Halfway between Rome and Italy’s heel and toe, east of Naples in rural Campania, Benevento is an old Roman city blissfully unaware of the travails of top-class football until 2017.
A solitary strike by George Pușcaș one warm June evening at the Stadio Ciro Vigorito changed all that. Benevento Calcio, the tenth incarnation of the city’s main football club, had made it to Serie A after decades flitting between fifth and third flights.
The Witches then contrived to lose every single game of the 2017-18 campaign until December, setting all kinds of negative records. For a club that had only even competed in Serie B once, the season before, such an underwhelming debut was no great surprise.
Football was a late starter in these parts. While nearby Naples, as a major port, was open to foreign influence, this ancient base of the Samnite tribe is landlocked and traditionally suspicious of outsiders. The pagan traditions that led to the adoption of a broomstick-toting witch for the club badge are lost in the midsts of time.
The first team, Società Sportiva Littorio Benevento, wasn’t formed until 1929, playing at Santa Maria degli Angeli, the pitch where you’ll still find the headquarters of the current club. In fact, the one near constant in the patchwork history of football here is the choice of home ground. It was another 50 years before Benevento had to up sticks and move house, and even then it was a few hundred metres along via Santa Colomba.
Opened in 1979, the Stadio Santa Colomba is now called the Ciro Vigorito, to honour a benefactor and administrator who passed away, just as the Santa Maria degli Angeli became the Gennaro Meomartini, after the local lawyer who funded its modernisation died in the early 1960s.
Both grounds are south of the narrow river Sabato, a 15-minute walk from the historic town centre dotted with Roman remains. The main train station for the sleek Frecciargento service from Caserta is at the diagonally opposite end of town, north-west of the centre.
The nearest main airport is Naples International, 93km (58 miles) west of Benevento and 6km (3.5 miles) north-west of Naples. A short, signposted walk from Arrivals, an Alibus runs every 20-30mins to Napoli Centrale station (€4, journey time 15min).
From there, a train takes 1hr 45min, changing at Caserta for the swish Frecciargento to Benevento. Online prices are roughly €18. Alternatively, there’s also a direct regional train from Napoli Centrale, also 1hr 45min, single €6.
Benevento station is north-west of the city centre, a 10min walk along viale Principe di Napoli into town. The stadium is at the diagonally opposite end of town, south-east, the other side of the Sabato river from the elevated historic centre.
Alternatively, regional train company EAV runs from Napoli Centrale to Benevento Rione Libertà, on the same side of the river as the stadium a 15-20min walk away. Journey time is 90min. The train then terminates at Benevento Centrale. According to the current timetable, there are 11 trains a day (not Sun or hol), the last one back to Naples from Benevento around 8pm.
A local bus service runs from the main train station through town, run by Trotta, which has taken over from amts. Timetables, though, are a complete work of fiction. If a bus just happens to come along, it’s €1.10 a ticket, €3 for a day pass, pay on board.
There’s a taxi firm by the station on viale Principe di Napoli, phone number +39 0824 50341.
There’s no lodging around the stadium, stuck on the other side of the river from town. The nearest hotel, business-friendly UNA Il Molino, is decent, with a restaurant and wine bar, but isolated from town.
In the historic centre, Albergo della Corte is a cosy spot with doubles in the €50 range. Nearby, B&B Il Noce (via Mario la Vipera 35, +39 329 152 0597) is similarly modest.
Also close, the Hotel Villa Traiano exudes old-school class, near the main sight it is named after, the Arch of Trajan.
The President by the Teatro Massimo has been at the heart of Benevento’s hospitality industry for generations.
On the main, tree-lined avenue up to the station, reliable Grand Hotel Italiano has been in the same family since 1923. B&B La Ferrovia offers basic, affordable lodging to those with an early train to catch.
Bars dot the sidestreets off the main drag, corso Garibaldi. On via Capitano Pasquale De Juliis, off via Mario La Vipera, Il Tricorno is a classic bar/pizzeria, decked out in Benevento flags and with a row of TVs showing sport. On via Capitano Salvatore Rampone, the Pub Birreria Agora is an equally rustic Benevento hang-out. Craft beer, TV sport and food share the limelight at Alter Ego, a friendly spot patronised by regulars at via Giuseppe Manciotti 16.
There’s a surprising variety of live music at Morgana on via Umberto I, with TV sport and fine coffee at Glam Caffè Lounge Bar next door.
Right on the main street itself, Bar La Buca at No.70 is a handy spot to plot up and read the day’s Gazzetta. Note the rather funky mural of Benevento.
Of the pubs, Sherlock on viale dei Rettori near the Hotel Villa Traiano has TV football and ales from the Whitstable Bay stable, while near the Teatro Romano, warren-like Good Fellows concentrates more on European beers and food.
Towards the station, Diego’s (viale Principe di Napoli 83) is a typical little Italian bar full of calcio natter while, over the roundabout when you arrive, Tavola Calda Bar Legend offers outdoor seating and TV football.