The brief but crucial legacy of Florentia Viola

The brief but crucial legacy of Florentia Viola

Upon becoming Fiorentina’s new owner in the summer of 1990, Mario Cecchi Gori was received as a saviour. It was not a hard won reputation, after all the man he would be replacing had sparked a literal riot on the streets of Florence after his sale of the clubs star man, Roberto Baggio, as the side continued to languish in mid table obscurity

Cecchi Gori, who made his millions as a film producer, would quickly endear himself to the Florentine locals as he began to splash the cash, bringing in a litany of stars in his first two seasons at the helm. Gabriel Batistuta, Stefan Effenberg, Brian Laudrup and Francesco Baiano all arrived amid much fanfare and things appeared to only be on an upwards trajectory in Florence. Just two years after his arrival, however, the man hailed as Fiorentina’s saviour, would be gone.

 

 

In November of 1993, Mario Cecchi Gori passed away after suffering a massive heart attack, in turn leaving the club to his largely hapless son, Vittorio. Cecchi Gori Sr may have been gone but with his son at the helm the spending only increased. Vittorio, desperate for the goodwill his father had garnered in the city to be passed on to him, continued to go big on spending as a production line of talent arrived at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Rui Costa, Stefan Schwarz, Andrey Kanchelskis, Luis Oliveira, Domenico Morfeo, Jörg Heinrich, Predrag Mijatović, Enrico Chiesa, Nuno Gomes and Ezequiel González all arrived for substantial funds and varying degrees of success over the remainder of the decade.

 

 

Despite the club's lavish spending, domestic success proved hard to come by. The side's highest placed league finish of the 90’s would be the third place finish they achieved during the 1998/99 season. They did, however, find more success in the Coppa Italia. The 1995/96 season would see them lift the historic trophy for the fifth time in their history. This success was then repeated in the 2000/01 edition when La Viola, led by Roberto Mancini in his first season of management, defeated Parma 2-1 on aggregate. It would be the side's last great night.

 

 

The following season would be a disastrous one as the true nature of the clubs finances became clear. The preceding seasons had seen Fiorentina offloading several star players, Batistuta , Rui Costa and Francesco Toldo had all gone and it was clear that money was getting tight. But after a disastrous season and with the club facing imminent relegation to Serie B, the situation became untenable. Unable to pay player wages and with debts of around 50 million dollars, Vittorio Cecchi Gori entered the club into administration in the summer of 2002. Associazione Calcio Fiorentina, the club that had been at the heart of Florentine life since 1926, was no more.

But there was no way one of Italy’s most passionate footballing cities would let it’s club die. A phoenix club that was to be known as Associazione Calcio Fiorentina e Florentia Viola, or simply Florentia Viola, was organised almost immediately and came into being on the 1st August 2002. The new club would have the financial backing of shoe salesman, Diego Della Valle, it’s first chairman. And with that Florentia Viola immediately set about working their way back up the Italian footballing pyramid. The side would be competing in Serie C2, the fourth tier of Italian football. 

 

 

For their first season unde the new banner the club retained usage of the historic Stadio Artemio Franchi and the city rallied around the new club and they would ultimately decimate the previous records for attendance in the Italian fourth tier. The club's captain for the season would be veteren player and Italy international, Angelo Di Livio, the only player to stick with the side following their troubles. He became an instant hero with the fans and would be leading an undeniably talented side.

Christian Rigano, a former bricklayer who didn't play his first game of football until after his 26th birthday, was the star man up top. His 30 goals in 32 games dwarfed the numbers put up by the sides other attacking assets, among them a 19 year Fabio Quagliarella, who paired Rigano up top in 12 games during the season.

Despite a strong showing in the league, Florentia Viola were pushed all the way that season. Their main rivals were Rimini, the former side of Arrigo Sacchi. In the first matchup between the sides in November, Florentia Viola had fallen to a shock loss at home and by the time the reverse fixture came around in late February, it was shaping up to be the biggest game of the season. The 24th of February match up would see Florentia travel to Rimini trailing their opponents by a point. 

 

Buy the Florentia Viola 2002/03 away shirt here.

 

 

After a tense first half the deadlock was broken in the second half by Florentia’s star striker Christian Rigano before Ghanian Bismark Ekye added a second to ultimately kill off the tie. Florentia Viola had taken the top spot where they would ultimately remain. The season concluded with them clinching the Serie C2 title and beginning their march back up the table.

 

 

It would not take long, the next year would see the side promoted straight back up to Serie B following the leagues expansion to 24 teams and with Fiorentina successfully arguing they deserved an automatic spot based on footballing merit and pedigree. They would also, crucially, get their name back and would once again be known as ACF Fiorentina. By the end of the next season Fiorentina would be back in Serie A, just two years after their dramatic fall down the footballing pyramid. The now iconic Angelo Di Livio had stuck with the side throughout and would finally call quits on his playing career at the end of the 2004/05 season and with his side back where they belonged.

 

 

Ultimately the story of Florentia Viola is a short one. The club only officially existed for one year, but thanks to the heroic efforts of many that season, as well as the unwavering support of their fans, ACF Fiorentina live on.

 

Shop Fiorentina and other Italian club shirts here.

 

Words by Andy Gallagher

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