With relegation in 2014 and ignominy in 2015, Catania are no longer top dogs in Sicily, given Palermo’s Serie A status. Previously, the Rossoazzurri had achieved an eighth-place finish in 2013, equally their previous bests in the early 1960s. It will be a long way back now, given Catania’s involvement in match-fixing scandals and demotion to the third flight.
Set in the shadow of Mount Etna, Catania is a busy port, open to foreign influence. So it was that English sailors and local crews played the first game here in 1901.
Sailors would also provide the opposition for a local team, Pro Patria, formed in 1908 by film director Gaetano Ventimiglia, who later worked with Alfred Hitchcock. In 1910 they became Unione Sportiva Catanese.
Competition was mainly confined to cups involving Sicilian and southern clubs, games taking place at the Giardino Bellini. Based at piazza Esposizione (today Giovanni Verga), the newly named SS Catania took part in the southern section of the Prima Divisione, attracting the likes of later World Cup winner Amedeo Biavati.
Promoted to Serie B, the club then became AC Fascista Catania in 1936, competing in Serie B and C until all competition was suspended in 1943. By then, a new stadium had been built, the Cibali, in the area of the same name north-west of the city centre. This is today’s Stadio Massimino, renamed after a long-term club president.
In 1944-45, a four-group Sicilian Championship involved US Catanese as well as Etna, Elefante and Virtus from Catania, formed specifically for the tournament.
The poor individual performances of these clubs – Palermo won the trophy by a country mile – was repeated a season later in the Sicily division of Serie C, in which Elefante and Virtus finished in the bottom two places. With pressure to create a single team to represent the city, in September 1946, Calcio Catania were formed. Although the Elefante lost their name, their symbol featured on the club badge of red and blue stripes. Iconic to Catania, the elephant was part of Arab name for Catania dating back their rule of 900 AD.
Catania soon rose to Serie B, enjoyed a purple patch in Serie A, then dropped right down, losing their professional status in 1993 due to financial irregularities. It took ten years for Catania to claw their way back to Serie A.
The first Serie A derby with Palermo in decades was fierce – a police officer died and Catania’s stadium was closed for months.
In 1986, a new club, USD Atletico had been formed, the club moving to Lentini to become Atletico Leonzio two years later. When Calcio Catania lost their licence in 1993, the newbies moved back to Catania to become Catania ’93, then Atletico again in 1994-95. With Calcio Catania in the lowly ranks, and Atletico knocking on the door of Serie B, local fans swapped allegiances. The first Derby dell’Elefante was played between them in 1995-96, and again five years later.
As Calcio Catania regained prominence, so Atletico felt pressured to drop their elephant symbol, now an Etna breed of dog. Atletico also left the Cibali for Calcio Catania alone to use, and now play seventh-level football at the modest Calcio Belpasso ground of San Gaetano in Belpasso, west of town.
A taxi (+39 095 330 966) from the airport should cost around €25.
The Catania Tourist Office has a list of local hotels.
In town, the Crociferi is a superior B&B while the San Demetrio Rooms is equally central. For a more conventional hotel, the Mediterraneo is a standard three-star halfway between town and the stadium. One star higher, the Royal is an elegant conversion of an 18th-century mansion.
Finally, for affordable digs near the station, the Holland International Rooms fits the bill.
There are a handful of pubs within easy reach of each other in downtown Catania, including the James Joyce and Waxy O’Connor’s, both by piazza Santo Spirito, and the evening-only Stag’s Head (via Michele Rapisardi 7/9) by the theatre. Elegant terrace cafés line the theatre square and surrounding streets.
For a more European flavour, the Tinto Tapas Bar (via Santa Maria del Rosario 4) is usually lively. As for Italian pubs, these are mainly restaurants, but you should find a decent beer and local wine, produced from volcanic soil, at the Nievski.