It is the miracle of Sassuolo. In 2013-14, the smallest town in Italy to be represented in Serie A since the war rubbed shoulders with Milan, Rome and Turin – and survived. They then repeated the feat in 2014-15. Sassuolo Calcio improved each year until qualifying for the group stage of the Europa League in 2016-17.
A community of some 40,000, less than 20km from Modena where the 2012-13 promotion campaign was played, Sassuolo had too modest a stadium for top-flight football. Home games in Serie A take place at the ground of Serie C club Reggiana in Reggio Emilia 30km away. Little Ferrovie Concesse trains chug their way in and out of Sassuolo’s quaint station building, a ten-minute walk from the 4,000-capacity Stadio Enzo Ricci.
Despite their modest circumstances, Sassuolo Calcio have a history as long as almost any Italian club. Wearing the town’s colours of red and yellow colours, Sassuolo started out in 1920 playing games against local sides such as Carpi and Vignola. Carpi, promoted for the first time to Serie A in 2015, remain their main rivals.
The present-day colours of green and black date from the 1970-71 season, shortly before the opening of the Enzo Ricci Stadium. It was here that Sassuolo rose up the league ladder to reach Serie B in 2008. Switching to nearby Modena, Sassuolo defied expectations by reaching a play-off place in 2010 and 2012, winning the league outright in 2013.
Where the newly promoted Sassuolo would play their Serie A games remained a matter of contention that summer. Avoiding an increasingly fractious relationship with nearby Modena, influential Sassuolo owner Giorgio Squinzi, whose father founded family paint firm Mapei, decided upon the Mapei Stadium-Città del Tricolore in Reggio Emilia.
The nearest airport to Reggio Emilia is Parma 50km (31 miles) away. There’s no direct transport link. The airport is 2.4km (1.5 miles) from Parma station, connected by bus No.6 (€1.20/€2 on board, every 30mins, 15min journey time). The train to Reggio Emilia (€2.90) takes 15mins.
Bologna Airport is 70km (43.5 miles) away. There’s no direct transport link. The airport is 6km (3.7miles) north-west of Bologna, connected by BLQ shuttle (€6, every 12mins, journey time c.20mins) to the train station. The train to Reggio Emilia (€5.70/Frecciabianca €12.50) takes 35/50mins.
A Reggio Emilia taxi (+039 0522 452 545) charges €55 to/from Parma Airport, €70 after 10pm, and €90/€115 to/from Bologna Airport. They also charge €40/€51 between Sassuolo and Reggio Emilia.
Local buses in Reggio Emilia require a €1.50 ticket from a machine, €2 (exact change) on board. The city centre is walkable but not the stadium.
In town, the two-star Ariosto (via San Rocco 12, +39 0522 437 320) is conveniently located for the bus to the stadium. The four-star Hotel Posta by the main square is in a former palace with a history dating back to the 13th century. The more modest Albergo San Pietro at via Monte Grappa 5 (+39 0522 433 838) is within easy reach of the station, as is the four-star Europa, right by the disused Stadio Mirabello, home of Reggiana until 1995.
Convenient and reasonably stylish San Marco is a three-star directly opposite the station and bus stop to the stadium. It may be worth shelling out a few extra euros to stay here rather than the cheap and cheerless Stazione (via Giuseppe Turri 1, +39 0522 431 270), by the Bar Marconi opposite.
If you’re taking the trouble to visit Sassuolo itself, then you must visit the Bar Luana right by the Enzo Ricci Stadium at piazza Risorgimento/viale Giacomo Matteotti 29. A main bar decked out in green-and-black scarves, shirts (‘Sasol’) and souvenirs is complemented by a members’ room alongside, displaying a comprehensive history of the club in black and white. At Sassuolo station, the Bar Lisa and Bar Terminal will provide a beer for the journey ahead to Reggio Emilia.
Compared to Modena, Reggio Emilia is pretty poorly served for bars. It’s also one of those rare towns in Europe where a Martian could arrive and not realise that football exists – there are no touches of Reggiana maroon anywhere, not even around the old Stadio Mirabello. There, a hub of Chinese-run bars and shops begins with the late-opening Johnny Bar (piazza Tricolore/via Emilia San Pietro) and ends with the Bar Marconi opposite the station.
The best venue is the evening-only Brasserie des Amis (via Toschi 42A), with real atmosphere and loads of weird beers. Nearby, the Lord Nelson (via San Martino 5) is reasonably pub-like and prides itself on its TV football. In the town centre, with archive photos of the Hotel Posta next door, the Tropical (piazza Del Monte 5) is a popular meeting place, as is the Duomo on the market square of Vittorio Emanuele II/Prampolini.