I enjoy discussing Italian football with an assortment of people, from work colleagues to coffee bar owners in London. Recently talking about Bologna’s struggle to get out of Serie B, an uninformed Milanese told me that a team called Capri were bidding to win promotion. We looked at Corriera della Sera to confirm this and realised that it was in fact, Carpi. And they have won promotion now, this unknown football team from Emilia-Romagna. It’s even more unlikely than Bournemouth securing a place in England’s Premier League for 2015-16.
The town of 67,000 people, which has a small cathedral and was the birthplace of Italian-American actor Ernest Borgnine, went berserk when Capri drew 0-0 with Bari to clinch promotion. Their Sandro Cabassi stadium has a capacity of barely 4,000. They will not be allowed to play at their home ground in Serie A as the league has a minimum 20,000 requirement. They will probably end up at Modena.
Not everyone is ecstatic about Carpi’s rise. Lazio President, Claudio Lotito, certainly tried to rain on their parade a few weeks back. “If teams come up who are not worth a cent, in two or three years we won’t have a penny. I’ve done well in selling the TV rights, we brought in EUR 1.2bn thanks to my skill. I managed to find an agreement between Sky and Mediaset, which in 10 years no one had been able to do.”
Needless to say, this didn’t go down well in Carpi and one of the banners spotted amid the celebrations was a swipe at the Lazio man: “In your face, Lotito”.
Carpi had earlier responded in the media. “If confirmed, the words of the legal representative of the top flight clubs appear, apart from anything else, totally inappropriate, out of place and offensive to the dignity and integrity of the club as well as the players, technical staff and Coaches, the history they represent, and above all the fans who have always followed their team with dedication, honesty and fairness. Perhaps it’s also true, as we read in the media today that some people ‘don’t even know Carpi exists’. But like it or not, we do exist. It’s intolerable that we, Carpi FC, be defined as ‘teams which are not worth a cent’.”
Five years ago, Carpi were playing in Italy’s fifth level and in 1999, the club was almost dead. “There are no adjectives that can describe this extraordinary achievement,” Fabrizio Castori, Carpi’s 60-year-old manager said. “There are just some great guys here that I’ve had the privilege to coach.”
The club’s success story started in 2020 when textile executive Stefano Bancini took over. The rise up the system was carefully planned and Gazetta dello Sport was quick to point it out. “Carpi have provided what’s missing from Italian football – business men working together with managers who know football. You cannot rise from the amateur game to Serie A by accident with more or less the same squad.”
So who are Capri’s key players? Leading scorer is Jerry Mbakogu, a Nigerian forward who is attracting interest from clubs in Germany, Russia and Canada. Goalkeeper Gabriel Ferreira is on loan from Milan and has conceded just 20 goals in Serie B this season. It remains to be seen if he will still be with the club next year.
There’s one statistic that underlines the scale of this fairy story. Carpi has fewer than 70,000 people – you could put the entire town in the San Siro and still have room to move!