Colwyn Bay, Holyhead, Llanidloes and Llandudno…hardly the footballing heartlands of Great Britain. And certainly not the sort of places you’d expect to find a cosmopolitan troupe of Italian and Argentinian footballers, headed by an international music star. But that is exactly what will happen when Bangor City come to town next season.
Historically, Bangor are one of the more successful teams in Welsh football. They’ve won the title three times since the top flight was created in the early-1990s and lifted the Welsh Cup five times over that same period. Before that, they had been a force in the English Northern Premier League (step 5), only narrowly missing out on election to the English Football League in 1978 due to the absence of crush barriers at their Farrar Road home.
The high-water mark of City’s history came in 1962 when they defeated a full-strength Napoli team 2-0 in the Cup Winners Cup. A 3-1 reversal in front of 80,000 baying Neapolitans at the San Paolo took the tie to a replay, hosted at neutral Highbury. Bangor lost the decider 2-1, but the part-timers won friends and admirers across Europe with their gung-ho performances (see the wonderfully-titled WSC article See Naples and Dai).
The club from north-west Wales were still playing Europa League football as recently as 2017, but have since fallen on hard times. An unforgiving spiral of financial woe, administrative breaches and points deductions saw them relegated to the second tier, only escaping a further relegation on appeal. However, the seeds of an unlikely Italian revolution were sewn in North Wales in the spring of 2019, when Chairman and manager Stephen Vaughan Junior appointed Italian Max Leghissa as Director of Football.
Leghissa brought a diversity of experience from previous roles in Italy, Malta and Sweden and, with the immediate recruitment of three Italians and a Guinea-Bissau international, he set the tone for the next 18 months. It was one of this contingent, young forward Francesco Serafino, who would play a pivotal role in writing the next chapter in Bangor’s 143-year history. Serafino was a player of considerable pedigree, having been schooled in the youth systems of AS Roma, Argentinos Juniors, and Boca Juniors. But he also happened to be the son of international music star and producer, Domenico Serafino.
Serafino senior originates from Calabria in the south of Italy but has enjoyed particular popularity within South America during his musical career. His style defies conventional definitions, lying somewhere at the intersection of rap, funk and rock, with African influences in both sound and aesthetic (he wore dreadlocks for the large part of his career). As a measure of his celebrity, he even managed to convince Roberto Baggio to feature in the video for his 1999 song Ma Chi M’accompagna.
So what brought Serafino senior to Bangor? The full, morbid extent of The Citizen’s financial circumstances only began to emerge in summer 2019, at which point Leghissa reached out to Serafino senior, seeking investment in the club. Things escalated quickly and by September a consortium of investors, headed by Serafino had taken control of Bangor and Serafino himself was installed as chairman.
The unlikely marriage between Bangor and the musician took a further twist with the appointment of a World Cup winner as head coach. Serafino has spent a lot of time in Buenos Aires, where he formed a friendship with two members of Argentina’s victorious 1986 squad, Sergio Batista and Jorge Luis Burruchaga. In turn, they had introduced Serafino to another member of the squad, Pedro Pasculli. On the pitch in Mexico, Pasculli struck the round of 16 winner against Uruguay, though his most significant contribution was arguably his pastoral responsibility as room-mate to Diego Maradona.
Pasculli spent the most productive part of his playing career in Italy with Lecce, where he became a revered figure after scoring 61 goals across eight years. Since hanging up his boots, Pasculli has built an eclectic coaching CV, incorporating spells in the Italian lower leagues, in Albania and Greece and a period in charge of the Ugandan national team. Pasculli cites Carlo Mazzone, a coach whom he served under for three years in Salento, as the inspiration for his own coaching methods.
After arriving in North Wales, Pasculli immediately set about assembling a squad capable of challenging for a return to the Welsh top flight. Understandably less au fait with the local talent offering, he looked further afield to Italy, Argentina, Portugal and Ghana in his recruitment. At one point the squad comprised 21 Italians – including Nicolas Delvecchio, the son of AS Roma star Marco – but only one Welsh player. With a music star in the boardroom, a World Cup winner in the dugout and a surfeit of exotic stars on the pitch, an exciting season beckoned.
Things began well for Pasculli with a 2-1 victory over Rhyl in November, but the harsh realities of life in Wales’ second tier would soon become apparent. Inconsistent form saw Bangor lose touch with a dominant Prestatyn Town team who tightened their grip on the solitary promotion berth. When the onset of Covid stopped play in March, Bangor were in fifth place, a full 25 points behind the runaway leaders.
Having assumed control of Bangor at a time when they were haemorrhaging support to a recently-formed phoenix club, Bangor 1876, a key part of Serafino senior’s vision was to reconnect the ailing club to its community. On the field, he has restored pride for the remaining fans, brought entertainment and sparks of hope. He’s making good on his commitment off the field too. In April 2020, Serafino made a £5,000 donation to local hospital Ysbyty Gwynedd to help fight the outbreak of Coronavirus.
A further unexpected development arising from Bangor’s newfound Italian connection has been the establishment of an Inter Milan satellite academy in the city. The new project, one of 22 such Inter academies around the world, sees players aged 6 to 18 – for a monthly fee – immersed in the training philosophy and methods of the Italian giants. “Inter’s coaches will come over here and work on a daily basis with the players and instil in them the routines and practices that they will need to get to the top of the game“, Serafino explained.
Back in June, rumours surfaced about Serafino’s ambitions to expand his footballing empire. Those whispers transpired to have substance when the singer was unveiled as the new owner and chairman of Italian Serie C side Sambenedettese. The club, coached by former Juventus enforcer Paolo Montero, make Bangor appear the picture of stability, having endured considerable turbulence over the last twenty-five years; going bankrupt and reforming on four separate occasions in that time.
Serafino immediately moved to assuage concerns that Bangor would no longer be his priority. He also offered some strong clues as to the Pozzo-esque business model he has in mind, installing Pasculli as Technical Director at Samb. Bangor’s Argentinian midfielder Santiago Chacón then swapped the Menai Strait for the Adriatic coast, whilst Citizens’ defender Esteban Goicoechea and goalkeeper Gonzalo Laborda have now joined Samb’s pre-season training camp too.
Whether Serafino’s reign brings the stability yearned for by Samb tifosi remains to be seen. However, the new owner appears to be making efforts to appeal to a South American audience, most notably in the flagship signing of former River Plate, Barcelona and Milan forward Maxi Lopez from Crotone. At 36-years old, and dropping down to the third tier for the first time, the Argentinian will be looking to hit double figures, a feat he last achieved a decade ago.
Meanwhile, Bangor have regrouped and re-organised this summer, appointing Argentinian Hugo Colace as coach. This is a significant move, intended to draw on the knowledge and experience of an individual who spent three years in West Yorkshire as a player with Barnsley. The Citizens have held together the core of last year’s team for their renewed assault on Cymru North, adding greater domestic nous to complement the Latin flair.
However, with many traditional supporters having pledged their allegiance to the fan-owned breakaway club, Bangor 1876, the challenge now facing Bangor City should not be under-estimated. From the beginning of 2021, the anticipated end to ‘freedom of movement’ will bring a further obstacle, casting doubt over the sustainability of the club’s continental recruitment policies.
For the time being, at least, Serafino remains fully committed to the Bangor project and the ambition is clear; to restore the club to the upper echelons of the Welsh Premier and get them back into Europe.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, take a look at our mini series about the fabled Anglo-Italian Cup.