Image via freedigitalphotos.net
That fine fellow Dave Taylor has been at the keyboard again. Here are his musings about how a current Serie B side won his affections…
Back in the good old days when Serie A undoubtedly ruled the roost, Italy ruled the world and Giancarlo Antognoni ruled my Sundays, I fell in love with a Serie C2 side and all because of fishing. One day back in the early 1980s my father-in-law and I were working in Liguria and late on a Friday night found ourselves in La Spezia. He told me of the great fishing there so we stayed over and following a few hours fishing the next morning we headed home to Viareggio to catch a big local derby. But - and it turned out to be a big but - on the way to the Autostrada we saw a poster informing us AC Spezia were hosts to AS Viareggio and not the other way round at the Stadio dei Pini as we had thought.
Turning back and making our way to the neat Stadio Alberto Picco we settled in and saw the Aquilotti play some good football and, despite them beating the Bianconeri, they gained a new fan that day. After that I often went to see them play and do a bit of great fishing into the bargain. Today, to see them near the summit of Serie B, with the chance, albeit a small one, of making Serie A, is almost beyond belief, especially after playing in Serie D just four seasons ago. After years of dodging between Serie C1 and C2 with the odd visit to the non-league divisions and a couple of spells in Serie B, it seemed they were forever destined to wander the lower leagues.
Then in 2002 they became Inter’s feeder club and several youngsters joined them on loan including Macedonia’s 19-year-old striker Goran Pandev. Later other Nerazzurri starlets arrived and things began to look up as they won the Serie C Coppa Italia and the Serie C1 title in 2006. Against all the odds they survived in Serie B for two whole seasons but then it all went sour and apart from relegation they were also declared bankrupt.
In 2008 with a new board of go-ahead directors they were re-founded as Spezia Calcio in Serie D before being promoted to the Lega Pro Second Division. A season later in 2009-10 they won promotion to Lega Pro First Division (Prima Divisione). Then came a season of rest and recuperation but the following campaign was a very special season.
At the end of 2011-12 they won promotion to Serie B plus the Italian Cup Lega Pro and the Supercup of the Lega Prima Divisione. The historic “Treble” was stage-managed by Coach Michele Serena, the former Inter, Parma, Sampdoria, Atletico Madrid and Fiorentina defender. Not that winning leagues is anything new for Spezia. In 1944 they won the Serie A title beating the Grande Torino of Vittorio Pozzo with the legendary striker Silvio Piola and were recently awarded an honourary Scudetto badge by FIGC, that they wear on their shirts today.
Of course the Aquilotti have had their own stars and in my day their midfield powerhouse was the former Roma and Udinese Coach Luciano Spaletti. Milan’s current central defender Francesco Acerbi also played there. Yet probably one of the most famous players was Italian international and goal scoring defender Sergio Battistini, who after 15 seasons with Milan, Fiorentina and Inter wound down his career there in the sun and probably fishing just off the wonderful La Spezia beach.
Yes the Little Eagles have had some star names and coaches including Nedo Sonetti and Attilio Lombardo. After a good transfer campaign today’s stars include the likes of on-loan Parma and ex-Roma Italian U21 striker Stefano Okaka, who brings genuine Serie A experience to Spezia. Other stars include Paolo Sammarco, Davide Di Gennaro plus Inter Primavera stars Simone Benedetti and Lorenzo Crisetig. While former Palermo defender Dorin Goian also joined on a one-year loan deal from Glasgow Rangers.
Already these players have boosted crowds and although the Stadio Alberto Picco holds around 10,000, the recent 3-1 win over Brescia was played out in front of a near capacity crowd. The simple reason for this is that the compact little stadium is witnessing some excellent football and as fans hold their breath for a possible fourth promotion - this time to Serie A - Spezia Calcio are a team to look out for.