Terni, a city in Umbria located almost slap bang in the middle of Bel Paese, is nicknamed ‘The City of Lovers’ and ‘The Steel City’ due to its association with both Saint Valentine in 226 AD and Steel production during WW2.
In present day, however, a different type of industry and passion is being displayed– from Ternana Calcio on the football pitch. At the time of writing the team sits comfortably clear at the top of Serie C Group C, having only lost once. They have also announced ambitious stadium redevelopment plans this year, signalling how high their aspirations go. What is the story behind the Umbrians – who have flourished in a season where so many have failed to meet the demands required on the pitch?
Le Fere (The Beasts) were founded in 1925 and in their formative years they endured financial difficulties whilst bouncing around the lower leagues of Italian football, re-founding a number of times. However glory years were to come, and by 1972 they found themselves in Serie A under the guidance of coach Corrado Viciani.
Their first foray against the likes of Juventus and Milan, and playing against legends such as Gianni Rivera and Gigi Riva ended in predictable relegation, with the club only winning 3 league games all season. Not all was lost, and two seasons later they again reached the big time, but the end result was relegation again. Since then, a semifinal Coppa Italia appearance in 1980 is as good as it has got, with the team moving between Serie D, C and B with somewhat regularity.
In 2017 the club underwent a somewhat unusual ownership change which would set the wheels in motion for Ternana’s apparent revolution. Stefano Bandecchi, founder of the Rome-based online University Università degli Studi Niccolò Cusano, or ‘Unicusano’ for short, purchased the club. The start of this new regime was clear, with the Unicusano brand implemented into the club name and crest as ‘Unicusano Ternana’ and adorning the club shirt as sponsor.
Bandecchi had previously cut his teeth in ownership with a short successful reign with Roman team Racing Fondi, winning the Serie D Coppa Italia in 2015-16 in his second season as owner. His early success was not to be replicated in Terni, with the club being relegated from Serie B in 2017/18, followed by a mediocre 11th place finish in Serie C Group B the next season.
Fortunes began to improve in the COVID-19 hit 2019/20 season, when the club was shifted from Group B to C (for league administrative reasons, where the three groups are based on regionality) and finished 5th, before losing out to Bari in the playoffs at the quarter final stage. This disappointing end to a somewhat promising season in Lega Pro still offered no inkling to the form they would go on to display the following season.
I Rossoverdi (The Red and Greens) announced former Livorno legend Cristiano Lucarelli as manager prior to the start of this (2020/21) season. Lucarelli had had an inauspicious start to management, with underwhelming spells at troubled fallen giants Livorno and Catania being the most high profile. Bandecchi himself is Livornese, and so the appointment of Lucarelli could have been seen cynically as an ill-appointment based solely on his reverence of the playing days of l’idolo. This idea, however, was instantly dispelled as Ternana went on a 26 game unbeaten run to start the season before losing 2-1 to Catanzaro at the end of February. The team from Terni have one of the highest win percentages in Europe this season and this level of domination has not been witnessed in Serie C group C since the league has reverted back to a three-group system.
What makes this all the more impressive is that Group C is an impressively strong league this season, including Southern giants Bari, Palermo and Catania – all who had ideas of promotion before being blown out of the water by Ternana.
I spoke to @Ternanafanpage who attributed the great form of the team to Lucarelli and his staff; citing the away wins against their closest challengers Bari (1-3) and Avellino (1-2) as Ternana’s best performances of the season. The team from Terni usually play a 4-5-1 formation and are built on a league record defence that has only conceded 19 all season. Their attack is just as important, however – they keep the ball with style and counterattack at a pace that has allowed attacking midfielder Cesar Falletti (on loan from Bologna) and winger Anthony Partipilo to be at the top of the league’s goalscoring charts. Despite these two vital players, the goals are shared around, with the team being one of the deadliest in front of goal in Europe.
The club’s hierarchy is also looking to match the ambition shown on the pitch with the club’s facilities. A very impressive plan (detailed on the club’s website – (ternanacalcio.com) has proposed an investment of €50 million to develop a new 18,500 all seater stadium complex, complete with youth team facilities and a shopping centre.
The bold proposal has certainly raised some eyebrows in Italy, as any Italian stadium plans need to be taken with a pinch of salt – with Roma’s stadium development saga which has been finally shelved after 10 year being the most recent example of failed stadium builds in Italy. These plans from a team in Serie C is almost unprecedented, but if it is to be realised it would be a real positive for the city of Terni. @Ternanafanpage described it as a “beautiful stadium project and certainly very important to relaunch and write the history of this club and city”.
Le Fere currently sit seven points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand, but their fans are not yet counting their chickens. “This team is doing very well indeed, but still a lot is missing for the championship win, and so I personally will celebrate, should it happen, only on April 25th,” said @Ternanafanpage. It is a shame the tifosi have missed this iconic season at the Stadio Libero Liberati in person due to COVID-19, but only a collapse of monumental proportions would now result in Ternana missing out on promotion. This should give the fans some solace, at least, and if they can gain promotion to Serie B, they would be only one step from reaching the promised land of Serie A again for the first time in 50 years.
Words by: Jake Mills. @DrJakeMills