Football outside of the top flight is usually where you can find some real ‘diehard’ supporters, the supporters who follow their club through thick and thin, and more often than not, they rarely get anything back in return. Occasionally though, you find success stories, miracles even, and Italy has seen a few small clubs reach the top and gain promotion to Serie A. In this millennia Chievo, Siena and Sassuolo have all taken on Serie A’s elite and enjoyed success. This year another small club is on the verge of making history. That club is Carpi, and at the time of writing they sit 14 points clear at the top of Serie B, with one hand firmly on the title.
Carpi is a town which sits about 20km north of Modena in Emilia Romagna and has around 70,000 inhabitants. The club was founded in the summer of 1909 by local student Adolfo Fanconi as Jucunditas (Latin for "gaiety") before being renamed Associazione Calcio Carpi a few years later. Carpi played between Serie C and Serie D for much of their early history before folding in 2000 following relegation to Serie D and subsequent bankruptcy.
A new club, named Calcio Carpi, was formed and admitted to the non-professional category of Eccellenza Emilia–Romagna. In 2002, following promotion back to Serie D and a merger with the second team of the city, Dorando Pietri Carpi, the club were renamed Carpi FC 1909 and eventually worked their way up to Lega Pro Prima Divisione in 2010-11. This rejuvenation showed no signs of slowing down and during the 2012/13 season, the team was promoted to Serie B for the first time in their history. It was the club's third promotion in just four seasons.
Carpi FC is owned by three people, Stefano Bonacini and Claudio Caliumi (who both own a share of 35.83%), and the club's President Roberto Marani who holds a 28.33% share. Bonacini, a knitwear industrialist with the “Gaudi” brand, is the CEO. It was he who merged the two Serie D teams and started the Biancorossi’s (White and Red’s) resurgence.
But the club has scant resources. According to Carpi’s most recent available financial statements taken from the season that ended on June 30th, 2013, the clubs turnover was recorded at €3.15 million while the cost of players was €1.82 million. This sum accounted mainly for the player’s salaries, though the budget closed with a loss of €516. Recently, head coach, Fabrizio Castori, claimed the budget had been cut further “The team's budget this year has gone down, we are at less than €3 million,”
These are derisory sums in footballing terms and this is mainly due to their stadium – the Stadio Sandro Cabassi. Although it is a multi-purpose arena the capacity is only 4,144. This season Carpi’s average attendance has been a paltry 2,600 and questions remain over whether the ground will be a viable home next season in Serie A. This won’t dissuade the clubs Ultras however, (the Irriducibili) who will follow the club no matter where they play.
This is a team with virtually no footballing tradition but their current fairy-tale has seen Carpi become the major force in the city, and one of the most successful in the region of Emilia Romagna. This season they have encountered their bigger city rivals Modena and regional giants Bologna, a former great of Serie A. In the head to heads, Carpi are unbeaten against their so called more prestigious rivals. In a region famous for its cuisine, the pecking order is being re-shuffled.
"There's something different in the air, we can smell it clearly," said Carpi defender Simone Romagnoli. Modena is the thriving capital of the eponymous province, a city of 185,000 inhabitants with a ceaseless engine rumble as background music in the home of Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini. The great Enzo Ferrari, founder of the most famous Italian brand in the world, was born in Modena -- as was the late opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.
But the Biancorossi are beginning to put the provinces small commune on people’s radars. The feel good factor is spreading throughout the town. "I'm very proud to have Carpi at the top of Serie B, the team from the city I manage," said 37-year-old local mayor Alberto Bellelli.
"Never forget that in 2012 we were struck by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake and all of us, 70,000 people together, have overcome it. Someone defined Carpi football club a miracle" he added. Belelli is right, considering their modest means, the rise of this club is nothing short of incredible.
But it appears not everyone in Italian football is as enthusiastic about the Carpi story. Recently, a phone conversation involving Lazio president, Claudio Lotito, was leaked by Italian press in which Lotito claimed Carpi's promotion would hurt Serie A's TV revenue. The Carpi hierarchy quickly hit back, condemning such sentiments
“Carpi F.C. 1909 read, with disbelief and indignation, the conversation which was reported this morning by the media, supported by a sound clip which is apparently original and authentic published on the homepage of the official website of one of the leading national newspapers [La Repubblica],” a statement from the club declared.
“If confirmed, the words of the legal representative of the top flight clubs appear, apart from anything else, totally inappropriate, out of place and offensive to the dignity and integrity of the club as well as the players, technical staff and coaches.”
“Perhaps it’s also true, as we read in the media, that some people 'don’t even know Carpi exists'. But like it or not, we do exist.” Those in charge need not worry, the Biancorossi look as though they will have ample time to introduce themselves to Serie A’s elite next season.
Against the odds this small-town team is on the verge of making history. Many will view their prospects in Serie A as bleak but they can draw inspiration from their regional rivals Sassuolo, who have rubbed shoulders with the best Italy has to offer for two seasons now. Given Parma’s financial malaise and their imminent slide into Serie B, next term Carpi and Sassuolo will be vying for supremacy in Emilia Romagna. And who knows, just like the Neroverdi, this time next year Carpi could be ruffling the feathers of a few Serie A giants themselves.