The enduring beauty of Lake Como requires little introduction. For centuries, artists and aristocrats have been drawn to its crystal blue waters and verdant slopes in search of inspiration and relaxation. In the words of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, it is a place “blessed by heaven…where the charms of a life of love [cannot] appear more natural.”
More scientifically, Como owes its alluring beauty to centuries of attritional ice-on-granite action. When the Alpine glaciers began to retreat it revealed a plain that has been inhabited variously by Roman, French, Spanish and Austrian hands before Garibaldi claimed it for the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy. Lake Como’s popularity has been underlined in recent years by a succession of celebrities – George Clooney, Madonna and Gianni Versace amongst them – choosing its shores for their holiday homes.
The city of Como forms the gateway to the opulent villas and exclusive clubs and hotels that line the southwestern aspect of the lake. It can be reached from Milan in comfortably less than an hour. The quicker and altogether more impressive option is to arrive by rail, where visitors are delivered directly to the elegant waterfront area. The alternative, arriving by road, follows the contours of the surrounding hills revealing, at first, a rather more functional city before the lake comes into view.
Como’s football team were initially founded in 1907. Following a succession of mergers in their early years, the high watermark came in 1950 with a 6th place Serie A finish. The only time the club have come close to matching this achievement was a five-season stay in the top flight during the late-1980s.
During those years, Como launched the careers of future European Cup-winners Pietro Vierchowod, Marco Simone and Stefano Borgonovo. Gianluca Zambrotta, World Champion in 2006, started his career at Como (1994-1997), after graduating through the club’s youth sector. In more recent times, Como hosted Euro 2020 victors Nicolò Barella and Matteo Pessina during the fledgling stage of their careers.
However, I Lariani have endured an arduous recent history since last gracing Serie A in 2003. A double bankruptcy and demotion to the fourth tier were followed by a short and bewildering period where the club was owned by Akosua Puni, the wife of Michael Essien. Happily, the arrival of Indonesian-backed owners in 2019 has beckoned a period of growth and stability for the club.
An English language documentary on Mola.tv explains the ambitions of the owners to build a commercially sustainable brand; one that re-engages latent local support, whilst levering the city’s unique appeal to build a global fan base. Things have certainly started well with two promotions in the first three seasons.
Fans bearing the scars of previous ownership regimes were understandably cautious about the arrival of foreign owners. However, the measured on-field progress has won the confidence of many and fans are returning to the stadio. The local fan base comes to life for derby games against Lecco, a rival lakeside town, and grudge matches against provincial Lombardian teams such as Varese, Monza and Brescia.
On the international front, the club are expanding their reach by establishing a London-based marketing office, whilst the club received exposure when American RnB artist Khalid wore a Como shirt in the video for his 2022 song Last Call. The appointment of former Chelsea man Dennis Wise as CEO has been followed by Marc Bircham (ex-QPR) joining the club in a coaching capacity, providing further points of intrigue for English-speaking calcio fans.
Como’s stadium is without doubt one of the most picturesque in Italy. It is located just a few metres from the water’s edge, close to the promenade and public gardens that are brimming with tourists in high season. The serenity of the scene is occasionally pierced by the rowdy hum of a seaplane, dramatically arcing over the stadio before its final descent onto the lake.
However, for its idyllic location, Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia has a decidedly lived-in feel. Behind the handsome rationalist marble exterior of the main entrance, the stadium retains many features dating back to its original construction in the 1920s. Notable developments in recent decades have been the removal of the banked velodrome that chaotically hosted supporters in the 1980s heyday and the construction of a large scaffold stand in place of the (home) Curva Sud.
The dilapidated state of the stadio has been a recurring source of frustration for the new owners in their bid to create an upmarket visitor experience. The issue of a leaking roof featured in the documentary is emblematic of the problems they face. The municipality has so far been reluctant to make significant investment, but there are signs that things are changing. Years of diligent work behind the scenes to build good relations between the club and the municipality has now created a genuine prospect for modernisation. The issue of further investment would, of course, be forced should Como succeed in their aim of reaching Serie A.
Ahead of the game, a posse of home supporters gathers at a bar behind the Curva Sud, adjacent to the seaplane hangar. It’s the perfect location to enjoy a pre-match drink (beer €5), soak up the atmosphere, watch the planes come in and appreciate uninterrupted views across the lake.
The main Tribuna, with its modern cantilever roof, is the only area of the ground to offer shelter from the elements. Ticket prices here will cost €20-30, though the choice to upgrade to the central Tribune D’Onore (€58) will buy you the best seats in the house as well as pasta, prosecco and then coffee with Italian cannoncino and cream served at your seat.
At the other end of the spectrum, a ticket in the home curva costs just €12, or €10 if purchased online in advance of the game. There is a small merchandise outlet in the corner of the Tribuna on matchdays; a new shop will be opening in the city centre in September 2022, until then replica shirts and scarves can be purchased at the Legea outlet in the town centre (via Luigi Dottesio). The visiting supporters are housed on the opposite curva, whilst the lakeside Distinti stand was, for our visit, sparsely populated by flag-bearing home fans.
The stadium has some unique and satisfying features, chief among them the elegant, Art Deco-style glass stairwell to the side of the main Tribuna. More curiously, the players emerge onto the field from a subterranean hatch; once all the players have surfaced and coaches and substitutes have taken their place in the authentic “dugouts”, the hatch is closed to avoid any accidents.
As the game against Ternana in March 2022 kicked off, a thick mist hung over the distant lake. The midweek, mid-table, end-of-season encounter contested attracted a modest crowd of around 1,500, with several dozen making the long journey from Umbria.
The home supporters did all they could to rally their team, in unremitting voice and with the occasional burst of pyrotechnics. It had the desired effect, with Como starting brightly and causing the Ternana coach Cristiano Lucarelli to stalk impatiently up and down his technical area. The home side took a deserved lead just after the half-hour when a deflected shot from Antonino La Gumina wrong-footed Antony Iannirilli in the visitor’s goal.
Over the course of the first half, the distant hills that loomed over the Distinti began to subside into darkness. By half time, just the twinkling lights of the hillside homes were visible. Lucarelli rang in the changes during the break and succeeded in tipping the balance of play back in Ternana’s favour.
Como scrambled one off their own goal line on the hour mark but failed to heed this warning. Just a few minutes later, a VAR-awarded penalty for Ternana was coolly dispatched by Aniello Salzano to bring the visitors onto level terms. Ternana pressed for a winner but Como rode out the storm to leave honours even at full time.
Como represents an excellent family-friendly groundhopping destination. In addition to the unique and characterful offerings of Stadio Sinigaglia, there’s something to suit all interests in and around the city. Whether that’s sitting lazily, sipping a Spritz on the Promenade, taking a trip on the funicular railway or more energetic pursuits on the water or on foot. With ambitious owners in place, it may not be too long before this glamorous lakeside city is once again playing host to top flight football.
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*Post Script: At the time of publication, former Arsenal, Barcelona and Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas is rumoured to be joining Como!