Tag Archives: Serie A

My Roma: Serie A’s First Supporters’ Trust Is Established

AS RomaOn 27 May, the first ever Supporters’ Trust in Serie A was formally established in Rome, with a ‘Constitutional Assembly’ convened to agree the structures and purpose of the new association whose ultimate objective is fan ownership at AS Roma. After the morning meeting, where 83 supporters symbolically assembled to approve the Statute, the paperwork for the “MyRoma” association was registered with the notary and the organisation was finally operational. Months of hard-work, planning, publicity and dialogue have led up to this point: now it’s time to see how fans will react.

While there have been proposals about ‘azionaraito popolare’ (popular shareholding) for several years and at various levels of the Italian football pyramid, Thursday’s event was the biggest step forward so far for supporter ownership in Italy.

The launch meeting, held incongruously in the heart of the fascist-era EUR district, was a chance for organiser Walter Campanile and his team to reveal their plans for the first two years of activity. The priority from the start has been the purchase of shares to give supporters a voice in the running of the club, but other ideas include improving communications (notoriously poor at AS Roma), reworking ticket sales arrangements, promoting initiatives which will get young fans more involved, and trying to solve the problems created by the government’s fan ID card proposal, the controversial ‘Tessera del Tifoso’. One of the key aims which Campanile has identified is that of involving overseas supporters: Roma fans can be found in France, Greece, the UK, Indonesia, Australia, the USA, Saudi Arabia… why not involve them too? Many overseas fans would jump at the chance to get involved in running the club they love. Of course they will strengthen the project financially but beyond that, the trust aims to build a genuine sense of a global supporters’ community. The international dimension influenced the name chosen for the trust, MyRoma, which was selected by users of the website.

Antonia Hagemann, of Supporters’ Direct Europe, had flown over from London to participate in the meeting (while I got the chance to practice my English to Italian interpreting skills, endeavouring to turn her speech into some kind of comprehensible Italian for the audience!). Her first observation was that this was the most elegant occasion of its kind she’d ever attended to: no replica shirts here, just chic Italian tailoring all the way! She spoke about the importance of pressure on clubs over governance both from below – ie through Supporters’ Trusts like MyRoma – and from above, through SD itself and from bodies like UEFA and the European Commission. Support from SD has been vital for Campanile’s team and it is very clear that while many distinctively Italian – or even distinctively Roman – touches have been incorporated, the basic model to be adopted is one imported from abroad. The lawyers have closely studied other European structures, in particular those from Spain and Germany, and Campanile has been on a variety of visits both to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust and to an international conference in Brussels to meet other fans further down the same road.

Inspiration and encouragement came from Jens Wagner, vice-chairman of the trust at HSV Hamburg (where the club is 100% owned by the fans), who spoke about the ways in which trusts can improve relationships with the club. Beyond the obvious priorities of stability and good governance, he addressed issues like rights for disabled fans, programmes for attracting young supporters and the role of fans in upholding & maintaining club traditions. His experience was clearly fascinating for the assembled fans, demonstrating the potential that supporter ownership really offers. On the other hand the audience were perhaps a little disconcerted by Wagner’s casual, indeed rather deadpan announcement that the Hamburg trust’s measures had included the creation of a dedicated supporters’ graveyard. That might be an import too far.

As for the 83 founder members who made up the Constituent Assembly (one for each year of Roma’s history), these were romanisti chosen from all walks of life to create as representative as possible a cross-section of the club’s support. The name which grabbed most attention was that of legendary player Giacomo Losi, nick-named ‘Core de Roma’ (386 appearances for AS Roma, 1954-69). The list includes members of parliament, presidents of fan clubs, office workers, computer programmers, actors, shop owners, lawyers, barbers, singers, graphic designers, air traffic controllers, playwrights, factory workers, university professors, historic leaders of the main ultras groups from the Curva Sud: all these and more besides are represented among the 83 founder members, to reflect the democratic, inclusive aspirations of the Trust.

Next up come practicalities: the association needs a headquarters, a bank account and some kind of secretarial services before it can start enrolling paying members. In the short term, MyRoma will be run by an appointed steering committee of lawyers, accountants and administers, with Campanile as President. Once the association is up and running, elections will be held for all roles. The impression given right from the start has been that this is a serious project, and a large group of people have volunteered considerable amounts of their time and expertise already. Annual membership doesn’t come cheap, at €150 per adult (though there are reductions for overseas members and under-18s). While this is understandable given the need to raise cash to buy shares, it’s possible that this may prove a deterrent to some possible members, especially given the tough economic climate in Italy at the moment – and it’s worth noting that at Hamburg, members only pay €48 a year. Only time will tell whether this pricing policy works out or whether it proves simply too expensive – let’s hope not.

After the meeting and a brief Q&A session the new trust’s board and founder members adjourned downstairs for a short ‘brindisi’ or toast. As local press photographers milled around in the spring sunshine, we were offered nibbles and a prudent half glass of prosecco (well, it was only Thursday lunchtime). A cautious and low-key celebration perhaps, but one which reflects the reality that we were celebrating only the beginning of something, and as yet nothing more. In many ways the hardest work still lies ahead.

The new Trust’s website is at MyRoma.it but is still being assembled. Complete documentation is online in Italian, English versions are imminent, with French and Spanish translations to follow.


Breakaway League: Serie A and the Crisis in Italian Football

The Italian season opener, the Supercoppa Italiana (Italian Super Cup), between Serie A champions Internazionale and Italian Cup winners Lazio, is taking place abroad again at Beijing’s Olympic Stadium the Bird’s Nest. It’s a showy step in Italian football’s attempts to keep pace with the Premier League’s branded behemoths — and one that also includes a breakaway league reminiscent of England’s league transformation in the 1990s. Yet these flashy moves can’t hide the underlying crisis in Italian football.

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The Italian Super Cup has been played in Washington D.C., New Jersey and even Tripoli in the past, but the early kick-off and lack of Italian television coverage this time has led to criticism, such as this scathing commentary from Four Four Two’s Riccardo Rossi.

In fact, the Football League’s decision to move the game to China has not only penalised the genuine Inter and Lazio fans, but also taken the game out of the realm of an Italian sporting event.

The League may see their coffers swell by something in the region of 2.5million euro for the pleasure of Inter and Lazio having to trek across a few time zones to feather the Bird’s Nest stadium.

However, the spectacle will be played in front of a crowd that, in all honesty, will not be too concerned who they support as long as they get full value for their 21 euro entrance fee.

“We are exporting the ‘brand’,” pleaded the League in their defence, before demonstrating a total disregard for their core followers back home by pithily adding: “fans who are interested will find a way to watch the game.”

Serie A powerbrokers are unlikely to be concerned by these views, with their focus on the branding battle as a league worldwide with the Premier League and La Liga, one Italian clubs have been losing for the past decade. The increasingly poor performance of Italian clubs in the Champions League and UEFA Cup and in their status as global brands has led to a crisis of confidence and a dramatic attempt to kickstart the top flight. Five years ago, Italy boasted two of the top five clubs in Deloitte’s Football Money League; this year, the top five all came from England, Spain and Germany.

Lega Calcio Serie A

Exporting the global brand of Italian football isn’t the only way Serie A clubs are attempting to keep up with the Premier League. In April it was announced that, much like the Premier League in the 1990s, Serie A would break away from Serie B to form “Lega Calcio Serie A”. 19 of the 20 clubs in Serie A voted in favour of the move after negotiations with Serie B broke down, and the new league is scheduled to launch next year.

Lega Calcio Serie A will sell collective television rights for the 20 clubs. Currently, the top clubs manage their own rights, but do share revenue to support Serie B. The collective Serie A sale ought to assist well-managed upper-tier teams below the likes of Milan and Juventus such as Udinese, on the fringes of Champions League qualification and likely to be able to increase their revenue substantially, which may improve the pitiful recent performance of mid-tier Italian teams in the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup).

Though they will no longer directly sell their own rights, the Italian Champions League elite will hope the new deal will kickstart the same rich-get-richer revolution the English game has felt since the launch of the Premier League. Clubs such as Roma and Lazio are on the market for new owners and/or new stadiums, and will see this as a shortcut to solving their problems — which may be a rather too simple assumption.

But for teams less secure in Serie A, as well as those stuck in Serie B and below, the break-away is only like to exacerbate the serious economic difficulties plaguing almost every club in Italy — similar to the effect on Football League clubs that the Premier League’s breakaway had in the 1990s, instantiating a greater inequality throughout the football pyramid.

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Serie B and Lega Pro

The Serie A break-away will surely only add to the serious financial crisis in lower league Italian football that has recently shredded several teams with history in the top flight; Serie B has struggled selling its television rights in the past two seasons, and it’s unlikely to get any easier now. A greater gap between the top clubs in Serie A and those below could be the final nail in the coffin for many, especially as the Italian lower league system has not been as firmly established as the Football League structure in England.

Indeed, economic crisis is already apparent in the division below Serie B, now known as Lega Pro. Four former Serie A clubs — Treviso, Venezia, Pisa and Avellino — have all dropped out of the third tier this summer due to economic difficulties, failing registration requirements. Out of Lega Pro’s two divisions (the third and fourth tiers of Italian football), no fewer than 16 teams failed the (too?) strict Covisoc financial criteria test.

Pisa, relegated from Serie B,  reportedly went bankrupt with 7 million Euros of debt and will have to start over at the amateur level.

If the Lega Calcio Serie A breakaway goes ahead, it’s surely only going to lead to more reckless spending by Serie B clubs in the scramble to be part of the jackpot television revenue one tier above them — something we’ve seen in England many times since the formation of the Premier League.  Serie B clubs may well spend more to try to reach the promised land above, even though this will mean risking their registration and relegation to amateur football should they end up failing in financial difficulty.

Fancy exhibitions at the Bird’s Nest and aping the Premier League’s breakaway and branding at the top won’t solve the deeper problems in Italian football.

The referee is a buffoon

RefereeAbusing the referee seems to be a universal tenet of global football culture. In Italy, the daily newspapers grade them mercilessly and not even Pierluigi Collina can help his beleaguered brethren.

The word “wanker” doesn’t translate directly into Italian. Rather, Italians are likely to chant “buffone” at the ref when he makes a bad decision. And yes, pleasingly, that does mean “buffoon.” Be they rude or just silly, I’m fairly sure that there are anti-ref chants in every footballing country across the world. After all, everybody loves a good moan about the referee, don’t they? Not least pundits and commentators. A dodgy decision really helps liven up a dull game, and a few incorrect offsides or penalty claims wrongly denied are a godsend to hacks trying to string out a column about a joy-sapping 0-0.

Like so many things in life, the Italians like to take this to a new and extreme level. All the sports dailies – in themselves manifestations of this same kind of excess – go into exhaustive detail over the quality of refereeing of each week’s games. Every Monday there are features analysing the performance of the match officials in each of the weekend’s Serie A games. And like the players, each ref is given a pagella, a score out of ten.

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