Venezia FC tifosi have endured more than most over the past two decades. Having clawed their way back from a double-bankruptcy to reclaim their place in Serie A, the club now faces another battle to stage their home games at the iconic Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo.
The stadium, which takes its name from a celebrated Venetian aviator, is the second oldest in Italy and undoubtedly one of the most spectacular in the whole of Europe. Of perfectly dainty proportions, brimming with characterful imperfections and located adjacent to the reflective waters of the lagoon, it’s nothing short of a photographer’s dream.
Sadly, that’s not the lens through which the Italian Federation (FIGC) see things. The current 7,400 capacity falls a long way short of the 16,100-minimum specified by the authorities, but that’s not the only issue. The club played last season under a permitted exemption since the stadium failed to satisfy even Serie B standards in relation to lighting and access.
The beloved Penzo has a long and undulating history. First used in 1913, it witnessed Venezia’s golden era of the late 1930s and 1940s when the club were not only competing in the top flight but winning silverware (Coppa Italia, 1941). The stadium’s record attendance came in 1966 when 26,000 squeezed in for the visit of AC Milan.
In September 1970, a devastating tornado ripped through the lagoon, claiming 36 lives and destroying anything in its path, including Stadio Penzo. A modestly rebuilt version of the stadium continued to host Venezia until 1987 when the club went to play on the mainland in Mestre following a merger of the two clubs. After a four-year hiatus, the AC Venezia returned to Stadio Penzo, whereupon it saw top flight football once again. The capacity was temporarily increased to 16,500, owing to the addition of enormous scaffold structures at either end of the ground.
Fast forward to the present day and Venezia have struck an agreement to use SPAL’s Stadio Paolo Mazza as a home venue for the 2021/22 season. However, the club and the Venetian municipality (who own Stadio Penzo) regard this as little more than a backup plan which fulfils are formal requirement of the FIGC; they remain fully focused on staging the first game of the championship on the lagoon.
Modern safety standards are likely to prevent the club from building temporary structures as large as those seen in the late-1990s. However, Venezia hope that a derogation will be granted if, in addition to works on the lighting, they can increase the capacity to around 10,000. The club are bullish given the recent precedent for the league allowing this in the cases of Spezia and SPAL. Mayor Brugnaro heightened expectations by emphatically saying “The home of Venezia is Penzo, they will play here next season.”
However, there will be no quick resolution and the debate about the venue for Venezia’s first home game of 2021/122 will almost certainly rumble on until the eve of the new season. Looking further ahead, the long-term plan currently being hatched between the municipality and the club would see the construction of a Sport City on the mainland, incorporating a new 16,000-seat stadium.
Only time will tell whether those ambitious plans fare any better than the multitude of shelved stadium projects in Rome, Florence, Palermo and cities across the peninsula.
If you enjoyed this, check out our mini series exploring the former fortresses of Italian football.