THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Strange brown envelopes at Genoa, ominous red ink at the bank for Torino, taxing times for Messina: it has been an angry summer in Italy, as Matt Barker explains

It’s difficult to know for whom to feel the most sorry. The long-suffering fans of Genoa who, still bleary-eyed from celebrating their return to Serie A after ten years, discovered that the club had been accused of match-fixing. Or maybe the Torino tifosi who, having survived a play-off against Perugia, were looking forward to life back in the top division, only to be told that Il Toro were to face charges of false accounting.

And then there’s Messina, who at one stage found themselves up against their own FA as they contested claims of tax evasion. At least the Sicilians won that particular battle. But while club officials were handing out plastic cups of spumante among a small group of fans on the steps of a Rome courthouse, the two northern clubs’ summer of woe continued apace.

Torino were one of 24 clubs to come under scrutiny via the infamous “Petrucci Law”. Before each season, every club must register with the Italian FA, presenting a healthy set of accounts. Failure to balance books can see the club dissolved and forced to start again, dropping down a division. The close season’s high-profile casualties included Perugia who, having just missed out on Serie A, will start the new campaign in C1, and Como, now almost off the radar, left to fend for themselves in the amateur Serie D.

Torino were found to owe more than €30 million (£20.5m) in taxes. Owner Franco Cimminelli claimed he had an agreement in place to pay back the outstanding money over five years, pointing out that he had just signed a lucrative new TV contract with Sky. Enraged fans marched from Torino’s spiritual Filadelfia home to the Comunale – the stadium the club still hope to return to in time for their centenary next year (the unpopular Delle Alpi was studiously avoided; besides, it would have taken all day to get out there). But this was all to no avail. Having failed to broker a deal with a Swiss bank, and with the courts finding no sign of a deal with the taxman, one of Italian’s most iconic football clubs was technically no more. There’s still confusion as to whether local publisher Urbano Cairo is going to take over ownership of the new Torino club, granted an extra two weeks to prepare itself for the coming season in Serie B.

The plight of Torino was soon overshadowed by events in Genoa. With the 3-2 victory against Venezia on June 11, i rossoblù sealed promotion after a decade in Serie B. Three days later, police stopped Venezia general manager Giuseppe Pagliara as he drove away from Genoa’s offices. Tucked away in the car’s mini-bar they found a bag containing €250,000.

The two clubs claimed the money was a down-payment for Venezia’s Paraguay defender Ruben Maldonado, but taped phone conversations featuring Genoa president Enrico Preziosi suggested otherwise. A second rossoblù game, the 2-2 draw at Piacenza played on June 5, was also investigated, but that inquiry was shelved due to a lack of evidence.

Preziosi was furious, and vowed to clear the club’s name. Supporters immediately sided with the president and, as the case went before the game’s disciplinary board in Milan, a series of protests were held. Peaceful at first, things started to heat up once the penalties were announced. Genoa were to be demoted to C1 and docked three points before the season had begun. Preziosi and Pagliara were banned from football for five years; Venezia keeper Martin Lejsal was prohibited from playing for six months, team-mate Massimo Borgobello for five. Venezia, who had already been relegated to C1, then declared bankrupt, were demoted again down to C2. They escaped punishment for match-fixing because they were now under new ownership.

Preziosi appealed. And then appealed again. And again. The narrow streets of Genoa’s old town provided the backdrop to increasingly violent stand-offs between fans and police. A Coppa Italia game against Catanzaro was called off after 21 minutes when three flares were thrown on the pitch. Genoa had fielded their youth team in protest, and the teenage players heartily applauded the ultras before leaving the pitch.

With Preziosi preparing to take his case to a fifth court, publication of the new season’s fixtures was delayed for a week. Someone pointed out to the now ex-president that time was running out if the club wanted to register to play in the third division. Preziosi stepped down.

As Napoli discovered last season, when they were beaten in promotion play-offs, getting out of Serie C1 isn’t easy and Genoa face the prospect of a painful few years. Treviso and Ascoli, who finished fifth and sixth in B, now take the place of the two demoted sides; the former are Serie A debutants who will have to play home games in nearby Padua because their own stadium only holds 9,500.

Meanwhile, Pagliara recently claimed on TV that, as well as an agreement with Genoa, Venezia had also been approached by Torino to put in a strong performance against their promotion rivals. It’s an unlikely scenario, but the messy tangle of finger-pointing looks set to continue well into the new season, a sadly undignified footnote to a dark chapter in the history of two of Italian football’s oldest clubs.

From WSC 224 October 2005. What was happening this month

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