Football, identity and passion

The identity and self-understanding of all peoples and nations is historically determined. This also applies to Italy – “lo Stivale” in Southern Europe – which was first formed as an independent nation in 1861. From the fall of the Roman Empire in the 6th century until the unification of modern Italy, there were wars, conflicts and disputes between a number of city-states, kingdoms and principalities everyday the former Roman Empire. However, it was also during this period that trading cities such as Venice and Florence became economic and cultural powerhouses, not only in Europe – also for peoples and nations in Africa and Asia. Then you have to understand the Italians’ relationship with architecture, art, science, music and much else, the history of the individual regions is paramount. The Italians are therefore not “only” Italians, they are to a large extent Romans, Milanese, Neapolitans or Florentines over decades and centuries.

Neighbors – and especially competitors – for centuries

Italy is divided into 20 regions, which are very different in terms of population, infrastructure, economy, climate, culture, language, food, wine and much more. Among the largest and richest are the two neighboring regions: Emila-Romagna with Bologna as its capital and Tuscany with Florence as its capital. Both Bologna and Florence were founded 500-600 BCE. and the two cities have always fought to be the center of commerce, architecture, science, art, culture and, over the past 100 years – also in football.

The Bolognese are particularly proud of the fact that Europe’s first university was founded in Bologna and that today there are more than 80,000 students who make a big impact on city life. In addition, the gastronomic culture of Bologna is recognized as one of the best in the world. Hams, sausages, cheeses, olive oil and pasta cannot be found of better quality – neither in the Bolognese’s opinion nor in my opinion.

The Florentines are particularly proud of the city’s culture, art and architecture, which include has given the historic center the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A number of people who have enriched – not only the Florentines and the Italians – but the whole world, such as the inventor, scientist and artist Leonardo da Vinci, the sculptor and painter Michelangelo, the political scientist Machiavelli and the astrophysicist Galileo Galilei. All charismatic people who were either born in or have lived in the city for a long period of time. And then, not without significance, in my opinion, the best Italian wine – Brunello di Montalcino – is grown a little south of Florence.

Bologna F.C. 1909 – a “Dane club”

Bologna Football Club was founded on 3 October 1909 and the club played in the first seasons in the regional divisions. But already at the beginning of the 1920s, Bologna F.C. established itself as one of Italy’s strongest clubs and in the interwar period the club won 6 national championships. After the 1948 Olympics, when Denmark won bronze, many Danish national team players switched to Italian football – among them Axel Pilmark, who reached 274 games and two seasons as captain and defender Ivan Jensen, who reached 181 games in 7 seasons. The most famous Danish player in Bologna F.C. has undoubtedly been Harald Nielsen – league top scorer in 1963-1964, when the club won the last championship – Il Scudetto. Also in recent seasons, Danish national team players, i.a. Andreas Skov Olsen (2019-2022) and Viktor Kristiansen (2023- ), were associated with the club with the nickname “Rossoblu” (red-blue).

A.C.F. Fiorentina – setback for Laudrup and success for Joergensen

Associazione Calcio Fiorentina was founded in August 1926 and already in 1931 the club made its debut in Serie A – Italy’s best league. And for the vast majority of seasons since, A.C. Fiorentina have been placed at the top of Serie A. There are only four clubs – F.C. Inter (91), Juventus F.C. (90), A.S. Roma (90) and A.C. Milan (89) – who have played more Serie A seasons than “I Viola” (85). The club has only won two national championships (1955-1956 and 1968-1969) and there has often been financial turbulence in and around the club. Things went completely wrong in 2001, when the club was declared bankrupt with a debt of more than DKK 400 million. DKK and thus also relegation to Serie C – the third best tier. A financial reconstruction which also changed the club’s name to A.C.F. Fiorentina, however, brought the club back to the top half of Serie A in record time.

In the summer of 1992 – after Denmark’s EC triumph – Brian Laudrup became the first Danish player bought by A.C. Fiorentina, but without subsequent sporting success. Despite international class players such as Laudrup, the German midfielder Steffen Effenberg and the Argentinian top scorer Gabriel Batistuta, the club had to leave Serie A after a miserable season in the summer of 1993, to the great anger and frustration of all Florentines. Aarhusian Martin Jørgensen had far greater sporting success at the club, who in the period 2004-2010 achieved 151 matches despite many injuries. This summer, former OB goalkeeper Oliver Christensen moved from Hertha Berlin to A.F.C. Fiorentina, but he has not yet managed to win a place in the starting line-up.

Tifosi di Calcio – from cradle to grave

The family is the most essential institution in Italian society, both culturally, economically and socially. Many families have a tradition of gathering every Sunday for a joint dinner, where big and small problems and challenges, joys and sorrows are shared with the other family members as well as with relatives and friends of the family who are invited to the gathering. One of the most frequent topics at the ritual Sunday lunch is football – both in general, but also specifically about the “heart club”. In Italy it will never happen that family members are supporters of different clubs. Newborn children “inherit” the affiliation to Juventus F.C., A.C. Milan or S.S.C. Napoli from their parents, whose parents were also fans of the club. And the vast majority remain loyal and faithful to the club throughout their lives.

I am now looking forward to – together with my good friend Finn Berggren – and more than 40,000 tifosi on Sunday afternoon experiencing the match between “I Viola” and “Rossoblu” at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence. An arch-enemy match that is about much more than 3 points: “Forza I Viola” – “Forza Rossoblu”!

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