Guest blogger Rick Elliott follows Mantova into wine country…
“Eh, alè alè, la Serie D ha già rotto il cazzo. Eh, alè alè, la Serie D ha già rotto il cazzo……” and the verse continues with a final salute that everyone from Verona (or any other rival) can go fuck themselves. Roughly translated as ‘Serie D has busted our balls’, it’s a song that’s been doing the rounds for the last two years and is one of the loudest whenever sung. The lower leagues are starting to take their toll and supporters are truly fed up of the faltering journey to promotion.
But if this is the year Mantova finally get out of D hell, I will certainly miss some things and look back on it as my introduction to real Italian football. Maybe the football won’t be remembered too much, but other Serie D qualities will: the small local towns, the hidden tourist gems, grounds packed full with the anticipation of beating the league leaders and a fixture list already planned ahead for the year.
No such luxuries in the so called professional Serie C: games are confirmed only a few weeks before, some moved for TV, grounds are stadiums, these stadiums are half-empty at best, and ticket prices are higher. The prospect doesn’t thrill me as much as others in the biancorossi gang.
Certain pleasures will live long in the memory, especially the feeling of being so close to the pitch you feel like you’re there, playing the game. On Sunday, standing on the cramped terraces taking over the home side’s main stand once again, the 300 or so travelling Mantova fans roared with relief as ‘Pippo’ Guccione headed Mantova ahead. With everyone stood on the seats, arms in the air nearly touching the roof, it was one of the loudest celebrations of the season so far. It gave Mantova the lead at half time. Everyone immediately went to their phones to check the result of chasers Fiorenzuola away at Forli. They were losing 1-0, the lead was now 10 points going into the second half.
Only two weeks ago, after a devastating last minute equaliser against relegation contenders Sammaurese, Lucio Brando lost his job. The gap was reduced to 3 points at the top of the table and the outlook was decidedly gloomy. But a last-minute equaliser and a slender 1-0 home win in the following games restored that lead to 7 points. How a couple of results can change the mood. At half-time, supporters were preparing to put the Champagne on ice. Or should that be a Franciacorta on ice?
Opponents Sporting Franciacorta are a newly formed club after a merger at the end of the 2018/19 season between Adrense, Serie D survivors, and Erbusco. They are based in Adro in the province of Brescia, at the foot of Lake Iseo, between Brescia and Bergamo. It lies in the heart of a region that is known for its excellence in wine-making. Franciacorta takes its name from the region, and is arguably Italy’s best sparkling white wine. Though it’s a well-kept secret, and much of continental Europe and the UK seem content guzzling the sweeter, inferior Prosecco.
It can be considered Italy’s Champagne and is similarly made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes with small amounts of Pinot Bianco. The only real difference being the volume of production; the Champagne region pumps out over 100 times more bubbly than Italy’s version. Nonetheless, the Franciacorta region is a wealthy area and as I drove past the large vineyards, through the hills full of well-pruned vines ready for the Spring bloom, I couldn’t help but admire the beauty and serenity the countryside displayed. I longed for a few glasses and could taste its smooth, biscuity flavours but chose not to. Expensive bubbly isn’t exactly the pre-match drink of choice on a Sunday lunchtime.
The Mantuan supporters’ favourite tipple is most definitely beer and at half time I joined them for one as we all enthusiastically chatted about the prospect of being 10 points clear. But Sporting Franciacorta came back out with other ideas. They started the second half as they had the first, popping the ball around urgently and pressing Mantova high, not allowing the visitors to get settled. The 4G artificial turf made the ball run on quickly making the game a frantic affair. The home side got in some good early positions, but never made ‘keeper Athanasiou work.
Midway through the second half, Mantova had a goal ruled out for an unfortunate offside. A ball played into an onrushing Guccione was well-shielded by the last defender, only for the keeper to fumble the ball just inside the area. Christian Altinier followed up the rebound to score, via a ricochet off the prostrate Guccione who had fallen over in an offside position in the previous phase. It was to be a game-changer.
Soon after, the home side equalised. A cross from the right by-line was criminally allowed to be whipped into the box and the hosts’ Alberto Boschetti got himself in front of young right back Manuel Musiani to powerfully strike home from six yards out. Five minutes later, it was 2-1 to the home side. After some hot potato style football the ball found its way to much-travelled striker Andrea Razzitti 18 yards out. Mantuan central defender Marco Carminati had been easily nudged off the ball in the build up and his partner Simone Aldrovandi had backed off. Razzitti cleverly feigned and let the loose ball run across him. He turned and let fly. Left back for the day Vincenzo Lisi sprinted across to cover but was a fraction too late as the ball deflected off his foot and looped over a desperate Athanasiou.
Mantova were punch drunk, both on and off the pitch. Several strange substitutions prior to and after the goal didn’t have the desired effect. A hobbling Giorgi came on to try and muster some possession and attacking intent, but he was clearly injured and was involved in allowing the cross for the first goal. Further changes up front made no impact at all and Mantova looked all fizzled out. Their last hope came from a free-kick 3 minutes from time. Dangerously put in low by Guccione, it flew to Gigi Scotto and Aldrovandi at the backpost but they weren’t quick enough to react. The final whistle blew. Mantova had been beaten for the first time this season.
Incredibly, Fiorenzuola lost again for the third consecutive game and remain 7 points behind. What a missed opportunity! Performances remain mediocre at best and the team look devoid of ideas, reliant on Scotto and Guccione to work some magic. Have they finally been sussed out? Mantova’s worst start to the second half of a season in Serie D history, 10 points from 7 games, has the doubters panicking. Meanwhile, the optimists see the poor standard of the league and a run of six home games in the final ten.
What do I see? A bottle of Berlucchi Franciacorta and G.H.Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne chilling in the fridge! I’m still very confident.
Teams: Sporting Franciacorta 2-1 Mantova 1911
League: Serie D Girone D Matchday 24
Date: 16th February 2020
Attendance: 600 (300 away)
Prices: €10 ticket, €3 beer
Stadium Info: ‘Stadio Comunale’, Via Tullio Dandolo 57, Adro (BS)
Travel Info: Not so easy to reach with public transport. The nearest train station is Borgonato-Adro which is reachable from Brescia on the regional line to Lake Iseo, finishing in Edolo. Borgonato is about 6km from Adro so a good 1 hour walk if it’s a nice day, passing the area’s golf course. No bus information found.
- Vineyards and wine companies are everywhere. Names to look for are: Ca’ del Bosco, Berlucchi, Bellavista, Ricci Curbastro, Ferghettina, but there are many many more.
- San Michele Wine
- Le Porte Franche Shopping centre is the biggest and best in the area of Adro
- Wine Shop near Adro that is open on Sundays is Cantine di Franciacorta
- The beautiful Lake Iseo is nearby with Monte Isola worth a walk around – https://visitlakeiseo.info/it/
Next Stop: Mezzolara
Catch up on Rick’s other travels with Mantova here.