Capital of Sardinia, Cagliari is the only place to have landed the Italian title off the mainland. In the near 50 years since that legendary triumph, flagship club Cagliari have maintained a regular presence in the top flight despite a host of logistical problems, not the least being the lack of a regular home ground.
Now the club’s Sant’Elia stadium, inaugurated for the very first match after that 1970 championship win, is again the focus after home matches were being staged as far away as Trieste. Base for England’s group matches for Italia ’90, the Sant’Elia also hosted four Italian internationals.
As of September 2017, a new temporary ground is in place, the Sardegna Arena, alongside the Sant’Elia. Over the winter of 2017-18, Cagliari’s old home will be demolished and a permanent stadium built on its site, the quick-fix Sardegna Arena to be taken down in 2021-22.
The site of the seminal Gigi Riva-inspired title win of 1970, though, was the nearby Stadio Amsicora. This century-old sports ground has also been subject of grandiose plans involving a rebuilt arena for concerts and major public events.
Before the Amsicora, Cagliari played at via Pola, near the railway station. As a port city, the Sardinian capital was open to foreign influences and the first game was played here between local students and visiting Genoese sailors in 1902. In 1920, renowned pathologist Gaetano Fichera of Cagliari University founded Cagliari Football Club. The first game was against Torres of Sassari, founded in 1903, currently in the fourth flight (former Serie C2) of the Italian league. A young Gianfranco Zola spent three seasons there before the Sardinian joined Maradona’s Napoli.
A 5-2 win for the newcomers prefaced Cagliari’s domination of the Torneo Sardi against teams such as Ilva Maddelena, also founded in 1903, based at La Maddelena, at Sardinia’s far northern tip close to Corsica. They currently play in the Sardinian division of the Promozione league three flights below Torres.
Another Cagliari side, La Palma, were promoted from this same league in 2013. Playing in Serie C2 in 1990, La Palma suffered financial difficulties and had to be reformed in 1997. They play at the CRAS sports complex squeezed between the railway lines and the waterfront.
Another previous local Serie C2 side now in the Promozione are Sant’Elena Quartu, based at Is Arenas (‘The Sands’), a somewhat makeshift structure where Cagliari president Massimo Cellino unsuccessfully tried to relocate his club in 2012.
With the introduction of non-Sardinian players in the late 1920s, most notably later coach, Hungarian Róbert Winkler, Cagliari made Serie B in 1931 before their golden era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although the Rossoblù haven’t come close to a scudetto since, their recent long stint in Serie A against the big-moneyed clubs on the mainland has kept a considerable fan base hungry yet loyal.
Public transport consists of a two-line ARST Metrocagliari tramway network (€1.30 single), and bus and trolleybus network run by CTM (€1.30 single, €2 integrato ticket combined with a metro journey). The €3.30 integrato day ticket is valid for metro and bus. Tickets are sold from tram stops, CTM points and any kiosks showing the CTM sign. You can pay on board buses for an extra €0.50.
Cagliari station is by the waterfront, close to the city centre as the crow flies but everything here is a steep walk. You’ll need to use the nearby bus stop of Matteotti to get anywhere – Metrocagliari tramway only sets off from piazza della Repubblicà in the city centre. Stadio Sant’Elia is further down the waterfront from the station and, again, a bus or taxi journey.
In town, the chic, boutique T Hotel offers a contemporary spa and quality restaurant while the more traditional, mid-range 4 Mori is convenient for both port and station. Several bed & breakfasts have been set up along via Garibaldi, while the former Bed & Breakfast Cagliarincentro at No.105 is now the more upscale Cagliari Boutique Rooms, with spacious, newly refurbished lodgings on a main shopping street – coffee can be taken at the nearby Antico Caffè.
At the budget end, the Hostel Marina claims to be Cagliari’s first, set in a former 16th-century monastery in the historic centre.
The main Sardinian beer, Ichnusa, is brewed in Assemini, near Cagliari. You’ll find no shortage of places to sample it, around the Old Town, the Marina and Poetto Beach.
If you’d like to catch the match at the same time, your first port of call should be the Bier Keller, where Hans Wein and Giorgina have created a real Bavarian atmosphere, aided by König Ludwig on draught. Another option is the Old Square, a Sky TV- equipped Irish-themed venue operating under the bizarre motto of ‘We Love Make Fun’. The Cork is in similar vein, on via Dante Alighieri.
Finally, for waterside drinks, head for Emerson by the Quarta Fermata bus stop at Poetta or, at viale Calamosca a short walk from the bus stop of the same name at Cala Fighera, La Paillote with its own private beach. Both are owned by ex-Cagliari star François Modesto.