Last week, Parma FC sealed their return to Italian top-flight football only three years after their bankruptcy and relegation to non-football league.
They’re the first Italian football Club to accomplish such achievement and fans were understandably going wild in town, especially as no-one was expecting to get automatic promotion after Frosinone, who were two points ahead of Parma in the league, were leading against Foggia at home with only three minutes to go.
As we know, football always finds ways to surprise you and Foggia equalized in the 88th minute, before their second-choice goalkeeper pulled an amazing save to deny Frosinone a vital goal in stoppage time.
41 years-old Club captain and legend Alessandro Lucarelli ran towards the away fans as soon as the final result was communicated to the team and the party started; I’ve got to say that Lucarelli has been a great character, following the team to non-league football and leading them all the way up to Serie A through some very turbulent times – something you don’t see very often in modern football.
He could have retired or surely earn a much richer final contract in Italian second or third-tier, instead he stayed at Parma for free and rallied everyone to the cause.
A true captain and leader of men, a character we could definitely use at the Arsenal.
How this apply to the Arsenal? Bear with me.
Parma is my hometown and the Stadio Tardini has been my second home for quite some time before I could actively and regularly follow the Arsenal; before internet, social media, streaming and the maligned pay-TV, being a Gooner abroad was quite a mission.
Having witnessed the rise of Parma FC to the top of Italian and European football and their subsequent demise, I must say that we – the supporters – are often guilty of losing perspective on football matters.
I clearly remember how the likes of Juan Sébastian Veron, Dino Baggio, Gianfranco Zola and many other full internationals were called names and criticised, during Parma FC glory days, whilst today players such as Fabio Ceravolo, Emanuele Calaiò and Simone Lacoponi are hailed like world-beaters.
I also remember how the team that won a Cup Winners’ Cup, a UEFA Cup and a Coppa Italia was training in a public park in town, with supporters stopping by, politely waiving and sharing a joke – before moving to a super-modern training centre and start behaving like any other European top-Club; some fans were furious to see them losing their spontaneity and to see the romance fade away, yet they were the first to cheer and brag about those big-names that Parma FC was able to attract in the late ‘90s – not realizing that none of them would have joined an amateurish Club with no training facilities.
For over a decade and before the financial scandal, Parma FC has been a beautiful anomaly in European football and managed to become the fourth most-decorated Italian Club in Europe behind Juventus, AC Milan and Inter – yet supporters started to felt entitled glory and success; nothing except the league title was enough for many of them and Champions League was deemed a minimum requirement for the majority of the supporters to be satisfied.
The early stage of Parma FC decline saw the majority of the team’s big names leave – notably Adrian Mutu, Adriano and Alberto Gilardino, and suddenly the audience at the Stadio Tardini changed – becoming more vocal and supportive.
It took the full bankruptcy and the non-league football for many supporters to realize how lucky they were to see such brilliant footballers playing for what still is a very small Club with a 27,000-seaters stadium.
You know, I was in town when Parma FC won their first honours and the whole place was going mad but I was also there when Parma escaped relegation with a thrilling play-off final against Bologna and the place was rocking just as much; from the videos I received from my friends in Parma, the town was celebrating the latest promotion as much as they celebrated the Cup Winners Cup in 1993 or the UEFA Cup in 1999.
At the Arsenal, we had our own journey to football hell as we failed to qualify for the Champions League for two consecutive seasons and we’re now entering a new era at the Club; nothing will be the same again, for the good and for the bad, yet we’re already arguing that this or that manager is not good enough for us instead of rallying behind whoever will be chosen to guide the team and support any player carrying the famous cannon.
We had the privilege (expensive privilege, I agree) to watch some of the finest footballers playing for the Arsenal every week, we have won a few trophies along the way and often got home entertained – although not always happy – but many seem not to realize that this is not a given and success doesn’t come because of the past glory or international pedigree.
For what we know, we might have already gone through our own tragedy by “only” missing out on the Champions League and not being able to compete for the title or we might be in for a decade of mid-table finishes and no European football but I don’t care, at this stage.
I only care about supporting the new manager and get behind the team to see where this new chapter is taking us.
We all know that Parma FC was selling the Stadio Tardini out when the likes of Juventus or AC Milan came to town but what really stood out was seeing them selling over ten thousand season-tickets while playing non-league football – where the audience often is a few hundred at best.
It means that ten thousand supporters were filling their seats no matter the category and the opponents, just for the crest, the Club and its history, while another ten-thousand were only there for the fame.
Choose your side, Gooners.