Close to the historic city centre of Florence, slightly off the beaten track, there is a bar called ‘Antico Beccaria’. The local is the quintessential ‘football pub’ and distinctly partisan in nature. As a home for Fiorentina supporters, purple decor adorns the walls, the menu includes panini named after current and former players, and you can even buy bottles of Birra Fiorentina, coloured Viola and branded with the club emblem. Then there are the customised receipts, which in place of the usual ‘Arrivederci’ printed at the bottom, are marked with ‘Juve Merda’ (literally ‘Juve Shit’).
As the owner of the bar acknowledges, the message is tongue-in-cheek; a playful reminder of Fiorentina’s public enemy number one. But such sentiments are woven into the fabric of Florentine society. Anti-Juventus graffiti is visible across the city and on match-days, anti-Juve scarves also become plentiful.
This aversion towards the Turin giants is not uncommon. As the most successful club in Italy, La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady) attracts envy, enemies and admirers the length and breadth of the country. Florence, however, is a one-club city. Those native to the Tuscan capital look no further than Fiorentina, and they are proud in the knowledge that they harbour no Juventus fan clubs. Perhaps only Rome, which is exclusively consumed by the Lazio-Roma divide, can boast the same footballing insularity.
Thus, Viola supporters have rendered their city a ‘Zona Anti-Gobbizzata’ (‘anti-Hunchback zone’). The term ‘Gobbi’ (hunchbacks) is commonly used to disparage Juventini. Depending on which myth you believe, the slight is either a reference to Juve’s fortune (Italian superstition has it that hunchbacks are lucky); Juve’s guilt of being weighed down by stolen titles; or to their supporters, many of whom ‘developed hunches’ as a result of their backbreaking work in the Fiat factories of Juve’s owners, the Agnelli family.
It is not uncommon to see Fiorentina supporters donning t-shirts reading ‘Grazie a Dio non sono Gobbo” (Thank God I’m not a hunchback), and at the heart of their animosity, lies accusations of ‘thievery’.
A ‘Stolen’ Scudetto and Tumultuous Transfer
In 1928, the Bianconeri thrashed Fiorentina 11-0 in the first competitive fixture between the two clubs. Relations were not off to a good start and an equally painful 8-0 defeat for Fiorentina 25 years later only aggravated matters. Nonetheless, the rivalry between Turin and Florence was relatively nondescript until the Scudetto race of 1981/82.
Heading into the last game of the season, both clubs were tied on 44 points at the top of Serie A. La Viola travelled to Cagliari, who themselves needed a point to avoid relegation, whilst Juve faced a Catanzaro side sitting comfortable in mid-table. With both sides drawing 0-0 in the second-half, Fiorentina’s Francesco Graziani thought he had broken the deadlock, only to see his goal dubiously disallowed for a push on the Catanzaro goalkeeper. Unable to break through the Sardinian backline, the Tuscan’s drew 0-0 whilst the Bianconeri found a late winner in Calabria, courtesy of a Liam Brady penalty. The awarding of Juve’s spot-kick was indisputable, but Catanzaro had also been denied what looked a certain penalty in the first-half.
In the aftermath, Fiorentina’s burning sense of injustice was palpable and their talisman, Giancarlo Antognoni, fired the first broadside. “They robbed us of the title,” he claimed. Whilst La Vecchia Signora celebrated her 20th scudetto, in Florence they coined the slogan ‘Meglio secondo che ladri’; ‘better to be second than thieves’.
Eight years later, tensions were fomented when Juventus beat their familiar adversaries in the UEFA Cup final. Again, the encounter courted controversy. With the first-leg in Turin tied at 1-1, a blatant push by Pierluigi Casiraghi on Fiorentina’s Celeste Pin was missed by officials, allowing Alessio Angelo to fire the home side in front. The game finished 3-1 and as Juve coach Dino Zoff gave his post-match interview, Pin walked past and yelled ‘ladri’ (thieves) in earshot of Zoff and Rai Sport’s microphones. Juve’s goalkeeper Stefano Tacconi would later remind La Viola that while they might win the war of words, his side win on the pitch. He was right, the Bianconeri lifted the UEFA cup after drawing the return leg 0-0 in Florence.
But worse was to come for La Viola. Rumours had circulated that Fiorentina’s president, Flavio Pontello, was considering the sale of the club’s prized asset: Roberto Baggio. Predictably, their arch-rivals were willing to pay his then world-record fee of £8 million. The Divine Ponytail joined Juventus shortly after the UEFA Cup final and this proved the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
A furore erupted in Florence. Fans laid siege to the club’s headquarters and reports described bricks, chains and Molotov cocktails being thrown by the riotous fans. In the two days following the transfer, president Pontello was forced to take refuge in the Stadio Artemio Franchi, whilst fifty injuries and nine arrests were recorded. When Baggio returned in his new colours, the city was on edge. Giancarlo Rinaldi, a Viola fan who was in Florence at the time, recalls the hostility:
The atmosphere was the most intense I can ever remember before a match, with huge tension and a genuine air of menace on the streets. Florence was still hurting after that transfer and there was a real fear that things might spill over into violence.
During the game, Baggio was subjected to a barrage of whistles, jeers and abuse. Despite this, when Juventus were awarded a penalty, he symbolically refused to take it. Baggio was later substituted and left the field embracing a Viola scarf that had been hurled at him by the crowd, waving it in the direction of the Curva Fiesole (the stronghold of Fiorentina’s ultras). Unsurprisingly, the gesture only served to antagonise the situation further, with Juventini also left less than impressed.
Since these episodes, the rivalry has simmered and spluttered. In 2012, the hierarchies of the two clubs even came to blows after Juventus made a late bid to hijack Fiorentina’s pursuit of Dimitar Berbatov. In the end, the Bulgarian snubbed both, but this did not stop La Viola’s owners (the Della Vale brothers) from claiming the Turin club “knew nothing of the values of honesty, fair play and sporting ethics.”
But what makes this fixture all the more fascinating is the way in which it captures the differing identities and perspectives of both sets of fans.
Pride, Hubris and Obssession
For Juve supporters, games against Fiorentina are ostensibly just another hurdle they must overcome in their race for the Scudetto. One such supporter is Arjun Pradeep, a prolific member of the Juventus ‘Twitterati’. “From our perspective, the fixture against Fiorentina is significant, but not defining," he says. It is not a Turin derby, where the city bragging rights are at stake. Neither does it possess the prestige of a Derby d’Italia against Inter, which has often had direct implications for the title race. “This rivalry is felt in Florence more than it is in Turin,” Arjun concludes.
As such, some Bianconeri fans have adopted a haughty nonchalance when it comes to playing Fiorentina, confident in the knowledge that even if they lose, they will likely have ‘bigger fish to fry’. It is this perceived hubris that riles and motivates their rivals. As Giancarlo observed, “Florentines like to deflate big egos, and they don’t come any bigger than some Juventini.” Indeed, Fiorentina revel in their status as underdogs and successes are treated like cup final victories, as evinced by the celebrations following their famous 4-2 triumph over Juve in October 2013.
This is not to say Fiorentina don’t share fierce rivalries with other clubs. The cross-border Derby dell’Appenino against Bologna is a colourful affair, whilst regional clashes with Tuscan foes like Siena serve as a symbolic re-enactment of the medieval battles fought between the two city states. But unlike Bologna or their Tuscan rivals, Juventus have been an omnipresent and omnipotent adversary.
As Chloe Beresford affirms, “the significance of this match simply cannot be underestimated for Fiorentina fans”. Like Giancarlo, Chloe writes about Italian football and shares his purple persuasion. Whilst she acknowledges the rivalry is irrevocably shaped by the histrionics of 1982 and the infamous Baggio transfer, she is also quick to point out that the Florentine repudiation of Juventus is inextricably tied to their local identity:
Florence is a one-team city, and one which is regularly invaded by hordes of Foreign tourists. The football team – with its unique purple kit – is a part of the city which still exclusively belongs to its people, and they defend their identity with fierce passion. Incidents in the past with Juventus were seen as an affront to this identity, and fans feel that something was taken from them that was rightly theirs.
This local patriotism, or campanilismo in Italian, is inescapable and often manifests most explicitly within Calcio. As Giancarlo elucidates:
Everyone is well aware of what they see as the characteristics of the city but also what they are not. Juve – and their fans – epitomise a lot of the qualities they [Fiorentina fans] see as entirely alien. For me, that is at the heart of the rivalry.
These qualities are deemed so alien, that Viola ultras have been known to perform a peculiar ‘de-hunchbacking’ ritual on former Juventus players who sign for Fiorentina. Marco Marchionni, Angelo Di Livio and Moreno Torricelli are all said to have experienced this ceremony, in which players receive a membership card for the ‘Gruppo Storico’, a prominent group of ultras on the Curva Fiesole.
But such passion can become suffocating, and at times the rivalry has become a morbidly obsessional sort of relationship that is unhelpful to the club. At its most reprehensible, this has led to violent clashes and even a minority of Viola fans shamefully taunting their rivals about the Heysel stadium tragedy which claimed the lives of 39 Juventini.
Unsurprisingly, this has magnified the importance of the rivalry from a black and white perspective. Adam Digby, author of ‘Juventus: A History in Black and White’, is well placed to comment. He has experienced the game in both cities and believes that “because it means so much to fans of the Tuscan side, Juventus fans want to beat them in order to not watch their opponents celebrate their demise.” This is especially true when the two sides meet in Florence, where games take on a more volatile atmosphere.
This attitude has also been embodied by the players. During Juve’s aforementioned 4-2 defeat in 2013, both Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez goaded Viola fans by mimicking the machine gun celebration of legendary Fiorentina forward, Gabriel Batistuta (whose own goal celebrations against Juve always seemed particularly fervent).
Antonio Conte did the same during his Juventus playing career and later, whilst head coach in Turin, he claimed it would be provincial of La Vecchia Signora to regard Fiorentina as one of her main rivals. The response of Viola fans was Tuscan humour at its best: mocking Conte’s hair transplant by sporting wigs the next time the former Juve boss was in town.
Fortunately, this kind of satire has increasingly become the weapon of choice for both sets of fans. But the two clubs remain a long way from reaching a détente and the acrimony remains, especially in Florence. The ‘gobbi’ t-shirts will continue to be sold, the graffiti sprayed and the receipts printed. With its inherent baggage, evocative memories and vastly varying identities, this is a rivalry that will endure. And that makes Fiorentina-Juventus one of the most intriguing fixtures in the Serie A calendar.
Grazie to Giancarlo Rinaldi, Chloe Beresford, Adam Digby and Arjun Pradeep.
Words by Luca Hodges-Ramon: @LH_Ramon25
Luca is co-editor of The Gentleman Ultra and wrote the guides to the Ultras of Italian football. His research interests lie in the intersection of football, socio-politics and history.