The name of Vicenza is amongst the most evocative in Italian football; the unmistakable red and white stripes, the curious Lanerossi “R” symbol, the misty images of a youthful Roberto Baggio. However, this romanticism belies the undulating story of a club that has soared the heights and plumbed the depths.
In 1953, Vicenza’s football club was acquired by Lanerossi, a local textile manufacturer with a global reach. This pioneering partnership provided Vicenza with the financial might to establish themselves as a force in Serie A and constituted a watershed in the commercialisation of Italian football. The club changed its name, becoming Lanerossi Vicenza and adopted the corporate logo of its parent.
The player most synonymous with the Vicenza shirt is the late Paolo Rossi. Following their relegation to Serie B, Pablito’s goals propelled them back to the top flight and then to within a whisker of the scudetto in 1977/78. Rossi’s exploits in the blue of Italy during that summer’s World Cup prompted Vicenza to buy out Juventus’ remaining share of his registration. However, the financial commitment to Rossi quickly became a crippling burden to the Biancorossi.
Vicenza’s financial largesse forced them to sell other star players, contributing to their relegation and ultimately the departure of Rossi. It was then the turn of another Italian prodigy, Roberto Baggio from nearby Caldogno, to revitalise the club. Baggio made his debut as a 15-year-old in 1983, setting the club on the path back to Serie A.
The 1990s saw Vicenza win their first and only major trophy (Coppa Italia 1997) and reach the semi-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup the following season. A series of financial difficulties have seen Vicenza descend the pyramid since their most recent appearance in Serie A in 2000/01. With echoes of the 1950s, the club is now owned by local entrepreneur Renzo Rosso, head of the Diesel fashion brand. This partnership and a controversial merger with local rivals Bassano saw them return to Serie B in 2020.
Italy’s north-eastern Veneto region is fertile territory for groundhoppers, with Venezia, Padova, Verona and Cittadella all comfortably within an hour’s drive of Vicenza. Stadio Romeo Menti is located around 1.5km south of the centre of Vicenza, on the recently-christened Largo Paolo Rossi, on the banks of the Bacchiglione river.
The stadium was inaugurated in 1935 and significantly rebuilt after sustaining bomb damage during the war. It takes its name from a celebrated player who made his debut for the club as a 16-year-old; he went on to become a four-time scudetto winner with the Grande Torino team before the tragedy of the Superga air disaster.
The fortunes of the stadium closely mirror those of the club. The capacity exceeded 30,000 in the heyday of the 1960s and 1970s before a period of under-investment ensued. It now stands more modestly at 13,000, though a recent flurry of development has seen the refurbishment of the curve with the addition of new seating, a big screen on the Curva Sud and a revamped club shop in the north-western corner. The stadium interior has a distinctly English feel; unusually for a municipal stadium, there is no running track, with the stands fitted close to the pitch.
Vicenza tifosi congregate at Bar Stadio in the north-eastern corner of the ground before heading into the Curva Sud (ticket €15 from ticketone.it). The bar has a relaxed atmosphere and is the ideal spot to take in some of the graffiti murals – many dedicated to Rossi, of course – daubed on the stadium exterior.
Once inside the ground, the offering is far superior to many larger stadiums in Italy. There is a match programme, bars, a food outlet (hot pork panino €5), a small concession selling official club merchandise and an informal sale of paraphernalia to support ultra groups (stickers, scarves, t-shirts).
On a bright winter‘s afternoon, everything about Stadio Romeo Menti appeared in high-definition. The breathtaking snow-capped mountains – a perennial backdrop in this part of the world – are visible from inside the curva. The azure blue sky was unblemished, punctuated only by the upright floodlight pylons. The verdant green playing surface contrasted with the newly-installed red and white seats that seemed to gleam in the low sunlight.
The match against Como (December 2021) marked the first anniversary of the passing of Paolo Rossi and, as such, had a poignant atmosphere ahead of kick-off. A tribute to Rossi played out on the big screen to the sombre sound of Ludivico Einaudi and rippling applause from the stadio. Vicenza’s ultras unveiled a banner reading “A legend wore these colours, let’s honour him with victory”.
The Biancorossi sat at the very foot of Serie B going into the match, but that wasn’t apparent as the ultras’ relentless support sparked into life. Two energetic capo-ultras balanced precariously on the top of the perimeter fence orchestrated their charges. A band of around two hundred Como ultras had travelled from the Lake and responded in kind, at one point causing a temporary suspension of the game when a smoke bomb engulfed the goal area.
The game started in the worst possible fashion for Vicenza, slipping a goal behind inside ten minutes. Subsequently, the home team were in the ascendancy, repeatedly striking the woodwork. Como’s goal led a charmed life as the Lariani hung on for the victory. At the sound of the referee’s final whistle, the frustrations of the afternoon poured out and Vicenza players were subjected to a chorus of vitriolic howls from the Curva Sud.
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