A look at Hellas Verona's miraculous maiden and only Scudetto season and woes.
Ever since William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet somewhere between 1591 and 1595, City of Verona was put on the world map. Yearly thousands of tourists and lovers visited Via Cappello 23 which is supposedly known as Juliet’s house and her famous balcony.
Sports lovers did not care about it much. It took approximately 392 years when city of Verona gave buzz to the citizens as another pair Hans-Peter and Preben who made the Italy bow in front of Verona and certainly shook up the world.
Italian football needed something special in that season of 1984-85.
If not qualifying for summer’s European Championship came as a shock, finishing in the group behind Romania, Sweden and Czechoslovakia served as a salt in the wounds. Also in the European Cup, Italy’s only contestant AS Roma suffered penalty shootout defeat against Liverpool’s Bruce “WOBBELAAR”.
This season was supposed to be the one in which Serie A cleaned its wounds inflicted by the infamous 'Calcioscommesse' scandal. It was the only season when referees were assigned to matches by way of a random draw instead of being assigned to a specific match by a special commission of referees ('designatori arbitrali')
‘Hellas’, a small club in the city of Verona stunned the world by winning its first and only Scudetto.
Calcio had called for a Spark and they got a Bolt in return.
A Brief History of Hellas
Gialloblu or Mastini as they were called, were founded in 1903 and spent 52 years in lower divisions till they were promoted to Serie A for the first time in 1956-57 season only to go down immediately. Their next promotion to Serie A came in 1967-68 and although they had finished 13th in 1973-74, they were demoted to Serie B due to rigging a match against Napoli. Hellas straightaway bounced back in Serie A after 1 season in Serie B, but went down again in 1978-89.
After escaping relegation from Serie B on the last day in 1980-81 season, Hellas quickly appointed 46 year old ex-Hellas midfielder Osvaldo Bagnoli as their coach who did not have any top flight management experience.
It was a great risk but it proved to be the totally worth.
Bagnoli completely reversed their performances on the pitch. In his first season at the helm, Hellas finished Serie B as Champions and earned their promotion to Serie A.
If this 180 degree turnaround from last to 1st was a mammoth task, something impossible was to take place in the next season.
Hellas’ first season back in Serie A under Bagnoli was no less than sensational. By working with close knit players, Bagnoli’s Mastiffs finished 4th in the league and were beaten in Coppa Italia by Juventus (Hellas did take 2-0 lead from the 1st leg to Turin in which they lost 3-0). In 1982-83, The Mastini did repeat their first season miracles by finishing 6th in Serie A and again finished Runner up in Coppa Italia.
According to the experts, by large and far Hellas had overachieved and according to Bela Guttmann’s theory of three seasons, it was time for crash landing to the ground. Little they knew what was to happen in Hellas’ third Serie A season.
Serie A 1984-85
Italian clubs got busy in the transfer market and saw influx of foreign players. In fact this was one of the most frantic transfer seasons for the clubs in terms of buying superstars.
AC Milan Signed Mark Hateley and Ray “MY WORD” Wilkins, Fiorentina bought Socrates from Corinthians, Inter signed Liam Brady and superstar Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Sampdoria brought in Souness from Liverpool whereas Hellas brought in defender Hans-Peter Briegel from Kaiserslauern and striker Preben Elkjær Larsen came in from Lokeren.
And biggest of them all, Diego Armando Maradona arrived in Naples after a long saga of complicated negotiations. Stadio San Paolo was packed with more than 70000 fans to see Maradona arriving in the helicopter.
Compared to Napoli’s Maradona and Bertoni, Milan’s Hateley and My Word Wilkins, the duo of Briegel and Elkjær was less fashionable but they certainly appeared to be the final pieces of the jigsaw of Bagnoli’s Hellas which was assembled of hard working team players rather than individuals.
Osvaldo Bagnoli’s squad had already made their mark as an extremely cohesive and competitive unit. Results in the last three years were a great testimony to the unity and talents of the squad.
Four of the 84-85 squad were part of the squad who had earned promotion four years earlier. Bagnoli’s philosophy was to keep their starling line up consistent for as much as possible. He only worked with 18 players in the squad out of which 3 players did not even play 4 games in total. 11 players out of remaining 15 played in more than 75% of their matches in the season.
Bagnoli usually played 3-5-2 with two markers and a libero behind and wide midfielders dropping back while not in possession to start the attacks, Verona’s defence was as fast, versatile and adaptable. Hellas’ used Preben Elkjaer as a focal point in attack with fast box-to-box midfielders and a playmaker behind him.
Certainly the additions of Hans-Peter Briegel in midfield and of Danish striker Preben Elkjær Larsen to an attack that already featured the wing play of Pietro Fanna, the creative abilities of Antonio Di Gennaro and the scoring touch of Giuseppe Galderisi were to prove crucial.
Not just a sparring Bot:
Season opener created lot of buzz in the town and the country. All eyes were on Bagnoli’s Hellas who were playing their first home game. Supporters and Media flocked in Stadio Bentegodi not to watch Hellas but travelling Napoli as Maradona was making his debut in Italian football.
Everybody was expecting Hellas to just be a sparring partner to magical El Diego and surrender to his skill and trickery. Script was written and everybody but Hellas’ squad had read it.
Briegel kept Maradona quiet during the game by marking him extremely tight. In the battle of the foreigners, it was Briegel who popped up to open the scoring early on before Galderisi scored a quickfire second. Napoli’s another Argentine new signing Daniel Bertoni pulled one back in the second half before Di Gennaro who had helped Hellas to win promotion, completed the goal scoring rout and put the Hellas Verona top of the table, the position they did not surrender for the rest of the season.
Hellas travelled to Ascoli next where Di Gennaro and Briegel were joined by the new boy Preben Elkjær as they completed another 1-3 victory. Next, Galderisi’s 33rd minute penalty was enough to beat Udinese 1-0 at home. Hellas then drew 0-0 against Inter at San Siro.
After 4 matches, Mastini were still undefeated and on top of the league.
Man with the single shoe:
Champions Juventus visited Gialloblu in the Matchday 5. This was by far Hellas’ sterner test and they passed it in a most remarkable fashion too.
The deadlock was broken in 62nd minute when Juve goalkeeper Tacconi misjudged a cross by Fanna, leaving Galderisi a simple header.
The match will forever be remembered for the second goal (Why always 2nd goals stand out in the memory? Maradona’s 2nd, Solskjaer’s 2nd, Ronaldo’s 2nd). The Danish striker Elkjær picked up the ball outside the box and, while running at the Juve defence, he lost his boot in a tackle but stormed ahead before slotting the ball in the far bottom corner with his foot without the boot.
Watch it here.
This defeat gave Hellas one more week at the summit, one point behind another undefeated team Souness’ Sampdoria.
Hellas travelled to Stadio Olimpico in Rome to face AS Roma and came home unscathed with a 0-0 draw. Galderisi was again on the score sheet as Fiorentina were defeated 2-1 at Stadio Bentegodi. In the next match Galderisi slotted a penalty in 74th minute before Claudio Garella saved a penalty at the other end. Then it was left to Hans-Peter Briegel to score a wonderful solo goal to complete 0-2 away win against Cremonese.
Hellas played out another 0-0 draw against Sampdoria at home. Hellas were had to travel to Turin for the match against Torino as League leaders with a single point lead.
Torino was breathing down the neck of Hellas and victory at home would have put Torino at the summit. Breigel lashed a thunder shot from outside the box and outside of his left foot to put Hellas ahead and Luciano Marangon finished a wonderful move which he had started to give Hellas an important 1-2 victory.
After Matchday 10, Hellas had established a small but important 3 point lead over Torino.
Hellas drew 0-0 against Milan and Torino defeated Avellino to reduce the gap to 2 points. But Hellas and Torino matched each other’s results in the next 4 rounds as Torino failed to gain any advantage from Mastini’s slip up.
When Hellas beat Lazio, Torino beat Como. In the next match Hellas were held 0-0 by Como whereas Atalanta too drew 0-0 against Torino. Next Hellas were held 1-1 by Atalanta and Torino drew 2-2 against Fiorentina.
In the last game before the reverse fixtures started, Hellas travelled to Avellino without injured Elkjær and suspended Galderisi, Hellas went down to a 2-1 defeat courtesy of Angelo Colombo’s late goal. This was their 1st defeat of the season but Torino also suffered the same fate by the hands of AS Roma. Meanwhile Inter drew with Ascoli and were breathing down the neck of Hellas, who were ahead by just 1 point.
Hellas had conceded just 7 goals which were lesser than anyone in the league and had kept incredible 9 clean sheets. Suddenly Hellas’ defence made up of Caludio Garella in the goal and Roberto Tircella, Domenico Volpati, Luciano Marangon and Mauro Ferroni was looking impregnable. And it turned out to be exactly like that.
Hellas drew their next game 0-0 against Napoli and Inter saw off Atalanta by a solitary goal. Inter were tied at the top with Hellas on the points and goal difference, but had scored 3 goals more than Hellas.
In the next fixture, Inter travelled to the season’s banana skin team Avellino as League leaders with all the confidence but were held to 0-0. On the other hand two first half goals by Galderisi and Sacchetti saw Hellas beating Ascoli and regain the top spot.
Game of the Season:
Having taken a 1 point lead at the top, Hellas travelled to Udinese in Matchday 18. Trio of Briegel, Galderisi and Elkjær put them 0-3 ahead within 20 minutes before conceding a goal on the stroke of half time. Udinese scored two quick fire goals in the 2nd half to make it 3-3 with 30 minutes to go. But immediately within 2 minutes Briegel and Elkjær scored two goals to take 3-5 lead and see off any Udinese challenge.
Unfazed Inter, won their game against Lazio 1-0 to maintain the gap of 1 point. Torino were beaten by Napoli which put them 4 points behind Hellas.
Watch it here.
Hellas hosted Inter in this top of the table clash. A defeat would definitely dent their title aspirations as Inter could’ve been 2 points ahead.
Inter took the lead through Alessandro Altobelli on 39th minute and were looking comfortable. But Briegel headed the ball home from the corner to draw level.
Hellas travelled to Turin for the huge game against Juventus as Inter hosted Torino. Defeat to any of them would have had serious implication on the table. But Hellas drew level against Juventus, by courtesy of Di Gennaro’s 76th minute equaliser.
At San Siro, Altobelli missed a penalty but Inter managed to salvage 1-1 draw to maintain slender deficit with Hellas.
On the 75th minute Elkjær Larsen pounced on the ball spilled by Roma’s goalkeeper from a powerful shot by Fanna to give Hellas 1-0 victory.
In the next game, Silvano Fontolan’s goal and brace by Gladerisi helped Hellas come from going behind against The Viola. Cremonese too, was seen off 3-0 by the trio of Di Gennaro, Elkjær Larsen and Briegel.
Sampdoria held Hellas to a 1-1 draw with Gladerisi on the scoring sheet.
Inter had drawn their two and lost two games. This Inter’s slump meant Hellas had now opened up 6 point lead with 6 games to go. Below Hellas, there was a incredible pile up of Juve, Torino, Sampdoria, Inter and Milan on 30 points.
In Matchday 25 Hellas hosted Torino but went down 1-2, which was their 2nd loss of the season in 25 matches. Simultaneously Juve, Inter and Sampdoria all won their fixtures to bring down the gap to 4 points.
Crawling towards the line:
Hellas drew 0-0 against Milan at San Siro but Torino and Sampdoria won their games against Avellino and Lazio respectively. Thus gap to the summit was again reduced to 3 points.
Next up was Lazio at home. In a cagey game the deadlock was broken by trickery in the box by Pietro Fanna on 78th minute. Torino drew and Sampdoria lost their game expanding the gap to 4 points between summit and the 2nd place.
Only 3 games to go after the Lazio victory, Citizens of Verona had kept their fingers crossed and started to believe in their dream.
Hellas drew the next home game against Como but Torino’s draw meant the gap was maintained at 4 points with just 2 games to go.
Needing only a draw in their penultimate game against Atalanta to clinch their maiden Scudetto, Hellas started nervously and were duly punished by Perico’s opener but just 6 minutes after the restart Elkjær scored an all-important equaliser. The Hellas fans had to endure an agonising second half after that but eventually the referee blew for full time and finally city of Romeo and Juliet had their moment of ecstasy.
Having already been declared as winners, Hellas’ final game of the season was a home game at Stadio Bentegodi which had become a giant party place.
In front of a full house, thousands of flags and flares, Hellas emphatically crushed Avellino 4-2 to clinch their maiden Scudetto.
For the first time in 15 years the Italian championship had gone outside the cities Turin, Milan and Rome. It was an amazing achievement from the side from Verona made all the more impressive by the fact that they had been promoted to Serie A just 3 years before.
Also a league which featured the stars like Platini, Zico, Maradona, Sócrates, Rummenigge and Falcão, Hellas’ 15 minnows had clearly stunned the world.
It seemed a perfect present to the City of Eternal lovers.
Curse after the Miracle.
Bagnoli’s perfect man management, heroics by Briegel and Elkjær surely gave hope to Verona citizens of a new horizon. But what followed was rather a cruel heart break. The moment they lifted Scudetto, was the moment they’d embarked on a deadly Spinal Tap.
Hellas finished 10th in the next season and were knocked out early in the European Cup by compatriot Juventus. Many of their important players began to leave the club after that. Hellas recovered to finish a respectable 4th in 86-87.
Garella joined Napoli and went on to win the title with them as did Pietro Fanna at Inter. Briegel left to join Sampdoria in 1986 and Elkjaer left two years after that. Gialloblu’s slump continued as they finished 10th and 11th in next seasons and 1990 they were relegated to Serie B.
Although they were promoted to Serie A in 1990-91 season, troubled finances meant Hellas were declared bankrupt and finally ceased to exist in 1991 and were refounded as Verona FC. Verona’s couldn’t stay up in the top flight and got relegated to Serie B again.
In 1994-95 Verona FC changed their name to Hellas Verona and got promoted to Serie A in 96-97 season but got relegated again. Eventually after getting one more promotion in 1998-99, Hellas lasted in top flight for 3 more years before going down in 2001-02 season. Hellas slipped further down and were dropped to Serie C1 in 2006-07.
Hellas Verona were promoted to Serie B in 2010-11 season and have finished in 4th position in the current season. They will play in the promotion playoff semi final against Varese and winner of this game will play the winner of Sassuolo and Sampdoria.
If anybody has to take only one shot at Scudetto, Hellas had certainly taken theirs.
Maybe we’ll see Hellas in Serie A again and hope that against all odds they can bring the Scudetto to the City of eternal lovers.
The land of Romeo and Juliet can’t find the eternal happiness just yet.