Venice’s club stuck in Serie D but are looking up and have plans for a new ground

icon promotion22 January ~ I was in Venice a few years ago to sit in on a Supporters Direct Europe panel discussion, partly organised by the Venezia United supporters’ trust. At the time, the local football club was in a bit of a mess. Owned by Russian businessman Yuri Korablin, Venezia were financially unstable (a legacy of previous regimes as much as anything else) and few fans believed they had much hope of getting out of Serie D any time soon. Watching a game at the creakingly atmospheric Stadio Pierluigi Penzo, there was an obvious bitterness in the air, with ultra groups divided over allegiances to Korablin.

Things look a lot different now. In December, Brooklyn-born lawyer Joe Tacopina took over presidency of the club. Previously a director at Roma (under the ownership of Boston hedge fund manager James Pallotta) and briefly president of Bologna (before falling out with the club’s Canadian owner Joey Saputo), Tacopina’s infectious enthusiasm is reinvigorating a city that has been cut off from top-tier football since 2002.

There’s also been a huge improvement in the relationship between club and supporters’ trust, with Venezia United increasingly involved in Tacopina-backed community projects, such as a recent fundraising initiative for the city’s underprivileged and homeless. On the pitch, things look equally encouraging. The Arancioneroverdi (orange-black-greens; their distinctive kit harks back to a 1987 merging with AC Mestre) top their regional Serie D table, with an impressive goal tally testament to some sparkling attacking play. 

Building a new stadium is Tacopina’s priority. Relocating to a venue out near Marco Polo Airport has long been mooted by successive owners, but the American is hoping to open a 28,000-seat stadium in parallel with the team’s rise up the leagues.

There’s been a lot of talk about exploiting the tourist market (you often hear similar stuff in Florence about Fiorentina). This is a city which has always had a cosmopolitan outlook, so maybe establishing some kind of international profile would make sense, but it would also be something of a shame; a visit to the Penzo was one of the few places in central Venice where you could be among locals, all whiffing slightly of spritz and using swearwords as grammar.

Parma’s enforced stint in Italian football’s basement has made headlines around the world, but Venezia’s story could yet prove to be the more intriguing and, looking at the club’s relationship with its supporters in particular, hopefully an example for others to follow. Matthew Barker

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