Venezia FC: The club built on water rising to the top of Italian football

Venezia FC players celebrate promotion with a unique parade through the city
Venezia FC players celebrated promotion with a unique parade through the city

Most titles and promotions are celebrated on an open-top bus. In Venice, they do it on a gondola.

Steeped in history and culture and renowned globally for its architectural grandeur and distinct waterways, the Italian city is not normally associated with its football club.

However, after three bankruptcies in 10 years – each leading to readmittance to Italian football’s fourth tier – that could all be about to change.

Promoted back to Serie A following a 19-year absence, Venezia FC are on the rise following a turbulent period in the club’s history.

Their 10 men heroically held on in last season’s play-off final second-leg against Cittadella, before a 93rd-minute goal sealed victory and triggered scenes of jubilation among the players and staff at the Pier Luigi Penzo Stadium, little more than a mile from the city’s iconic Piazza San Marco.

Those scenes were upstaged somewhat as the players, joined by a parade of boats and waved on from the bridges as supporters showed their gratitude on both land and water, took to the city’s canals in a unique celebration of their achievement.

“This is the way the club always celebrated,” Venezia’s technical director and former striker Paolo Poggi told BBC Sport.

“To see the happiness in the eyes of the players, the staff and the owners and to enjoy it with all the supporters on the bridges – for me it was like a dream, it was a dream come true.”

Poggi, who both started and ended his playing career with his hometown club before taking up his current role, added: “If I think of that moment I feel so happy, especially after a difficult year with Covid.

“In the past 12 years the club had a lot of problems, big problems. We lost an entire generation of supporters, we lost the soul of the club. It was not easy.

“Luckily we are still here but it could have been different.”

Venezia fans turn out on boats for the parade
Venezia FC’s players were joined by supporters in boats during their promotion parade, as others watched from bridges

The unique celebrations in the streets and waterways that followed Venezia’s promotion depict a passionately supported club – but it is one which could all too easily have faded from existence.

The 1941 Coppa Italia winners were relegated from Serie A in 2002 following their third top-flight campaign in four years, and a period of relative stability unravelled overnight as then-owner Maurizio Zamparini sold up and took 12 players – plus the manager – with him to Palermo.

The club would have to start again in the fourth tier in 2005, 2009 and 2015 as it teetered on the brink of financial ruin.

Yet, following a third bankruptcy in a decade, its rebirth as Venezia FC in October 2015 would pave the way for three promotions in six seasons.

Venezia celebrate promotion
Venezia finished fifth in Serie B in 2020-21 and triumphed in the play-offs to earn promotion

Rescued by ambitious American investor Joe Tacopina, whose eye-catching appointment of former AC Milan boss Filippo Inzaghi as manager secured successive promotions to Serie B, the club completed its recovery under the guidance of current president and former New York Stock Exchange chief Duncan Niederauer.

Coach Paolo Zanetti has since been rewarded for his contribution with a new contract until 2025 as Venezia hope for a more certain future.

“I never had the chance to play with the club in Serie A so to be part of it now means a lot to me,” said Poggi, who was born close to the stadium and would watch training and matches every week before his own career began.

“Our goal now is to bring the club to be known as the city is known around the world,” he added.

“We play in the second oldest stadium in Italy, on an island – it is something that is unique in the world.

“We want our supporters to feel proud of our football club because they deserve to have a strong club in this city.

“I think now everything is possible. The most important thing is to be in Serie A every season, of course. It is a very crucial season and if we can stay in Serie A I think the future will be bright.”

Paolo Poggi in action for Piacenza
During his time at Piacenza, Paolo Poggi scored the fastest goal in Serie A history in 2001. His record of eight seconds stood for 19 years, until AC Milan’s Rafael Leao netted after six seconds in December 2020

The Pier Luigi Penzo Stadium, the understated home of Venezia, alludes to the difficult journey the club has endured to reach Serie A.

Found on the edge of Venice’s main island, its modest 7,400 capacity will be the smallest in the division by some distance.

But, surrounded by water on two sides and accessible only by boat or a walk through the famous city – which attracts in excess of 25 million tourists during a normal year – it also hints at Venezia’s potential as a global brand.

Indeed, there is no greater example of the club’s growing appeal than its latest collection of stylish home and away kits selling out within hours of their release.

Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo
Venezia’s Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo is Italy’s second oldest football stadium

“The games are very different in the sense that we have to get a boat to the stadium,” Scottish forward Harvey St Clair, who joined the club in 2018 following 12 years at Chelsea, told BBC World Service.

The 22-year-old added: “It’s a very unique place to play our matches and the stadium has a lot of character.

“All but one player lives on the mainland, so we park our cars up and get a big team boat all the way around Venice to the Penzo.”

Venezia are due to begin their Serie A campaign away to Napoli on Sunday, 22 August, although they must wait until 19 September to welcome back top-flight football, against Spezia.

“I am so curious to see how it will be, to know how the fans will be, how the new pitch will be, but for me the most important thing is that we will play in our home,” Poggi said.

“The walk to the stadium is the unique thing when you come to see a match here. There are plans to build a new stadium and in the future maybe this will be possible but, at the moment, the stadium we have is something that deserves to be seen.

“If the supporters are as excited as we are I think it will be a great big party. I hope also for a result, of course.”

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