Join us as we take a trip to Bologna’s Stadio Dall’Ara, one of Italian football’s provincial cathedrals and the canvas for David Platt’s exquisite volley against the Belgians…
Once upon a time, Bologna’s skyline was punctuated by the peaks of over one hundred towers, which served as symbols of power for Bologna’s noble families. Few survive today, the most famous of which are the adjacent towers built by rival clans in Bologna’s historic centre. The Asinelli Tower was once the tallest building in the world (97 metres), whilst the shorter and subsiding Garisenda Tower has a tilt of 4 degrees (the more famous Pisan equivalent musters just 3.7 degrees).
The city is home to the oldest university in Western Europe. As a meeting place for brilliant minds from across the continent, Bologna also became a melting pot of gastronomic customs and ideas. The Bolognese are renowned for using an abundance of meat (as in the classic Ragu dish) and a liberal, verging on indulgent use of dairy. We recommend Osteria dell’Orsa (via Mentana) for an authentic Bolognese dining experience.
The city is traditionally known as a hub for leftist politics, another legacy of their scholarly heritage. The city was a focal point for Italian resistance fighters during the Second World War, later becoming a pointed target for acts of terrorism during Italy’s Anni di Piombi (Years of Lead).
Bologna is incredibly well-connected, located just an hour by train from Milan. Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport is linked to the city centre by the Marconi Express, a monorail whisking passengers from the airport to Bologna Centrale train station in just 7 minutes (€9 via contactless payment at barriers).
Seven-time Scudetto winners Bologna FC were a powerhouse of Italian football during the 1920s and 1930s. Their golden era was cruelly cut short by the onset of war which forced their cherished Jewish coach Arpad Weisz – architect of the 1936 Scudetto, using just 14 players all season – to flee the country. Weisz tragically perished at Auschwitz.
As peace was restored, leaner years followed for Bologna. Giacomo Bulgarelli, heralded by some as Italy’s most complete midfield player, became a symbol for Bologna throughout the 1960s. He was a one-club man who delivered the Scudetto in 1964 and Coppa Italia glory on two occasions. Since Bulgarelli hung up his boots in the mid-1970s, Bologna have endured relegations and bankruptcy, with only fleeting moments of joy delivered by the likes of Roberto Mancini, Roberto Baggio and Giuseppe Signori.
Throughout their history, Bologna FC have amassed a veritable hoard of niche European honours. They have won the Central European Cup – a forerunner to modern European competitions – on two occasions (1932, 1934). They won the Tournament of the World Expo (1937, Paris) and, in doing so, became the first Italian team to beat an English side, defeating Chelsea in the final. These triumphs were followed by a Mitropa Cup victory (1961), the Anglo-Italian Cup (1970) and the Intertoto Cup (1998).
For all of its aesthetic majesty, Stadio Dall’Ara has something of a problematic history. Italy’s Fascist regime used architecture as a rhetorical device; constructing monuments and public buildings intended to represent the strength and dynamism of the nation. The stadium was built in 1927 under this rather uncomfortable pretence and inaugurated by Benito Mussolini.
The distinctive Maratona Tower, which was inspired by the Stockholm Olympic Stadium, was only added to the stadium two years after opening. A bronze statue of Mussolini was placed at the base of the tower, where it remained until anti-Fascists tore it down following the dictator’s demise in 1943.
Although constructed substantively from concrete, the exterior of the stadium is embellished with a classical red brick façade to provide continuity with the city’s prevailing architectural aesthetic. The arched design gives the stadium the appearance of a Roman amphitheatre. The arched walkway that borders the stadium’s eastern side forms part of the San Luca Portico, the world’s longest covered colonnade (3.8km).
The stadium was rechristened in honour of Bologna FC’s celebrated former president Renato Dall’Ara in 1983. Ahead of hosting the World Cup in 1990, the stadium was refurbished and expanded. A cantilever roof was added to the main stand, whilst an additional 12 rows of seating were added around the circumference of the stadium. The use of a steel framework wrapped around the stadium ensured that crucial aspects of the original stadium’s appearance were preserved.
The club has presented ambitious plans to modernise the stadium and add to its 36,000 capacity. However, the protected status of the monument means that progress has faltered.
Stadio Dall’Ara is located about 3.5km from Bologna’s historic centre; it’s a pleasant and safe stroll, alternatively, take the number 14 or 20 bus from Piazza Malpighi if you’re pressed for time. We were approaching the stadium from our hotel to the north and stumbled across a welcoming pop-up bar hosted in a mechanic’s yard along Via Della Certosa. We got chatting with some local Bologna fans and enjoyed an al fresco plate of pasta and a pint of beer (€10).
Continuing towards the stadium, we found the lively Piazza della Pace located directly behind the Maratona Tower. It was a fantastic place to soak up the atmosphere with plenty of fans congregated outside a bar, in addition to a small independent shop selling unofficial and retro memorabilia. A free matchday newspaper is distributed outside the stadium, particularly at the northern Curva Bulgarelli end.
Bologna’s club shop is located along Via Dello Sport on the western side of the stadium. It’s worth noting this is the only official outlet in the city centre, so this is where you’ll need to head if you’re looking for a souvenir.
If you have the time and inclination, we would highly recommend taking a walk up the San Luca Portico, which rises steeply from the southern end of the stadium. After around 1km of climbing you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping view over the Stadio Dall’Ara.
We bought our match tickets for the game against Sassuolo from vivaticket.com around a week before the match. Our preference had been to stand alongside the home tifosi in Curva Bulgarelli, but a membership card (We Are One) was required to buy tickets in that sector. We settled for a place in the opposite Curva San Luca (€15). The atmosphere certainly did not disappoint though, in hindsight, it would have been worth the additional €10 cost of a membership card to be right amongst the ultras. With Sassuolo located just 45 minutes away, this fixture is technically an Emilian derby; however, the visitors’ small support base made little contribution to the atmosphere.
The match itself was a rather one-sided affair with Bologna taking the lead in the first half before doubling their advantage early in the second, courtesy of their idol Marko Arnautovic. The game’s moment of real quality came from a Scotsman, Lewis Ferguson, who instinctively curled in from outside the box to seal a 3-0 victory.
Bologna is perhaps not the first name on a groundhopper’s wish list…but we really should start to ask why not? A stadium oozing with character and history, a passionate local fan base and a city rich in gastronomic and architectural offerings. As if that’s not enough, the location of Bologna in the Emilian corridor – in easy reach of matches in Piacenza, Cremona, Parma, Sassuolo, Reggiana, Modena and SPAL – makes it an almost perfect destination to experience Italian football beyond the frontiers of the hegemony.
If you’re considering a trip to watch football in Italy, check out our Italian Football Ultimate Travel Guide for top tips and guidance.