In only in their second season in Serie B, little Carpi stand at the cusp of Serie A. On Wednesday they take on regional rivals and second-placed Bologna, whose pedigree includes seven titles. Kate Carlisle travels to this town of 70,000 souls, shaken to the core when a terrible earthquake struck during the team’s promotional play-off of 2012.
This Wednesday, April 1, the two leading contenders for promotion from Serie B meet for only the third time in their history. Both come from Emilia-Romagna. Both were founded in 1909. Both have city stadiums erected during the country’s Fascist-era building frenzy. But while Carpi FC have never seen the glory of Serie A, Bologna have picked up silverware in seven of 84 top-flight campaigns. Yet it’s little Carpi who stand nine points clear of second-placed Bologna – and 15 of the chasing pack.
And it’s little Carpi who have risen from the rubble of the earthquake of 2012 that shook this little town to the quick.
On May 20 2012, Carpi were playing a promotion play-off at Sorrento, nearing a climb out of Italy’s Lega Pro Division and into Serie B. They beat their Campania rivals, stoking hopes for the return match a week later. But when the victorious team pulled into their home town in the Po Valley, they were only met by a smattering of fans. An earthquake registering 5.9 on the Richter scale had struck Carpi just as its team was preparing to take to the field 700km away.
‘Many set up tents, moved to shelters or were sleeping in cars. Life was on hold,’ said Romeo Girelli, co-owner of the Caffè Madera near Carpi’s Stadio Sandro Cabassi, where players gather before each match for a good-luck toast. The few fans that did manage to rally waved banners and sang victory tunes as the small-town team with big aspirations pulled up. But as the aftershocks continued to roll through Carpi and the region, most of the town’s 70,000 inhabitants were tackling bigger worries.
Carpi got through the game against Sorrento the following week, played at nearby Modena’s Stadio Braglia since the Cabassi was closed for safety reasons. The match came two days before a second earthquake wielded yet another blow, driving the region to its knees. When all was said and done, 27 people lost their lives and the affected regions suffered €13 million in damages.
For 15 days until the play-off decider against Pro Vercelli, Carpi trained away from home, at Novara, 230km away in Piedmont, and in Parma. ‘Everyone was just trying to get by. The hope was there, but in reality, the whole situation was just surreal,’ said Enrico Ronchetti, Carpi’s head of communications.
Many attribute the June 10 defeat by Pro Vercelli and failure reach Serie B on the turmoil brought on by the earthquakes.
By 2012-13, both the town and the team had galvanised and were ready. With a frugal budget nearing €3 million bankrolled by local entrepreneur Stefano Bonacini, owner of the Gaudi fashion brand, and with renewed determination, Carpi made promotion. Serie B was theirs for the first time in the club’s history.
Bringing in Lagos-born Jerry Mbakogu and Roberto Inglese up front, on loan from Juve Stabia and Chievo respectively, Carpi finished a respectable 12th in their debut campaign in the second flight. With the arrival of much-travelled Fabrizio Castori as coach in September 2014, Carpi burst out of the blocks, sat nine points clear at Christmas – and have stayed there since.
For their most recent clash at third-placed Vicenza, it was the wonderfully named Kevin Lasagna whose early brace settled the game – and all but sealed promotion with nine games to go. Another victory over regional rivals Bologna on Wednesday should see Carpi with one weary foot in Serie A.
The game takes place at the 4,144-capacity Sandro Cabassi stadium – a presstime a few tickets were still available online at TicketLand2000. If Carpi do go up, logistical changes will have to be made. ‘Just the visiting fans themselves could fill half the stadium,’ says the club’s Ronchetti. ‘But all of that remains to be seen.’
‘We have our fingers crossed and our glasses full,’ says bar owner Girelli. ‘But superstition won’t let us utter the words yet. There are still too many matches ahead.’
All the same, in his bar after Saturday’s win, Carpi’s loyal Guidati Dal Lambrusco (‘Powered By Lambrusco’) were singing ‘La gente come noi non molla mai’ (‘People Like Us Never Give Up’). ‘That stadium chant was born after the earthquakes and folks even sing it on the streets,’ says Girelli. ‘Time may have passed, but we don’t forget. Making it to Serie A would be just one more step out from under the rubble.’
Carpi FC-Bologna, Stadio Sandro Cabassi. Wed April 1, 8.30pm CET.