Italy’s Ghost Stadia: Centrale

In the UK, the unveiling of a new football stadium almost always implies the demise of its predecessor. Finance dictates that stands must be razed and a century of memories deleted, all in the name of progress. However, as the shine begins to wear off the new venue, it’s not uncommon to hear fans become nostalgic for the imperfections of the old place, yearning for just one more visit. But by that point, it’s too late. 

It is perhaps unsurprising to hear that things work a little differently in Italy. With most stadia in municipal ownership and fulfilling a broader set of sporting needs, there is rarely such an imperative for scrapping the old venues. Across the provinces, countless historic former homes stand as memorials to the triumph and emotion of yesteryear. Nature has silently reclaimed some, others have struggled on in a dilapidated state, whilst a few have received a new lease of life. 

The first part of our journey around Italy saw us visiting the relics of south. Part two takes us into the central regions of MarcheAbruzzo and Umbria… 

Terni – Stadio viale Brin

Source: Wikipedia

Terni is Italy’s Steel City. For better or worse, it’s a place defined by its industrial heritage. The hot and dirty work of steel-making has provided jobs and income to sustain generations of Terni families. It was fitting therefore that, from 1925, Ternana played their football at a stadium built in the shadow of one of the vast mills. Stadio Viale Brin was a small, but perfectly formed venue, equipped with a neat English-style grandstand. The stadium was incrementally expanded through the ages, eventually holding 10,000 people just prior to its decommissioning. 

It was known locally as La Pista (The Track); the pitch was surrounded by a concrete velodrome that provided the training ground for 1948 Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Renato Perona. In 1965, Ternana moved 3km across town to the modern and (needlessly) three-tiered Stadio Libero Liberati. The Stadio Viale Brin fell into disrepair and the site was eventually turned over for use as an employee car park for the steelworks. Despite the recent addition of solar-paneled canopies, the outline of the original curva can still be seen from aerial views. 

Pescara – Stadio Rampigna 

Curiously, the riverside Campo Rampigna may be considered older than the city of Pescara itself. From 1925, it hosted early footballing duals between two adjacent municipalities, Castellammare Adriatico and Pescara. Only in 1927 were they unified to form the modern-day city of Pescara (think Brighton and Hove…). As part of the unification celebrations, a stage of the Giro d’Italia bike would finish in the city, for which the Rampigna site was fitted out with a Larchwood velodrome to host the sprint finale. Subsequent upgrades eventually raised the capacity to 10,000 supporters, coinciding with Pescara’s promotion to Serie B in 1940/41. 

The venue was battered first by floods and then by Allied bombers, but each time it was rebuilt. In 1955, just across town, a purpose-built municipal sports venue was constructed to host football and athletics. The Rampigna remained, but in 1959 the playing surface was reconfigured to accommodate a new road bridge traversing the river. The stadium remains in a largely abandoned state, though was once again the focus of attention in summer 2020 when excavation work on the pitch revealed the remains of a Roman Fortress and relics relating to the ancient Port of Aternum. 

Sambenedettese – Stadio Fratelli Ballarin 

Stadio Ballarin takes on spiritual importance to the Tifosi of Sambenedettese. On 7th June 1981, the stadium filled with supporters, in anticipation of a match that would see Samb seal promotion to Serie B. It was packed to the rafters with close to 13,000 in the ground. Just before kick-off, the jubilant tone of the southern curva dramatically changed as the blue and red pyrotechnic fog gave way to acrid black smoke. Confetti in the stand caught light and flames spread rapidly through the curva. Padlocked gates and faulty fire hydrants multiplied the sense of panic as Tifosi desperately fled. Tragically two lives were lost, whilst another 11 suffered serious burns that day. 

As owners of the facility, the municipal authorities were heavily fined, prompting the construction of a futuristic new stadium further down the coast. After calling Stadio Ballarin home for 50 years, Sambenedettese moved out in 1985. However, its neat rectangular form remains today, almost unchanged from the day of the fire. There are plans afoot, backed by Samb supporter groups, to transform the site into a public park, preserving the footprint of the pitch and the Curva Sud, and creating a memorial to the victims of the fire. 

Ancona – Stadio Dorico 

Located close to the Adriatic shores, Stadio Dorico was originally a recreational shooting venue before it was transformed into a football and athletics stadium. This modest venue was home to Ancona’s football team from construction in 1931, right through to their maiden promotion to Serie A in 1992. The venue’s send-off was a match against Udinese, which saw a full house and a party atmosphere as Ancona sealed their promotion to the top flight by that point. 

However, the club have endured a miserable cycle of relegation and bankruptcy since departing for the purpose-built Stadio Del Conero. The football club briefly returned to the Dorico in 2010 following one such episode of insolvency. The venue is now a community sporting facility for athletics, tennis and five-a-side football. The main field is also used as a training pitch for yet another phoenix football club (the original successor having also suffered bankruptcy). The municipality laid a synthetic playing surface last summer and have plans to rebuild the main grandstand. 

Ascoli – Ferruccio Corradino Squarcia Stadio 

Ascoli’s football team rapidly rose to Italy’s third tier during the 1930s before falling on hard times in the early 1950s, plummeting to the regional tiers and teetering on the brink of financial ruin. The club were salvaged by benefactor Cino Del Duco, a local man who’d made his fortune in film and publishing. And in 1962, he convinced the municipality to build a new, larger stadium which matched his lofty ambitions for the club. 

At this point, the Stadio Ferruccio Corradino Squarcia was reborn with a unique new purpose; the playing surface was reconfigured to host an annual knightly contest. The jousting tournament and associated display of heraldry forms part of the city’s cultural celebrations. Inaugurated in 1926, the stadium’s proto-cantilevered grandstand, which is said to be the very first of its type in Italy, remains. When not hosting a horseback extravaganza, the stadium is also used for motocross and archery. 

Perugia – Stadio Santa Giuliana 

Football and the church are two deeply entwined staples of Italian society, which meet poetically in Perugia. The tranquility of the Santa Giuliana monastery was in deep contrast to the boisterous worship that occurred just the other side of the wall. In 1937, Stadio Santa Giuliana was constructed on the fringes of Perugia’s historic hilltop centre, presumably on the first vaguely flat piece of land that could be found. 

The playing field was surrounded by an athletics track, eating into the limited available space. The stadium comprised of a modest covered main stand and a narrow ring of terracing, overlooked by residential buildings. Somehow, 15,000 people could be squeezed in on match days.  Perugia gained promotion to Serie A in 1975, which proved to be the end of the road for Santa Giuliana as a first-class venue. The club continued to use it as a training venue for some years after their move to the new Stadio Renato Curi in 1975. Today, just a small sliver of the main stand’s terracing remains and the venue is used for athletics and concerts. 

Catch up on part 1, Il Mezzogiorno, and join us soon in the final instalment as we venture into Italy’s northern regions. 

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