When Arrigo Brovedani took the 500km trip to watch his beloved Udinese play Sampdoria in Italy’s Serie A, he surely had no idea that he would make headlines across the footballing world. For Brovedani, his 500km cross-country trip, which took him around five-hours, coincided with a business meeting he had already set-up within the area, giving him a perfect opportunity to watch his team in action.
He arrived at the stadium hoping for a great performance from Di Natale & co, but found himself as the centre of attention. The reason? Arrigo Brovedani was the sole Udinese supporter at the game.
“Once I got to the ground I discovered that I was the only [Udinese] fan there. At that point the stewards asked if I wanted to sit in the main stand, but I insisted on going in the away end, seeing as I had paid for that ticket.” said Brovedani.
Brovedani’s appearance was met with respect from Sampdoria, whose fans and club officials offered a more welcoming atmosphere than what is expected for a modern opposition supporter.
“The stewards offered me a coffee, then the directors from Samp’s marketing department came over to ‘my’ end to give me a little present.” The gift was a match shirt worn by one of Sampdoria’s players.
Brovedani’s story is one of innocent support, yet brings up one obviously worrying question: how could this happen in Serie A?
The league, which has once seen legends such as Zidane (Juventus), van Basten (Milan) and Matthaus (Inter) grace its fields, is suffering a very public period of decline. La Repubblica, Italy’s premier daily newspaper, published the damning facts on how poor the Italian league is faring in comparison to its worldwide counterparts. Serie A currently attracts an average crowd of 20,732, with 48.1% of stadium capacity being filled. This is compared to the Bundesliga (42,257/86.1%) and the Premier League (35,753/94.6%). Italian fans are just not turning out for their clubs, and the figure is also in decline (with a 7.8% drop this year in attendance).
The finger has been pointed towards a number of contributing factors. The hooligan tag has been attached to the league for a number of years, and has discouraged families and first-time goers from attending games. To combat this, the government implemented a scheme called the tessera del tifoso during the 2009/10 season. Fans need a card to purchase Serie A tickets, which identifies the specific club that they support as well as their personal details. The scheme has garnered widespread criticism amongst Italian supporters upon its introduction and in the years since, and it seems that the tessera has in fact done more harm to attendances than good. Confusion over how a fan can be turned down for a card (including whether a general criminal offence will mean a disqualification from attending games), as well as the fact that the card does nothing to address the issue of football violence outside of the stadium on match day, has led to fans voicing their opposition. Supporters who are against the scheme are increasingly more willing to miss out on watching their team than signing up to the tessera. There is of course the occasional unique case, such as Mr. Brovedani, who Sampdoria were only happy to oblige with selling a ticket to due to his lonesome support offering little in the way of potential hooliganism.
Calciopoli, the 2006 scandal implicating a number of Italian clubs, has also had obvious negative implications on the league’s reputation. Disillusioned fans, who back in the 90’s were enjoying watching the world’s biggest and most exciting league, were now sobering up to the idea of having a division in turmoil. The scandal reached the very top of the once dominant league, with Serie A record title holders Juventus (amongst others) being implicated on rigging games through the selection of favourable referees. It was because of this huge black spot on the Italian division that Italy were never seen as a realistic choice for the 2008 European Championships, a tournament they made an official bid to host.
And more recently, AC Milan, the world’s joint most successful football club in terms of internationally won trophies, have now found themselves losing their marquee player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as well as Thiago Silva, to free-spending PSG in the summer. Even the most ardent Rossoneri fan would see their loss as a weakening of Milan’s crowd-drawing ability. Ibrahimovic, a world-renowned brand within football, no longer wears the black and red of Milan, and may contribute to a further decline in attendances to Milan, and even Italian, fixtures.
So Brovedani’s story may represent the true fan who supports his club regardless of circumstance, but the real ramification is that we have another indication on how far Serie A seems to have fallen, and how without a serious u-turn, the figures may lead to the league becoming a shadow of its former glory days.