Date built: 1923
Capacity: 27,906 (usually restricted to 22,352)
Derbies: Derby dell’Enza (Parma v Reggiana); Derby dell’Emilia (Parma v Bologna).
Nearest metro: N/A, but walkable from the train station in twenty-five minutes, and from the city centre in ten.
Best restaurant/bar: Come on – it’s Parma! There’s not just one best restaurant. Get at me on Twitter for recommendations.
Parma have never been my team, but the Stadio Ennio Tardini has become a home for me over the last three years.
My first trip there in a professional capacity came towards the end of the summer in 2018 – it was September 1, but that is still very much in the depths of Emilia-Romagna’s insufferably hot and humid months. The occasion was a huge game against Juventus for just Parma’s second home game since returning to the top flight. Then, a less-than-basic grip of Italian was all that was needed to feel the excitement around the city, which I had previously only briefly visited twice.
At the time I was temporarily living in Milan. It was always a stopover; a landing point and a first step in Italy that allowed me to source a more permanent residence. I made the move there loosely aiming to end up in Parma, but those plans were far from concrete and could have seen me end up anywhere from Turin to Lecce.
My first two visits to Parma were anything but comfortable, and looking back now I probably would have been wise to heed the warnings they provided about the climate there and in Emilia-Romagna generally.
February 23 of that same year was when I first ventured to the city. I had already been around Northern Italy countless times, going from stadium to stadium and city to city over football-filled weekends. I had fantasised about a quick stop-off in Parma on so many occasions as I passed through on trains, but had never gotten off to explore.
A quick midweek trip to watch Atalanta face Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League presented the opportunity to finally visit. With La Dea’s games being played in the neighbouring Reggio Emilia, I stayed in Modena – one stop further south from Parma than Reggio – in an attempt to take in as many places – and stadiums – as was possible. Parma happened to have their Serie B game that weekend set for Friday evening, with Venezia coming to town.
Nothing but fog and snow-covered fields could be seen during the thirty-minute train ride, and little changed once arriving in Parma. The streets and paths were white, and it was freezing, but in a very different way to anything I had experienced previously. It was wet, but it wasn’t raining. Had I known then what I know now, I’d have checked my phone’s weather app and probably would have found the humidity to be in the nineties. I almost felt a sense of relief when it started to snow, as at least then it made sense to be so soaked with icy water.
Unfortunately, there was time to kill before the game. A bar across from Teatro Regio was visited, and beers and coffee were consumed before it was time to venture outside again. The bar was nice, typically Italian, and had photos from inside the theatre all over its walls. Going outside again was a mistake. The break in the snowfall only lasted a few minutes, so it was time for another stop before dinner, and we then set off for the stadium.
A little unexpectedly, tickets couldn’t have been easier to buy, from the same spot where they can be bought now. En route to the stadium, just across from its entrance, the ticket booths sit on a plot of grass between Viale San Michele and Viale Pier Maria Rossi, which is one of the natural routes to the Tardini from the city centre, and a particularly nice stretch in the early autumn months.
There haven’t been many times in my life when I’ve barely been able to move with cold, but this Friday was one of them. So the only place to go was into the club shop at the Tardini to buy a hat as well as an ill-fitting and not-so-nice jumper that hasn’t been worn again since.
The stadium itself was nothing to write home about. The seats were mostly grey, which seemed appropriate for the day I’d had, and given the clouds, sky, and general dreariness I was feeling.
Naturally, the game left a lot to be desired. Parma scraped a 1-1 draw thanks to an Emanuele Calaio penalty, and I couldn’t get back to my Airbnb fast enough. I didn’t feel much for the place, and I wasn’t in a hurry to return to watch football there, unlike how I had felt upon visits to Ferrara’s Stadio Paolo Mazza and Bologna’s Stadio Renato Dall’Ara.
My second visit was better, but not without its difficulties. Mid-summer, a friend and colleague was travelling around Europe and happened to be in Bologna, so we agreed to meet halfway in Parma to watch England’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia. The weather was as insufferable, but for reasons of extreme heat rather than cold. Heartened by Mario Mandzukic and co. knocking England out and ending all of the ‘football’s coming home’ chat, a late night of celebrating was in store.
I moved permanently a couple of months later and, since, Parma has become a home from home. It’s where I’ve spent over two years living, and I’ve grown to love the city and it’s people. It hasn’t always been an easy place to live, and it’s a place that takes time to settle in and to warm to – or, for it to warm to you – but I don’t see myself leaving in the next couple of years at least, with or without a Serie A side.
A matchday experience at the Tardini is a little different to most places I’ve been to in Serie A and even different to fellow Emiliani clubs Bologna and SPAL. It’s a little quieter, and the fans filling the Curva Nord Matteo Bagnaresi aren’t quite as boisterous or rowdy as those in other curve around the country. It was a bit of a bugbear of mine to start with but with a deeper understanding of the city and its inhabitants, it’s something that makes sense now.
To some, Parma is known affectionately as Piccola Parigi, or Little Paris. While that’s not something that says much about the city itself, it speaks to its people, their way of being and even of speaking. It’s best reflected in the local dialect. Often given a hard time from people from other parts of Italy, Parmigiani speak with an accent that could quite easily be confused for an imitation of French. To add to that, I’ve heard merci uttered more than once in city-centre bars in place of grazie, and dialect words can resemble French more than they do Italian – with an easy example being pom da tera, the dialetto parmigiano word for potato, which is patata in Italian and pomme de terre in French.
Understanding the city and the people’s laissez-faire attitude has led to more of an appreciation of the club, its ultras and all that goes with a visit to the Tardini.
Parma aren’t my team, but Parma has become my city. I know people who watch on from the Curva Nord or other parts of the stadium each week. I’ve ridden their highs and suffered their lows with them since their return to Serie A. Bruno Alves’ last-minute equaliser against AC Milan in 2018/19 had me on my feet, Gervinho’s remarkable solo effort against Cagliari that same season drew applause, and their perfect performance in a 2-0 defeat of Roma last season almost had me celebrating. Similarly, Andreas Cornelius’ misses have had me head-in-hands, and Gervinho’s failure to spot – or rather spot and choose to play – a pass have had me banging my head against the desks in the press box with the regulars around me. So, even as an apparent neutral(?), 2020/21 has been tough.
In 2020, those affections toward the club and its stadium grew further, and the Tardini became something of a haven for me. Thankfully, I’ve been fortunate to be one of the few accredited journalists in attendance since Serie A restarted post-lockdown. Previously normal weekends of visiting two, three, or sometimes even four grounds over the course of three days are no more, at least for now, but the Tardini and the Mapei Stadium have been two places I’ve known I can look forward to visiting at a time when there’s not all that much to look forward to.
In the absence of the ability to see family members 1,500 kilometres away and not being able to embrace friends, the closest thing to comfort that I felt came while sitting in the Tardini’s press box. It wasn’t even really the matches, but more the familiarity and the habitual nature of going there, that provided it. I’ve found myself lingering around the stands for longer after games, taking more photos of empty seats, and taking more time to leave the press box and stadium after full time.
It’s not the same, but it’s something. Without fans and other comforts, I’ve found something in the Tardini that I never could have expected to find when I first walked past that iconic arch and into its stands in February 2018. Thankfully, those dreadful grey seats are no more. Instead, the warmth of its yellow and blue stands that now surround the pitch, the familiarity of the faces and the tree-lined streets that lead up to the stadium are all things I’ve grown to love about it.
Just as the prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano that I’ve had gifted to me by local farmers and producers needs time to reach its best, Parma has needed time to understand and to feel completely at ease around.
Now, as the city and the Parmigiani have with me, I’ve embraced it with open arms. And the Tardini has provided more than a little bit of comfort when it has been most needed.
Words by: Conor Clancy. @ConJClancy.