It’s one of those videos on YouTube of someone taking a video of events playing out on their TV. The camera work is shaky and the quality is grainy, making it somewhat alien to those of us brought up on silky smooth HD. Lines crack across the screen suggesting it is a re-run of some VCR tape recording. However, it is not some video sprung from the vault known as the ancient past, but rather from the more recallable time of 1997.
The ball has found its home in the bottom left hand corner of the net and and as such, Arnaldo Franzini wheels away in ecstasy. He is soon mobbed by his teammates, each with grins as wide as Cheshire cats. With only three seconds left in the video, a banner flashes across the bottom of the screen. It reads Brescello 1-0 Juventus. To put this into some context, this was the all-conquering Juventus of Marcello Lippi and the legendary Italian tactician hadn’t exactly fielded a weakened side, with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Antonio Conte, Mark Iuliano and Paolo Montero all lining-up against little old Brescello (then in Italy’s third tier).
Unsurprisingly, with all that fire power at their disposal, Juve would later do what they always seem to do and find the equaliser, before going on to win the second leg of this Coppa Italia tie 4-1. Yet, for that brief moment in time, the giants of the Italian game were being humbled by what basically amounts to a village club.
The 'Miracle of Castel Di Sangro' is a tale that has been covered to death by the scribes of calcio, largely thanks to Joe McGinniss and his seminal book. How a club from a village of roughly 5500 people managed to climb all the way to Serie B and not just survive, but compete, is truly remarkable. The story of Brescello Calcio, however, is one that has rarely been touched upon, despite it coming within a whisker of upstaging the club some 565km away in Abruzzo. Plonked in the Po Valley, not far from both Parma and Reggio Emilia, the Brescello village was home to a mere 4500 people in the period this article is focusing on.
Founded in 1966, Brescello spent its formative years among the also rans in the lower amateur levels of the Italian game. It wasn’t until the influx of sponsorship from Immergas, through patron Romano Amadei, that the club started its rise out of mediocrity.
Just a brief aside at this point. The club also lays claim to one of the most unusual club badges anywhere on the peninsula: that being two rather angry looking old men staring at each other. These old men are Don Camillo and Peppone, two characters in a series of films that take place in Brescello.
Tangent aside, the club were promoted from Serie D in 1993-94, after finishing six points clear of Capriolo. This promotion would set Brescello on a journey that saw them come within an inch of reaching Serie B. Their first year amongst the professionals could not have turned out any better, as the Gialloblu stormed to the title, finishing 13 points clear of second place, earning promotion into what was then the old Serie C1.
The step up, however, would prove trickier than first hoped and the fairy tale journey nearly came to a premature conclusion. Finishing in 14th place meant that they required the lottery of a relegation play-off to maintain their third-tier status. That status looked even more fragile after a 2-1 away defeat against Massese in the first leg. And it was to get even worse in the second leg, as Brescello trailed 1-0 with only 20 minutes to play, seemingly destined for a return to Serie C2.
Then, a penalty on 74 minutes gave them hope. By virtue of Brescello finishing above Massese in the table, the Reggio Emilia club could afford to draw the tie on aggregate and know this result would guarantee their survival. As such, only one more goal was required and in the ensuing chaos, Lady Luck came to Brescello's rescue.
With only three minutes left on the clock, a ball was swung in from the left and was flicked on at the front post, dropping within the six-yard box. Despite being desperate for a goal, no Gialloblu player had gambled on reaching it. But in a panic to just clear the lines, the Massese defender rashly threw his boot at the ball, skewing his attempted clearance to the feet of Corrado Oldoni. In that moment, the central midfielder held his composure, hitting the ball first time into the bottom left corner of the net, causing pandemonium in the stands.
2-1 was how it finished, 3-3 on aggregate. The great escape had been achieved, but could this tiny club now go on to achieve even more? The 1996/97 campaign promised as much. Indeed, far from the horrors of fighting relegation, Brescello spent the season chasing the prize of promotion to Serie B. The minnows fought against and upset the bigger teams in the league, which included the likes of Modena, Como, Siena, Prato, Treviso and Alessandria; all shrewd and experienced operators at that level. After 34 matches, Brescello had dispensed with all of them but one, Treviso.
Veneto’s now forgotten club would finish top on 60 points, Brescello second on 59. One point was all that separated a village of 4500 people and Serie B, one point that would have transformed the Miracle of Castel Di Sangro into the Miracle of Brescello. Nevertheless, a chance remained in the Play-Offs. But sadly it was not to be, as defeats to Monza in both legs of the semi-final saw their dream come to its ultimate conclusion.
There is still more to the Brescello story, but like that of Castel Di Sangro – the club they came so close to equalling – the remainder of their journey turned somewhat sour. Brescello would never again reach the heights of that 1996/97 season and despite staying at that level for another four years, decline eventually set in.
By 2004, Brescello had been relegated back into the amateur levels and only a year later would cease to exist altogether. Later that year, however, the club was reborn and the new Polisportiva Brescello was founded and took its place in the Terza Categoria, the lowest tier of the Italian game. Since then, the Gialloblu have enjoyed some stability, finishing the 2016/17 season in sixth place in the Promozione Emilia-Romagna Girone A.
In truth, Brescello will never return to the heights of 1997, but this tiny village club will always have the memories of coming within touching distance of Serie B. Not to mention that time Arnaldo Franzini put the ball in the back of the Juventus’ net.
Words by Kevin Nolan: @KevinNolan11
Kevin is an Irishman who loves to watch calcio no matter how lowly the level, Parma being his team of choice. Besides the @GentlemanUltra, he also writes for @ItalianFD.