At the age of 86, Chievo Verona are one of Italian football’s youngest sides. They were founded in 1929 by a group of enthusiastic football fans and factory workers from the small neighbourhood of Chievo, located in the historic city of Verona. The suburb has around 4,500 inhabitants and at the clubs inception, they were a far cry from the Serie A side we watch today.
Formed with very limited resources, the club would only participate in friendly games and the odd amateur tournament, with the majority of games being played against men from the local region after a day’s work at local factories. Back then, the club were known as O.N.D Chievo, and would take to the field in white and blue shirts, not the distinctive yellow and blue they wear today. In fact, the iconic yellow and blue would not be worn until the 1957-58 season.
Chievo’s official league debut came in November 1931, however the outbreak of war and economic pressures would force them to disband in 1936. Chievo didn’t return to the field again until 1948 when they were registered to play in the regional second division – ‘Seconda Divisione’. Some ten years on, Chievo started playing at the Carlantonio Bottagisio, a parish field which remained their home until 1986. By the early 1960s, with the club under new sponsorship and the new guise of ‘Cardi Chievo’, they experienced their first promotion to the “Prima Categoria.”
While this promotion to a lowly non-professional tier seemed relatively inconspicuous at the time, it heralded the beginning of an incredible transformation at Chievo. In 1964, Luigi Campedelli was named chairman of the club. Campedelli was a wealthy business man and owner of local confectionary firm Paluani, whose name still emblazons the Chievo shirt today. It was under the stewardship of Campadelli that Chievo’s meteoric rise to prominence began.
By 1975, the newly named Paluani Chievo won promotion to Serie D. After years of toiling in this division, Chievo reached the ‘Calcio che conta’ (football that counts) in 1987 after coach Carlo De Angelis steered them to Serie C2. Two years later coach Gianni Bui produced the same outcome and the minnows of Chievo suddenly found themselves in the company of established sides such as Empoli, Modena, Piacenza and Vicenza in Serie C1.
After these two historic promotions the Chievo we know today really began to take shape. After their first promotion to Serie C2, the club had moved to Verona’s main sporting arena – The Marcantonio Bentegodi – shared by city bedfellows Hellas Verona. This was followed by another name change shortly after promotion to Serie C1. As of 1990 the club would add the word Verona and now be known as A.C. Chievo Verona.
However just as things were looking rosy in the garden of A.C. Chievo, tragedy would strike after president Luigi Campedelli suddenly passed away in 1992. Chievo would make history by naming Campedelli’s son Luca as president. At the tender age of 23, Luca was the youngest ever president of an Italian club and remains at the helm today. The juvenile president kept Chievo’s momentum going however, and in Carrara on the 29th May, 2004, the Gialloblu beat Carrarese 2-1 on the last day of the championship to secure a famous promotion to Serie B. Another dream had been realised by the club nicknamed Ceo, kid in Veronese dialect.
In the 1997-98 season, under the management of Silvio Baldini, the team finished tenth. The following season would see city rivals Hellas Verona promoted to Serie A by claiming the Serie B title and this is where Chievo’s famous nickname “Mussi Volanti” (Flying Donkeys) originated. The Hellas supporters would take great pride in mocking their neighbors by claiming, “For Chievo to get promoted to Serie A, donkeys would have to fly”. Then in 2001, donkeys did fly as they reached the promised land of Serie A with coach Luigi Del Neri guiding them to a third placed finish in Seire B.
As the newly nicknamed ‘Flying Donkeys’ prepared to make their top flight debut many thought they’d just make up the numbers. A swift return to Serie B was expected by most. Del Neri had different ideas though and his Chievo side had the last laugh. Incredibly they topped the Serie A table for six consecutive rounds before earning an impressive fifth place finish, only behind the likes of Juventus, Roma, AC Milan and Inter.
While they narrowly missed out on a Champions League qualification spot, they gained entry into the UEFA Cup. It was an unthinkable achievement for a provincial club that had spent over half their years playing non-professional football. It was made all the more satisfying by the demise of their haughty neighbours Hellas, who were relegated that season. They wouldn’t return to Serie A until 2013.
The Donkeys that dared to fly had become the fairytale of football and journalists from around the world were keen to discover more about the ‘Chievo Miracle’. But success came with a price and their star players became targets for Italy’s more financially powerful clubs. Midfielder Christian Manfredini and forward Bernardo Corradi both left the club to Lazio however the Gialloblu managed to keep hold of other standout performers such as Massimo Marazzina, Brazilian Eriberto, Simone Perotta and captain Eugenio Corini.
Chievo’s upstarts would light up Serie A for close to seven years before returning to Serie B in 2006-07. The little known team from Verona would gain many fans and sympathizers in Italy and worldwide as they continued to get national media attention for their incredible performances, including almost qualifying for the Champions’ League group stages the same season they would be relegated.
Despite the disappointment of final day relegation in 2007, Chievo would dust themselves down and bounce straight back to Seire A as they won their first league title in 14-years, seeing off Bologna and Lecce in Serie B. Since returning to Serie A in 2008, Chievo have consolidated and remained in the division ever since. Despite being a far cry from the side that ruffled the feathers of Calcio’s elite in the early 2000s, they have now cemented themselves as Serie A regulars, often performing what is required of them to survive.
With the new season just round the corner, the Mussi Volanti will be entering their eleventh season in the top flight in 12 years. This could be Chievo’s toughest year since their relegation back in 2007. Coach Rolando Maran has had a busy summer, having to deal with the loss of on loan Inter keeper Francesco Bardi to Espanyol, full back Ervin Zukanovic to Sampdoria and various clubs looking at talented forward Alberto Paloschi.
On a more positive note, Maran has recruited former Parma full back Massimo Gobbi to replace Zukanovic, Congolese winger Paul-Jose M’Poku from Standard Liege as well as being linked with Porto’s Juan Quintero. It’s a much changed side from the early 2000s, however for those looking for a little nostalgia, Chievo’s veteran striker Sergio Pelissier recently signed a new three year contract with the club. The Aosta born forward has been at Chievo since 2000 and has become something of a cult figure at the club. He currently has 93 Serie A goals to his name and will be looking to make it 100 to help Chievo’s donkeys remain airborne for yet another season in Serie A.
By Giovanni Dougall: @giovannid86