Parma – Hipster’s Paradise?

Friday, 18 May 2018 was the date when Parma Calcio 1913 sealed their return to the top level of Italian Football, Serie A. After some turbulent and troubled times, Parma have built back up from the ashes and secured 3 promotions in 3 years as they climb back up from the abyss, from a time of financial collapse, bankruptcy and starting again in Serie D of the Italian Football system.

During the 90’s, when everyone loved watching Italian Football on UK terrestrial TV, Parma were something of a romantic’s team, everyone’s second team as they have been coined on a number of occasions.

A club from a small town, not part of the establishment of Italian Football, they first grew to real prominence in 1989 when Nevio Scala took the reins and secured promotion to Serie A in 1990. Perfectly timed for the Italian Football boom in the UK, Parma rose to prominence further with the financial backing of Parmalat, the huge Italian food corporation. Italian and UEFA Cups followed in a relatively sustained period of success through the 90’s. Added to this, a legendary and inspiring squad consisting of many wonderful players including Crespo, Veron, a young Buffon, Asprilla, Cannavaro, Chiesa and Sensini. This non-establishment, quirky and memorable strip, great squad and no lack of success on the pitch led to Parma becoming a firm favourite with many fans around the world – notwithstanding primary or other football allegiances.

This fondness from 20 or so years ago has morphed and grown in recent years to establish Parma as the “Hipster’s” choice of a football team. Romanticised as an unfashionable, yet successful team of yesteryear with lots of fantastic players which caught the imagination of impressionable football fans during the 90’s. I make no apologies for stating that I am one of the many thousands of football fans who burn a candle for the great Parma side of the 1990’s.

The subsequent financial and related on-field demise of such a great side adds to the tragic tapestry of the club and adds another later of romanticism, looking back through rose tinted, or yellow and blue hooped, glasses at the team that was, the team that is no more and would never return.

Notwithstanding the above and any personal soft spots towards Parma, I do however wonder if they are in fact the best “Hipster” side for Italian Football fans. With reasons above, it is easy to class Parma as just this – but looking from a different angle their success was, at least helped, by the financial backing of a huge food corporation, perhaps not unlike say RB Leipzig today, or perhaps like any “new money” former smaller, now huge clubs sides like Manchester City or Hoffenheim where success has come about through no lack of new investment. Will Leipzig prove to be a Hipster choice for a second team in a few years? Only time will tell, but given they reaction from opposing fans towards such a team even in the current climate this seems unlikely.

There might be a number of arguments why Parma are or were different and can be romanticised, not least the fickle and subjective nature of football fans – myself included. However, I thought is best to list some alternative Italian Hipster sides worthy of support and interest.

Not dissimilar to Parma, a side without too many establishment links and who caught the eye in the 90’s owing to their classic strip, especially the 98-99 strip, as well as brilliant and iconic players like Rui Costa and the magnificent “Batigol” – Gabriel Batistuta. Also a side who has climbed back from financial mismanagement, again not unlike Parma. There has been no shortage of tragedy for the side in recent years also, with the most recent heartbreak the incredibly sad and unexpected death of Davide Astori, the captain and leader of La Viola at the time.

What also endears La Viola to many fans is they’re added hatred and disdain towards more established sides – not least Juventus, the pantomime villain to many an Italian Football fan. There are many reasons for this ill feeling, but a lot stems from both the 1982 title race when Fiorentina maintain this was “stolen” from them (a few ropey decisions leading to conspiracy theories in the final round of matches) and also when Juve were able to sign the club’s best player, the “Divine Ponytail” Roberto Baggio from Fiorentina – against the wishes of fans and probably the player himself.

This history of being an underdog, always downtrodden and bullied or playing second fiddle to the establishment, which helps to ensure the sense of injustice remains on a slow burn does seem to endear the club to many fans and make them a great choice as a Hipster side – throw in a retro strip and glass of Chianti from the Tuscan region around Firenze and you’re right there.

Located in northern Italy near the Alps and Lake Garda, Brescia are currently plying their trade in Serie B. A team who weren’t brilliantly successful even during the 90’s pomp of Italian football interest. However, if you scratch the surface slightly more and look at some of the great players who graced the Stadio Mario Rigamonti during those years, you might get a sense of why they are on this list.

Players including Andrea Pirlo, Roberto Baggio, Dario Hubner, Gheorghe Hagi and Pep Guardiola all pulled on the iconic strip – the best way I can describe this is a blue and white version of Airdrie’s, with a blue or white shirt finished with a “V” shape in the alternate colour on the front. A classic strip.

With the great strip, plus players and subsequently the level of skill, ability and playing style which would have resulted from having the likes of Pirlo and Baggio (looking up “that” goal where Pirlo drops one over the top for Baggio to round the keeper with his first touch is a must) makes Brescia a definite contender for anyone’s second team.

A tenuous link between both Parma and Brescia, is that they have both been managed by the great Czech Manager Zdeněk Zeman. Zeman is famous for his relentlessly attacking, fast and attractive playing style which all his teams have adopted. The influence of Dutch football and staple 4-3-3 attacking formation also help to define this style. Indeed there are a number of current managers in Italy who are seen as disciples of Zeman, who adopt similar styles.

The term “Zemlandia” was used to describe how this playing style and no shortage of cunning and vigour allowed him to take Foggia from Serie C up to Seria A and into European Football. Foggia haven’t been in the top flight since 1995, but remain an excellent choice for this list – the verve and attacking style of play, relentless attacking and excitement from the early 90’s as well as their subsequent (common theme on this list) financial troubles and a being “re-founded” a couple of times in the last 20 years. Perhaps a bit unfashionable and less successful based on their current level – but a definite “alternative” team for any keen fan, not least because of the springboard they provided for Zeman who himself is worthy of fandom.
Pro Vercelli

I couldn’t create a list of alternative, anti-establishment Hipster teams from Italian football without including the original superpower – Pro Vercelli. Fantastically dominant in the first 20 years of the 20th Century, winning 7 Scudetti between 1908 and 1922, things haven’t gone as well since.

A great team when the game was still amatuer, but the emergence of now established superpowers from Milan and Turin led to the decline of Vercelli. They haven’t been in the top league since the 30’s and have spent much of their history outwith the top 2 divisions also. But for anyone keen on reading up on Italian Football History, this side really are an “alternative” side to follow – a very far removed alternative at that. In a weirdly romantic way, their decline was something predicted back in the early 30’s when a young striker Silvio Piola started out at in the team. Such a talent was he, that the President at the time stated, after refusing to sell, that “Once we sell him, the decline of Pro Vercelli will begin”. This was very true, as Vercelli have never returned to the top flight as noted above. Records however show that Piola went on to score 290 goals in 566 career games, so some good did come from this at least.

Like most of the teams above, Vercelli have also faced financial hardship with bankruptcy and subsequent rebirth. But they are nonetheless worthy of a mention and are a side who are deserving of the status as a “second team”.

There will be numerous other sides who people may feel should feature on the above list – sides like Genoa who have been there since the very beginning, or Torino by virtue of “Il Grande Torino” and the Superga Disaster to name but 2. But like the very start of this article, this is a very subjective issue – the heart wants what the heart wants, be that Parma, La Viola, Brescia or even Juve or Milan. The important aspect is that these teams are appreciated and enjoyed for what they are – as we’ve seen in the past, most seem to go out of business sooner or later – so it’s best to enjoy while we can!!

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