It is the evening of August 24, 2013. The cool breeze is blowing welcomingly through the trees that envelope the Stadio Artemio Franchi Arena. The heat of the day has now eased and the idyllic setting is host to the first game of the Serie B season. Siena are playing Crotone and as the floodlights light up the Viale dei Mille, the sound of Vespas can be heard over the mutterings of a crowd that is small in size but high with anxiety.
The shrill sound of the referees whistle, the occasional cheer, Siena’s PA sounding out the club song and the occasional chants from a few Ultras are the only way you would know there is a game on. The rest of Siena enjoys the evening in the Piazza, commenting occasionally on the mild interruptions.
In the stadium two men sit to the right of the Curva; let’s call them Enzo and Riccardo. As Nico Pulzetti scuffs in Siena’s final goal in a 5-2 win, the two begin to converse.
Enzo puts his feet on the chair in front and rests his chin in his hand, “That was good, very good and 5-2, this is the start of something, I can feel it.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Riccardo takes a drag on his cigarette without even looking at Enzo, “This team and this club are miles away from what they need to be, Crotone were just terrible.”
Enzo, ignoring his friend’s pessimism, applauds the players as they leave the pitch, his supercilious grin placed there by their goals, “Ah, Riccardo, how many times have we been here before? We got promoted back in 2003 remember? We finished 13th? Don’t forget 2011? Need I go on, we always bounce back!”
Riccardo grabs his coat and stands up, he looks around the ground and hangs his head before turning to Enzo. “Things are different now, look at the team! Where are the Enrico Chiesa’s, heh? Even the Massimo Maccarone’s? Christ I’d even take Emanuele Calaiò back, in fact no, I’d love Calaiò! Anyway there is no money now.”
Enzo, now starting to get a little deflated by his friend and a little angry tries to put his hand on Riccardo’s shoulder. As his friend walks away he desperately poses the question, “Yes, buts that over now? No?”
“It’s not over Enzo, you were on the protest march, and this is the end, we are a Serie B club at best now.” Riccardo walks away leaving Enzo to contemplate his harsh words.
Enzo shakes his head and smiles at his old friend. “Old fool!” he shouts after him, then smiles as he claps the remnants of the Siena staff off the pitch.
As his friend disappeared into the warm Tuscan night, Enzo sat in and thought for a while about his team. The stadium was almost empty but for a few players warming down and the stewards who were closing up. The optimistic but nervous fan started to reminisce about how his team used to be.
It was only two months previous in June when the diners on the Piazza Del Campo had been disrupted by a rather vocal and angry group of Siena supporters. The ‘Senesi’ had gathered in the historic centre of the town to protest about what was happening with their club.
The issue was twofold. Firstly they had seen their team relegated from Serie A but more importantly they had lost their main sponsor and backer. This would be a situation that most teams would find difficult to handle but when your backer is the oldest bank in the world - Monte Dei Paschi di Siena - and holds so much local pride and prestige, it is easy to see how it could be devastating. The Mayor of Siena, Bruno Valentini promised he would do all he could to make sure that the team would play in Serie B in the 2103/14 season. There was however, a lot of controversy as many of Siena’s Ultra group and hardliners blamed the local bank for their situation.
The Senesi did manage to get their wish and play in Serie B that season, but it came at a cost. As they beat Crotone 5-2 on the opening day, the three points they had acquired were only knocked off the eight that had been docked. It is clear to see why our two friends on that balmy summer night disagreed about the future of the club.
Siena, after all, have never really set Italian football on fire. Many years spent struggling in the doldrums left them as nothing more than a Tuscan club punching above their weight. It is true that after their promotion in 2003 they performed admirably and maintained their status, with only a few visits to the division below. Players like Nicola Amoruso, Gianluca Curci, Gaetano D'Agostino, Enrico Chiesa and Vincent Candela were just some of the players that graced the beautiful little ground.
If looked at from a different perspective one could say what the club had achieved was amazing. Tracing their roots back to 1904 Siena had played under many different names, none more amusing than the Società Studio e Divertimento (Study and Fun sport club). They also played under the (now apt) Società Sportiva Robur (Robur sport club) and in 1908 actually imported a football pitch from the America to get them started properly. By the 1930’s Siena were more recognisable as the team we knew recently with their black and white stripes, playing in a major championship.
Before the Second World War the club were an amazingly well run, financially stable and proud in beating local rivals Fiorentina and Bologna. The War (as with so many football teams) hit them hard and despite new president Danilo Nannini’s efforts to maintain some sort of equilibrium Siena soon ended up in the doldrums. It was only when Claudio Corradini (an important name of the SNAI Services group) took over, that the team started to rise and moved into Serie B in 2000/01. Here, under coach Giuseppe Papadopulo, they managed to avoid relegation and won promotion to Serie A in 2003/04. Here for a decade, Siena became a mainstay boasting some excellent players and although combating relegation they became part of the fabric of top flight football in Italy.
Siena finished a respectable ninth in Serie B in 2013/14 but despite President Massimo Mezzaroma insisting the club would not go bankrupt this summer despite mounting debts, the writing was on the wall. Mezzaroma stated at the end of the season; “AC Siena constructed a plan, to spread out with the credit institutions, to prove it can continue in football at a high level and guarantee more solidity compared to the past. This is thanks to a financial restructuring process that cannot be completed in just one year. The next seasons will have to be based around ensuring the financial health of the club. These are essential conditions to sign up for the Serie B tournament and guarantee the survival of AC Siena. We are confident we can find a positive solution.”
Despite hope of parachute payments and all the positive planning Siena officially became bankrupt in the pre-season. A statement from the club read “Despite multiple, frequent attempts carried out in order to procure the registration of the team to the new football season; it was not possible to achieve this objective.”
It was a sad end for the club and a sad end for Enzo and Riccardo.
Or was it?
The Robur Siena, (better known as AC Siena) is the rebirth of the famous little Tuscan club. The current team are keeping alive the traditions of the old and despite plying their trade in Serie D they are not dead. The club enters the winter break in first place following a run of seven straight wins.
Even so, when our two friends sit down for the next game of the season they will look over the trees and the old town with its illustrious history and wonder how it all went wrong. The upper reaches of Italian football have lost an ancient but recent gem who played their part in some superb moments. Enzo and Riccardo have Christmas to celebrate and two home matches against Massese and Foligno to contemplate early next year. They used to travel to Juventus, Lazio, Roma and Milan.
Not gone but forgotten by most, the glorious surroundings have made way for a new era. Ironically this fresh dawn represents a majority of their history. Enzo and Riccardo will just have to sit back, hope and tell their grandchildren of times past.
Richard is on Twitter @Gentleman_Ultra.
Picture credit: Siena Cathedral by Eric.