Gathering clouds

A summer of unrest for Pro Vercelli at the Silvio Piola

Screen grab from Serie C coverage

It has been a turbulent summer this year, even by Pro Vercelli’s usual standard.

With relegation all but confirmed in early spring, and all things pointing towards the board retaining the services of Vito Grieco as head coach; with no new manager saga and life back in the third tier of the Italian league (Serie C) — the fans (tifosi) must have expected short change from the expected overhaul of the squad this year.

Though nothing is ever simple in Italian football.

Two clubs, Bari and Cesena, dropped out of Serie B due to financial issues almost as soon as the previous season finished. This is not uncommon in a league set up where clubs have to prove they are able to fund each season they play in. They were followed by Avellino who were demoted by the league, rather than admitting to their own financial woes. They appealed, but were relegated once more as their appeal was rejected.

At first it looked as if that was that. Two clubs finished above Pro in Serie B, and Siena and Catania claimed to have a good shout of moving up from Serie C, having just missed out in their divisional playoffs. Pro Vercelli’s president, Massimo Secondo was not to be swayed. He immediately pushed forward the club’s claim for one of the available places and applied for re-entry in to Serie B.

Nothing is ever simple in Italian football.

Rather than listen to the claims made by the demoted teams — Novara (Pro’s fierce, local rivals), Pro Vercelli and Ternana — as well as the sides that missed out on promotion from Serie C through the divisional playoffs — Siena and Catania; Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), the governing body of football in Italy, took the dramatic step of reducing the league to 19 from 22 teams based on discussions with the other Serie B clubs. Through FIGC blocking the route of those appealing, the clubs took their appeal to the administrative courts.

Nothing is ever simple in Italian business.

Having won their right to appeal and with Serie B being suspended after one game played, it looked as if Pro Vercelli could focus all of their attention on the legal proceedings. Another legal matter was soon to dominate the thoughts of the club’s president.

A story broke in early September that Punto Service, the Piemonte company behind a number of nursing and retirement homes owned by Massimo Secondo, had secured a number of contracts counter to an open bidding process.

Having no knowledge of the Italian corporate or legal systems, I am not going to comment on those proceedings — but what was striking was the reaction from the fans. Usually quick to get on the back of the president and his family — I have been at a game where a female fan has struck out at his son, Michele Secondo, in the stand after another frustrating performance on the pitch — the ultras of the Curva Ovest posted images and banners offering up their support to the President that had kept their club alive.

It is not hyperbole to say that Secondo has saved the club at least once, and continues to save them on an ongoing basis through his role as president and the financial support he provides. Which is why the fans will watch the outcome of the investigation of Punto Service with great interest.

Nothing is ever simply in Italian football.

At the end of September, Tribunale Amministrativo regionale (TAR) of Lazio — the administrative courts reviewing the appeal from the clubs requesting (re)admission to Serie B — threw the appeal out. There was the option for the five clubs to push forward with the appeal in a higher court, however the appetite to fight FIGC had burnt out; with the clubs fielding sides in the fourth round of Serie C on the last day in September.

Nothing is ever simple in Serie C

Pro Vercelli were victorious in their first game back in the third tier. They came from behind to beat Abissola 3–2 in what was the side from Chiavari, on the Ligurian coast near Genova’s third game of the season. Pro will now have to work with FIGC and the affected clubs — Piacenza, Arezzo and Alessandria — to play the outstanding games that were postponed as the appeal was working through the courts.

The side should have more than enough to maintain a challenge in the top of the league as they try to secure promotion back to Serie B at the first time of asking, but with only one team guaranteed to go up from each of the three sections of Serie C — and no certainty as to how FIGC will manage promotion and relegation next spring — Pro Vercelli will need to beat the likes of Novara and Virtus Entella to win the league to guarantee promotion.

The fans have to hope that the club and the individuals concerned can put the challenges of the summer behind them and unite, as a team, and perform on the pitch — irrespective of what might still be happening off it.

Fans can watch all of the Pro Vercelli’s games, or those games of any club in Serie C online via Elevensports in Italy