MY PARMA ARE BACK SO POUR ME A PINT


Parma, 1999. Sex, drugs, hairwax. Everything looks a bit grainy and short-shorts still rule the world. Italy's grimy and broken, but one of its football teams are the mustard of European football. Parma have just won the UEFA Cup by trouncing Marseille 3-0 and a little city from Northern Italy are playing football that doesn't even make any sense.

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Crespo had kicked off that final by pounching on Laurent Blanc's soft backpass and lobbing the keeper with a scoop of his right Nike Tiempo. Parma's left-back Paolo Vanoli then headed in ten minutes later, and then Enrico Chiesa twatted one in an after Thuram waltzed past two Marseille players who didn't even care anymore. This was total calcio.

Buffon, Thuram, Chiesa, Cannavaro, Crespo. The new saints for a new Italy. Everything about Parma in the late 90s is a romance trip, from its teamsheets to the espresso-stained, yellow and white strips you can still buy off eBay. It's really hard to bend your mind around how it all nearly got pissed away.

The answer is Parmalat. You probably know them the front of iconic Parma strips of the 90s. They're still of the biggest dairy companies in the world today and back in the the 90s they were the udders of Italy. They also bankrolled Parma during its golden years at the top of European football. They pumped a load of cash into the squad, financing the transformation of their stadium into all-seater and doubling its capacity. Everything was good.

That is until 2003, when Parma slumped into a long, stagnated decline over the course of a decade. The club were taken under by Parmalat when it was made redundant following the discovery of €14 billion of hidden debts. After a year of controlled administration, the club was reformed for the first time in its 90 year history as Parma Football club SpA in 2004. They just managed to cling on to their Serie A status until they were relegated in 2008.

Parma didn't take long to get back up though. They were promoted the next season and it seemed like the team was riding the club's financial woes fairly well. But in 2014 the club collapsed with debts in the region of €218 million. Down went Parma to Serie D, a year after they had been cracking open the vino to celebrate the club's 100th anniversary of existence. Pretty bleak.

Just like Leeds and Portsmouth in England, Parma were the casualties of owners who claimed to have money that they didn't have. Fans, playing staff, coaches, groundsmen had their club ripped away from them in the space of a season. Their club and their identity had crumbled away like an aged Parmesan cheese. The club's demise shows the very human toll that bad ownership can have on a football club. But it also shows how resilient fans when things fall apart. In 2015, Parma didn't look like it had a future. But the fans weren't going to throw in the towel that easily. They got behind  the new S.S.D. Parma Calcio 1913 and in the following seasons the club break numerous records for season ticket sales in Italy's lower divisions. They weren't done yet.

With the backing of its fans, Parma hurdled all the way back up to Serie A within the space of four years. In the 2015-16 season they won Serie D by 17 ponts. The next year the they came 2nd in the Lega Pro and gained promotion through the play-offs. In 2018, it all came down to a game against Spezia to fire them back their rightful home. Ceravola scored the goal that brought Parma back home, turning the away end into one, scary yellow and blue tycoon. Nice.

Parma are now under the collective ownership of a group of Parma-based entrepeneurs.  10% of the club is also now in the hands of the fans too. Pretty cool, that. Pretty cool that the club is no longer at the mercy of evil corporate overlords.

I'm loving watching a new, not-broken Parma doing bits again. Watching Gervinho on the break while I'm streaming Italian league games in my boxers pumps blood round my veins. Watching Serie A just wouldn't be the same without them.

Title image credit: Verdi85, via Wikipedia

Alex Scott