Join us as we venture a few stops east of Milan to see what happens when a billionaire former Prime Minister throws his considerable means behind a provincial minnow…
The arrival of the Berlusconi family in 2018 heralded a new dawn for AC Monza. Before this, the club had endured over a century of mediocrity, existing in the shadows of their more illustrious Milanese neighbours. Now, backed by the financial might of Berlusconi and the wisdom of former-Milan CEO Adriano Galliani, Monza find themselves in Serie A for the first time in their history.
I Biancorossi had previously come close to achieving top-flight status in the 1950s when, for almost a decade, they were known as AC Simmenthal-Monza. The arrangement saw Monza formally merge with the works team of the Simmenthal company (a tinned meat manufacturer – you can still buy their beef in jelly from Ocado). Powered by industrial money, the club achieved a hitherto unprecedented period of stability in Serie B and made history by hosting the first Italian football match broadcast live on television (against Verona in 1955).
In the early 1970s, following relegation to the third tier, Monza demonstrated an aptitude for knock-out competitions. They won consecutive Coppa Italia Serie C titles in 1974 and 1975 and lifted the Anglo-Italian Cup, defeating Wimbledon in the final, in 1976. The club’s post-Millennium history is punctuated by two bankruptcies. The latter episode was precipitated by a rogue British owner, Anthony Armstrong Emery, who fled the country when an international arrest warrant was issued concerning fraudulent business dealings.
Notwithstanding the club’s sparse achievements, Monza has a fine tradition for developing young players. Local talents Daniele Massaro and Pierluigi Casiraghi both cut their teeth with their hometown club before becoming full Italian internationals. The case of Massaro is a particular source of pride for Monzesi; less than a year after leaving the club, he was part of the victorious Italy squad at the 1982 World Cup. Meanwhile, Alessandro Costacurta made his professional debut for Monza, laying the foundations for a stellar club career during a season on loan from Milan in 1986/87. Monza tifosi with a good memory may also recall the presence of an 18-year-old forward named Patrice Evra. He made three appearances before transferring to Nice and converting into a formidable left-back.
The early years of Berlusconi’s reign saw statement signings such as Mario Balotelli and Kevin Prince Boateng arrive at the club. However, it was a more workman-like squad that ultimately realised the club’s Serie A ambitions. Subsequently, the club invested heavily during the summer of 2022 as they sought to establish themselves in the top flight, bringing in no fewer than seven Italian internationals, Matteo Pessina and Stefano Sensi amongst them.
Internationally, Monza is best known as the home of the Italian Grand Prix. The event sees tens of thousands of visitors descend upon the city each autumn, but few stay on once the fug of petrol fumes has lifted.
It is almost impossible to talk about the city of Monza without referring to its more desirable neighbour. Monza can be reached in around half an hour from central Milan on suburban rail lines (S8, S9, or S11) and, as such, it can be viewed as an extension of the sprawling Milanese suburbs. Whereas Milan is famed for fashion, Monza was built on the textile trade; a comparison that speaks volumes about the status of the two cities.
Whilst Monza is unlikely to win any aesthetic awards, it does have a rich history in its own right. The historic centre features a 14th-century Duomo with an impressive black and white marble exterior. Nearby is the 18th-century Royal Palace, which dates back to Austrian rule in the city, and one of the largest walled gardens in Europe.
Stadio Brianteo – or U-Power Stadium to use its commercial moniker – is located around 2-3km east of Monza’s historic centre. The area surrounding the stadium is a mixture of residential and light industrial buildings; unfortunately, this means there isn’t a huge amount to see or do beyond the stadium itself. There is a small club shop opposite the main stadium entrance – though the bare shelves during my visit were hardly an invitation to spend money (NB we found last season’s Monza shirts for sale in the Fashion City Outlet in neighbouring Segrate, though still priced around €50)
The stadium’s defining feature is a Brutalist-inspired main tribuna, comprised of two unadorned concrete towers and tensioned steel roof supports. It’s an imposing structure that seems out of keeping with its low-rise surrounds, not least the three smaller, uncovered stands that make up the rectangular arena.
Built in 1988 with a capacity of 15,000, Stadio Brianteo is a relatively new build by Italian standards. However, by the turn of the millennium, the stadium was already falling into disrepair and the eastern tribuna had been closed. The Berlusconi regime has breathed new life into the stadium. Fresh plastic seating has been added, accessibility, lighting and security improvements were made and the eastern tribuna – having lain dormant for twenty years – was brought back into use.
The ticketing situation in Monza is tighter than many other Serie A grounds. For home games in the 2022/23 season, Monza have typically sold around 80% of available seats. The home end, Curva Davide Pieri, is sold out to season ticket holders, whilst the tickets for the eastern side (prices €25-50) sell quickly once on sale on vivaticket.com. The spare capacity in the stadium tends to be in the main tribuna, where a ticket alongside Berlusconi will set you back €60-100.
On matchdays, the club has a pop-up stall selling official merchandise (located on the corner of the main tribuna and Curva Davide Pieri). They sell a range of souvenirs, including hats, scarves, badges and cushions. I was surprised to be relieved of €20 for a lightweight supporters’ scarf, especially when I later found it was on sale for €15 via the official club website. During my visit, there was a solitary mobile catering wagon selling beers and sandwiches located in the same corner of the ground.
The atmosphere outside of the ground was surprisingly quiet, particularly given this was the club’s second-ever home match in Serie A. The gentile atmosphere was elevated a couple of notches when the ultras of the Curva Davide Pieri arrived en masse to enter the stadium around 40 minutes before kick-off.
During the match itself, the voices of the home support filled the warm evening air. Though, in truth, the atmosphere lacked the vibrancy and intensity of a larger and more established curva. A contributing factor may be the wealth of new supporters the club has acquired in recent years. Prior to Berlusconi’s arrival, the club’s average home gate was less than 1,500 in Serie C; they are now routinely attracting north of 10,000 in Serie A.
Monza’s location near the travel hub of Milan certainly makes it a convenient destination for groundhoppers, but that’s about as far as the endorsement goes. The stadium offers little in terms of character and the atmosphere in and around the stadium fell rather flat for a club that is surfing the crest of a wave.