Dressed in their characteristic pink, US Città di Palermo have bounced back to Serie A with flying colours. Winning Serie B with a record number of points in 2013-14, the Rosanero are aiming for a European place after five campaigns in recent years.
They’ll be doing it without Fabrizio Miccoli, who notched nearly a goal every other game in his six-year stint at Palermo, becoming the club’s highest ever scorer in Serie A.
Released to his home town of Lecce in 2013, Miccoli left the way for Abel Hernández to be top Palermo scorer in promotion year.
The young Uruguayan had joined his compatriot, Edinson Cavani, at Palermo in 2009. Before Cavani left to light up the Champions League at Napoli, he, Hernández and Miccoli had helped bring Palermo close to a Champions League place themselves.
Under owner Maurizio Zamparini, a businessman from Friuli, since 2002, Palermo have enjoyed the best spell in their long and multi-named history.
The club has historic ties to the original Anglo-Palermitan club, founded by Joseph Whitaker at the turn of the last century. It underwent several name changes before the war, but the real story starts in 1947-48, when ex-Slavia Prague winger Cestmír Vycpálek helped gain Palermo a first promotion to Serie A.
Vycpálek had come from Juventus – there have since been many links between the two clubs – and he later managed both. Vycpálek also helped his nephew, Zdenek Zeman, flee Prague to become youth coach at Palermo, and make his name at Lazio and Roma.
Perhaps the most revered player of the pre-Zamparini era, former River Plate forward Santiago Vernazza, enjoyed four prolific seasons at Palermo in the late 1950s. The club, however, was already spending much of its time in Serie B.
This was true even under long-term chairman Renzo Barbara through the 1970s, though the rosanero narrowly lost two cup finals.
The club that Zamparini bought in 2002 had spent several seasons in the second, even the third flights. Bringing in players from his former club Venezia, and changing managers at will, Zamparini nearly achieved Serie A for Palermo in his first season.
It required the goals of later Fiorentina star Luca Toni to get them there – then claim a European spot in their first season, 2004-05. Another regular, left-back Fabio Grosso, also broke into the national side and would star in Italy’s World Cup win of 2006. By then, promotion-winning coach Francesco Guidolin had gone – only to return on three separate occasions.
Revenue from Toni’s transfer to Fiorentina helped bring fresh young talent to Palermo, who generally performed well at home and in Europe. The high point came under Delio Rossi in 2009-10, when only two points separated Palermo from Champions League qualification.
Miccoli, Cavani and Hernández had bagged nearly 40 goals between them. With Cavani’s departure, Palermo faltered in the subsequent Europa League campaign, impressive performances by Maribor’s Josip Ilicic and Armin Bacinovic prompting Zamparini to snap them up.
Palermo beat Milan in the 2011 cup semi-final but defeat to Inter, then poor league form, signalled a decline – and relegation in 2013.
Giuseppe Iachini led Palermo to immediate promotion, the former Palermo midfielder in place as coach for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns – though prolific Argentine striker Paulo Dybala left for Juventus. Ex-Milan midfielder Walter Novellino now leads Palermo’s fight to stay in Serie A.
The area of La Favorita, north of Palemo city centre towards Mondello, is where you’ll find today’s Stadio Renzo Barbera. Lending the venue its former name, La Favorita has been an area of recreation for centuries – though its busy, arrow-straight roads and endless residential housing equate little today with the royal hunting grounds of yesteryear. The surrounding hillsides, however, still rise steep and stark behind.
It was here that Palermo settled in January 1932, shortly before gaining promotion to Serie A. Until then, the club had moved from pitch to pitch around Palermo.
Initially named Stadio Littorio, according to the Fascist mores of the time, the ground consisted of two stands, its appearance similar to the many communal stadia being built across Mussolini’s Italy. Until World War II, it even took the name of Italian military martyr Michele Marrone.
The stadium assumed its current oval shape and post-war name, La Favorita, after 1945, with stands all around to accommodate 30,000-plus crowds. An upper tier was added 40 years later.
Further improvements were made for Italia ’90 – though La Favorita remained the smallest World Cup stadium with a capacity of just over 36,000. It was not completely covered all round.
This is how it remains today, the only difference being the 2002 name change to honour the Palermo’s long-term president Renzo Barbera.
The Curva Nord is the home end, the Curva Sud partly allocated to away supporters, sectors 21-23. The uncovered Tribuna Montepellegrino backdropped by the mountain of the same name faces the roofed stand (‘Tribuna Coperta’) nearest to busy viale del Fante.
A handful of buses run the 4.5km from the city centre, most notably the regular No.101 from Palermo Stazione Centrale, where it sets off from columned via Oreto alongside. Turn left as you exit the station building. Stadio is the northern terminus, right by the stadium. The weekday-only No.107 runs a similar route, to viale del Fante-Cassarà by Stadio.
Bus No.106 runs from Teatro Dante to the stadium, to the nearby roundabout, stop name V.le Croce Rossa.
Allow a good 15min from town.
As well as at the stadium, by Torrello 4 (match weekends Fri-Sat 9.30am-1pm, 4-6.30pm, Sun 9.30am-12.30pm), there are several Listicket outlets around town. At the crossroads of via Sampolo and via Imperatore Federico, the corner tabacchi is one source near the ground.
City-centre outlets include piazza Giuseppe Verdi 1, via Cavour 23 and via Garibaldi, among a dozen others.
Listicket also distribute online.
Note that you must produce ID when purchasing.
With pricing in three categories (Fascia A is for Inter, Juventus, Milan, Napoli and Roma), prices start at €10-40 in the Curve behind each goal, and €14-50 for the upper sideline Tribuna Montepellegrino, and run to €50-140 for decent seats in the Laterale or Centrale. Under-10s get a 15-20% discount.
The nearest outlet for souvenirs, referred to as ‘Palermo Point’, is in fact the modest sports shop, Calcio & Calcetto, offering an equally modest range of Palermo gear. It’s round the corner from the stadium at via Imperatore Federico.
The stadium is surrounded by bars and restaurants of varying types and qualities. By piazza Giovanni Paolo II roundabout on the main road, viale della Croce Rossa, from town, the Golden Bar is a decent choice, providing typical Sicilian arancini stuffed rice balls (€1.50), superb roast beef panini (€3.50) and a terrace to sip small bottles of Moretti or Ceres. On the stadium side of the roundabout, Biondo & Biondo is a more upscale eaterie.
On viale del Fante alongside the stadium, Matranga Ettore (No.54) is a standard bar/restaurant with an ice-cream outlet, while Burro (No.48) alongside is a rather swish pizzeria. On the stadium side of the road, by the swimming pool, La Scuderia is equally an upscale contemporary restaurant with a terrace.
For a tiny Italian calcio bar with little but betting and football talk, head for the Bar Garden (via Imperatore Federico 12) by Calcio & Calcetto.
Finally, for a few proper beers, Paulaner, perhaps, with a rock soundtrack and regular live music, the friendly Ricovero at piazza Leoni 21 offers respite from sleek eateries.