Forli (A): A Day of Rarities in Serie D

The latest in our regular series, guest-blogger Rick Elliott travelled to the city of Forli, as Mantova 1911 sought to extend their perfect start to the season…

Finally, a city to visit! A rarity in Serie D. And what a great little city it is. Forli is located about halfway between Bologna and Rimini in the Romagna region. Standing in the football shadows of their provincial neighbours Cesena, the club has been languishing in Serie D for some years now, interrupted only by the odd flirtation with the old Serie C2.

Last season was hugely disappointing for Forli; they only escaped relegation by winning a play-out game on the final day of the season. Now led by Massimo Paci, formerly of Juventus, Lecce, Ascoli, Parma and others, they had been hoping for a better season this time around. However, going into the match, they were teetering only one place above the play-out relegation zone with 5 points from 5 games. Whilst they are expected to finish comfortably higher up the league their current predicament represents something of a low ebb for the club. Only 550 season tickets were sold in a city of around 118,000 people.

The later kick-off time (17:00) was due to a Super Sporting Sunday in Forli, which included an important National Junior Athletics event at the stadium next door and the opening game of Forli’s basketball team, who play in Serie A2. Nevertheless, this gave me the chance to arrive in good time and have a look around.

As the athletics event finished and the hoards of young hopefuls tried to find their coach, I mingled amongst them and sneaked myself into the Stadio Tullo Morgagni and found another rare find at this level; a proper little stadium! No temporary or dilapidated stands, but two fully built ones; one with new plastic seats and an away section with clean steps. The ground stunningly even has a velodrome inside.

This small ground of around 3,466 is named, like many other Italian stadiums, after a local sporting hero. Tullo Morgagni was a locally-born sports journalist, he invented the famous cycling events Giro d’Italia, Milano-San Remo and Giro di Lombardia in the early 20th century. He was also a keen aviator, but unfortunately died in a flying accident exactly 100 years ago at the age of only 37. Opened in 1925, the stadium still to this day hosts cycling events at the velodrome Servadei.

The entrance to the sports complex, that houses the stadium, athletics track and other smaller football pitches, was built to impress. Constructed during the Mussolini years, it is true Italian Fascist architecture: tall and imposing; squared and orderly; columns evenly spaced apart, and grandiose. The 20-minute walk down Viale Roma into the city centre displayed more of the former leader’s influence on Forli. The central post office building is a stunning and powerful piece of architecture, and is rivalled only by it’s commanding equivalent in Palermo. It is hardly surprising Mussolini’s influence is felt here, he was born only 15km south of the city in Predappio.

In keeping with the afternoon’s architectural backdrop, Mantova have begun the season in muscular fashion; having secured 5 wins out of 5 and scoring 22 goals in the process. Last week, despite fitness doubts over strikers Christian Altinier and Filippo Guccione, they both miraculously pulled through and played a role in the 5-1 annihilation of Sasso Marconi.

Walking back up to the ground with kick off time nearing, the atmosphere was building. Forli had instigated a social media campaign in the preceding week, urging supporters to come down and support the city they love, reminiscing with images and quotations from previous meetings with Mantova. A decent crowd of about 1,500 gave the game a ‘big’ match feeling, including 30 or so Cesena fans in the away end due to the two sets of supporters having a special friendship (gemellaggio) going back years. On entering the ground, there was even a programme distributed, another rarity in Serie D. It all added to the hype.

But before proceedings started a further rarity happened, with a minute’s silence held in honour of Giorgio Squinzi, a leading industrialist and owner of Sassuolo, who died this week. Sassuolo is a small club who have enjoyed recent success as a consequence of Squinzi’s ownership, rising from Serie C2 to become established in Serie A in just over 15 years. It was the first time I had witnessed a minute’s silence at this level; Squinzi was clearly a well-respected figure throughout the league system.

With formalities over, Mantova came out of the traps fast and took the lead after 12 minutes. A clear foul in the 18 yard box on Altinier gave Mantova a penalty – and Gigi Scotto another goal to his tally. The league leaders continued to control the game and searched for a second with full back Serbouti looking threatening down the right hand side. But Forli weathered the storm and forced their way back into the game. Questions still remain over goalkeeper Adorni and after 33 minutes a sloppy kick out gave possession back to Forli in the centre of the park. With the defence square, a through ball cut them wide open and Argentinian Gomez poked it past an onrushing Adorni to take it into the break at 1-1.

The second half was a tight and balanced affair with neither team able to create anything significant. A Scotto volley fell straight into Forli’s keeper’s arms and a decent penalty shout again on Guccione could easily have been given. The game ebbed and flowed as the evening fell in and the floodlights came on.

Luigi Giorgi, a summer acquisition, came on as a sub in midfield and his experience in controlling the middle of the park gave the balance back to Mantova. There had to be another chance and it came in the dying minutes. A lovely through ball to Guccione on the inside right position in the box, 6 yards out. With his trusty left foot, he tried to tuck it under the keeper who made a good low save. The ball ricocheted up into the flight of an oncoming Scotto who flew into the air, placed a header towards goal but it was hacked away off the line.

The 180km drive back had a tinge of disappointment, the winning streak had ended and the first dropped points. Not a vintage display against a competitive Forli side, and at a ground where fortune hasn’t really favoured Mantova, with the last victory coming 68 years ago in 1951. But with 5 wins and a draw from 6 matches Mantova can’t complain too much.

As I returned home to hear of Inter’s loss to Juve and maybe Palermo dropping points I had dreamed of writing about the only team in Italy to have had a 100% start to the campaign. Now, that would have been a rarity…but it wasn’t to be.

Teams: Forli 1-1 Mantova

League: Serie D Girone D (Italian 4th Level) Matchday 6

Stadium Info: Stadio Tullo Morgagni, capacity 3,466 (842 away).

Time & Date: 6th October 2019, 17.00

Attendance: 1,500 (170 away)

Prices: €10 away ticket, €3 0,33l beer

Tourist Info:

  • Forli’s architecture presents Fascist-era qualities (Train Station, Post Office, Provincial and Municipal Administrative Offices, Viale Delle Libertà)
  • Giant Murals are placed all around the city
  • For all things touristic, look here for up to date news on what’s on around the city and the province.
  • Forli has two foreign cemeteries: one for the English and one for the Indians of WWII
  • Predappio, the birthplace of Benito Mussolini is only 15km south of Forli with the home and Villa Carpena, the house where he lived with his wife Rachele Guidi and their 5 children, both open to visit.

Travel Info: Forli is on the train line from Bologna to the Adriatic coast, with many options from regional to fast trains available. The stadium is a 5-10 minute walk from the station.

Next Stop in 2 weeks: Fanfulla

Read Rick’s previous article here – a visit to Vigor Carpaneto.

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