was noticed quickly and in the summer of 1980 he moved to Perugia, where he was thought of as a decent player but not a star.
The season he spent with Perugia was stable but, while three goals and 24 appearances did not set the world on fire, it did turn the heads of the Hellas Verona scouts. He signed for the club in 1981 and there was no looking back from here.
He added to his natural power and pace a newfound decisiveness and he started to score crucial goals. A perfect example of Di Gennaro showcasing his abilities came in 1984 against Juventus. The Turin side were 1-0 up and were battering away at Verona’s goal. The game seemed so one-sided that Hellas looked to be out of gas. This was until Di Gennaro, with 25 minutes to go, picked up the ball 30 yards from goal. A good first touch, a quick look up and a dart forward was followed by a thunderbolt that flew into the top corner. The only thing that matched this moment of brilliance, was his post-match, interview which he conducted in a very fetching sky blue bathrobe. He even made that look good.
He was called up to the 1986 World Cup and played four times in Mexico. He had a solid tournament but from 1986 it all went downhill. His performances dipped as did Hellas’ after the Scudetto triumph and he only played 15 times for his country, scoring four goals. He moved on to Bari and Barletta, who saw glimpses of his former self but he was still some way from those glorious days of the mid-1980s.
In 1992, Di Gennaro retired after a proud career. A league title and appearances at a World Cup have eluded some of the best players in the world; Di Gennaro was a player of distinction. When Calcio ruled the world, Di Gennaro was winning a league title with minnows Hellas and sporting some amazing bathroom attire.