Date built: 1913
Derbies: Padova, Verona, Chievo Verona, Vicenza, Pordenone, Cittadella
Nearest metro: Metro? This is Venice! To get to the ground, take one of the vaporetto services which stops at Sant Elena (currently Linea 6, 5.1/5.2 or 4.1/4.2). Alternatively, you can walk to Sant Elena via the Giardini. From the San Marco district, it is approximately a 20-30 minute walk.
Best restaurant/bar: Vecia Gina is a decent pizza spot just near the stadium, but there are numerous good restaurants and bars in the city (and quite a few bad ones as well – just stay away from the main tourist spots!). If I had to pick one of each, I’d say OSottoOSopra near Campo Santa Margherita and Osteria Al Squero in the Dorsoduro district which does great cicchetti (Venetian bar snacks) and spritz.
Situated at the south-eastern edge of the city on the island of Sant’Elena, Venice’s Stadio Pierluigi Penzo is Italy’s second oldest football stadium, having first opened its doors in 1913, and named shortly afterwards in honour of a local World War I pilot. Since then, the stadium has seen its capacity rise and fall alongside the fortunes of city’s club (currently named Venezia FC), who themselves have suffered mixed fortunes both on and off the pitch that has seen them dissolved and reborn more than once in the past two decades.
Tickets can be bought for Venezia games online, at https://sport.ticketone.it/post-order . They can also be bought in the Venezia FC stores in Venice and Mestre.
Growing up a Venezia fan thanks to my Venetian nonna and annual visits to the lagoon when I was young, my first visit to the stadium actually came surprisingly late, during a late November visit to the city in 2006. It was hardly a game to get the neutral salivating (a home game against Pro Patria), but for me had the added bonus of seeing one of the heroes of the Serie A days of the late 1990s, Fabian Valtolina, albeit turning out for the opposition.
Entering the stadium, I was immediately struck by its uniqueness. Although you see stadia on TV, you never really get a sense of them until you visit, and the Penzo perhaps reflects this more than most. On TV, it can be easy to get a harsh view of the stadium with its basic stands and fencing around the pitch.
However, I still remember walking in through the open gates at what is now the Valeria Solesin stand and seeing the ultras in the Curva Sud singing and waving flags and being struck by how close everyone was to the action. Although it was nowhere near full capacity (a regular laughed when I told him he was sitting in my ticketed seat and told me we can sit anywhere), there was a real sense of support for the team – which helped them to an easy 5-0 win.
Now with an official capacity of only 7,450, the outside of the stadium bears the scars of its tumultuous past. Surrounded on two sides by water, and only accessible by boat or foot, at first glance it appears to bear no resemblance to the grand buildings for which the city is famous. But step past the graffitied, weathered walls and that same sense of history hits you. With basic, uncovered metal stands on three sides of the ground, walking into the Penzo can feel like stepping back in time, but that lack of corporate sheen and its small capacity also serve to make a visit to the ground a truly unique experience.
The stands are all close to the pitch, giving the stadium a compact feel that really pulls you into the action. Buy a ticket on a match day with one of the team’s Serie B rivals and you’ll immediately feel invested as the small group of ultras in the Curva Sud put on a noisy, choreographed display in support of a team that the whole city still holds close to their hearts despite the tribulations.
The stands themselves are merely functional by today’s standards, with the Curva Ospiti (for away fans) at the north end of the ground only stretching for half the pitch, the other half remarkably taken up by a worker’s yard. Only the Tribuna, on west side of the ground, is covered, and is where you’ll find the VIPs and most of the more elderly of the club’s fans on a matchday.
That isn’t to say the Penzo has been left to rot. Following the acquisition of the club in 2015 by a group of American investors, led by colourful American lawyer, Joe Tacopina, the whole club underwent a rebranding to make it more modern and appealing to football fans outside Venice. Alongside a brilliant new logo featuring the winged lion of St Mark, investment was put into the stadium, the tired, discoloured seats being torn up and replaced with seats in the club’s orange, green and black (a unique combination that gives the club their nickname of the arancionerverdi), with the club’s name spelled out in the Valeria Solesin stand (named after a local victim of the Paris Bataclan attacks in 2015).
However, Tacopina, like the presidents before him, also dreamed of a bigger, custom-built stadium. This dream has been discussed for decades, and a site on the mainland, beside Marco Polo International Airport, has been identified. But the cogs of Italian bureaucracy turn slowly, and Tacopina, like those before him, soon tired of the glacial progress. The dreams of a stadium with a stained glass roof remain just that. Tacopina left the club in early 2020; the new president, Duncan Neideraurer (part of the original American investment group), has more realistic ambitions: concentrate on improving the Penzo for now, and see if a new stadium, with the help of Italian investors, is possible.
Those improvements have been basic, but noticeable; the bare brick walls on the inside of the stadium, until recently scrawled in graffiti, have been white-washed, a simple act that makes the stadium seem less run-down and more appealing.
While there is much to be said for a shiny new stadium, arguably much more would be lost if it were ever to happen. Season ticket holder Beatrice Barbini, who fell in love with the team on her weekly visits to the stadium as a young girl, echoes the views of most venetians when she says, “The Penzo has an everlasting fascination for people thanks to its unique position in the heart of Venice. All the greatest memories of Venezia fans are linked to the Penzo, from the championship wins in Serie B and C to the days of [Alvaro] Recoba and [Filipo] Maniero in Serie A.” But if the ambitions of the current owners are to be met, she fears that “without a modern stadium which is more accessible from the mainland, the club will never have the growth needed to maintain the stable position in Serie A which the city deserves.”
So while the Penzo’s days may indeed eventually be numbered, there is currently still time to pay a visit and take in its charm and character for yourself. Nowhere else in Italy will you have to arrive at the stadium by boat, nor are you able to walk to the top of an uncovered stand and see the bell tower of St Mark’s in the distance. And when the home team scores, you may even think that the lion of Venice itself is roaring as the makeshift stands rumble under your feet.
Words by: Marco Rinaldi: @marcoarrinaldi