(Table courtesy RSSSF)
Ask your father or your grandfather and they might be able to tell you about those times. The champagne and Chianti were flowing to celebrate Fiorentina’s first Scudetto, a singer called Elvis Presley had just burst onto the music scene and Rocky Marciano had hung up his gloves without losing a professional fight. In a few months time the Red Army would invade Hungary.
Little wonder Novara’s exit from Serie A in the summer of 1956 would capture precious few headlines.
It was the end of a golden age of eight consecutive top flight years for the little side from Piedmont. An eighth place finish in 1952 remains their best on record. Those glory days had been fuelled by the goals of one of Italy’s greatest hitmen, Silvio Piola, in the twilight of his career. They brought him in as he approached his 34th birthday and he rewarded them by playing on past 40 and scoring dozens of goals. As soon as Piola retired in 1954, however, the club began to slip downhill.
By 1955/56 they looked like sitting ducks in a division where post-war spending and star Stranieri were starting to be the order of the day. Fiorentina had overseas stars like Brazilian Julinho and Argentinian hitman Miguel Montuori to thank for their runaway title win. Milan had the great Swede Gunnar Nordahl and Uruguayan Juan Alberto Schiaffino, Inter boasted Swede Lennart “Nacka” Skoglund and Roma had Brazilian Dino Da Costa. Novara’s contribution to that multinational cast was their Danish top-scorer Helge Bronee. The forward had played for Palermo, Roma and Juve with some success before ending up with a final Italian season in the provinces. He scored a few goals wherever he went.
His 10 strikes were not enough, however, to keep Novara afloat. Their campaign started out pretty solidly with an away draw to Juve and a share of the spoils at home to league-leading Fiorentina among the highlights of the opening weeks. They managed to hover above the relegation zone until a trip to Florence in week 26 of the season. They were gunned down 4-2 thanks to a Montuori hat-trick while near rivals Bologna pulled off a shock 3-0 win against Inter in the San Siro. The club would never recover.
A 6-2 hammering of Lazio with six games left in the season proved too little, too late. One win in their last five matches - against whipping boys Pro Patria - turned out to be their undoing. Novara had disappeared off the Serie A map for good. Or, at least, until this summer.
Relegation to Serie B was followed by Serie C in 1961. They bounced back to B but by 1977 they were down a division again and four years later they went down to the recently created Serie C2. That was the start of a long struggle for the club. In 1991, they should have gone into Serie D but league restructuring saw them avoid that fate. Promotion to C1 in 1996 lasted just a season. It was only in 2003 that a slow improvement began.
A play-off win over Alto-Adige put them into Serie C1 where they survived (including a relegation play-off victory over Como in 2005) until last year. They clinched promotion to Serie B in the 2009/10 campaign as champions and have now followed it with an historic return to Serie A.
They will find a changed landscape on their return but many of their old adversaries from 1955/56 remain. No fewer than 10 sides in Italy’s top division are exactly as they were when Novara left the scene. Only Sampdoria, Padova, Spal, Torino, Vicenza, Triestina and Pro Patria will be missing from how things were more than half a century ago.
Elvis is no longer with us, of course, and Hungary has long since thrown off communist rule. And even I would have to admit the chances of Fiorentina winning the Scudetto are slim. But Novara are back in town after a couple of thrilling play-off victories. If nothing else, it will be something to tell your children or grandchildren about in a few decades time.