LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Cagliari Calcio

Can the Rossoblù ever recapture Riva’s glory era?

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Forever linked with the landmark title win of 1970 and the iconic striker who helped achieve it, Luigi Riva, Cagliari are the flagship club of Sardinia.

Founded in 1920, the Rossoblù have spent a third of their history in the top flight, first gaining promotion the same season that Riva came on board, 1963-64.

Before then, Cagliari only progressed beyond the lower reaches of the regional league thanks to Hungarian coaches Róbert Winkler and Egri Erbstein, a victim of the Superga air disaster of 1949.

Cagliari 1920 Store/Claudia Tavani

The club regained Serie B status in 1952, the year they moved out to the Stadio Amsicora in the bleak southern outskirts. It was here that legendary striker Silvio Piola came to coach and here that the man who would surpass him as top national goalscorer, Luigi (‘Gigi’) Riva, arrived from Legnano in 1963.

The Cagliari side he joined made Serie A in Riva’s first season. Along with defensive midfielder Pierluigi Cera, goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi and fellow strikers Angelo Domenghini and Roberto Boninsegna, all to star at the 1970 World Cup, Riva’s Cagliari became an ever-stronger force in Serie A. Despite Boninsegna’s departure, the Rossoblu went one better than runners-up in 1969 to take the scudetto in 1970, the decisive game a 2-0 win over Bari at the Amsicora.

All the while, a new stadium was being built, close to the Amsicora, the Sant’Elia. The recently crowned champions started their first, and only, European Cup campaign here, as well as the defence of their title – both unsuccessful, Riva having suffered a broken leg. The old warrior lasted until 1976, the year that Cagliari went down to Serie B, falling to Serie C1 a decade later.

Stadio Amsicora/Claudia Tavani

The man who led them back to the top in only two seasons, in his first major coaching job, was Claudio Ranieri. The subsequent decade, which started with Italia ’90, proved to be Cagliari’s most promising since the Riva era.

With star South Americans such as Enzo Francescoli and Daniel Fonseca, and naturalised Belgian Luís Oliveira, Cagliari stayed – mainly – in the top half of Serie A and even enjoyed a European run. It was Oliveira who opened the scoring of the 1994 UEFA Cup semi-final with Inter, a 3-2 first-leg victory for the Sardinians. Inter then won the second leg 3-0.

Controversial businessman Massimo Cellino acquired the club in 1992. He remained their owner until 2014, getting through 36 managers and presiding over the circus that has been Cagliari’s search for a home ground.

Stadio Sant’Elia/Claudia Tavani

After gaining promotion back to Serie A in 2004 thanks to Gianfranco Zola and David Suazo, Cagliari have maintained a mid-table presence. Behind the scenes though, chaos reigned. Along with a rapid changing of coaches, Cagliari first saw the closure of their Sant’Elia stadium followed by a long-running saga to find a new one.

Now Cagliari are back at the Sant’Elia complex, a rapidly erected Sardegna Arena opened in September 2017 and due to serve the club until 2021-22 while a new Sant’Elia is constructed alongside.

On the pitch, after Zola and wily old fox Zdenek Zeman failed to revive the Rossoblù, incoming owner Tommaso Giulini, a Milanese entrepreneur, saw his club gain promotion back to Serie A in 2016. Stadium stability is a huge plus – now returning coach Diego López has to keep the Sardinian side away from relegation danger.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Cagliari’s long-running stadium saga looks like coming to an end. In the summer of 2017, the club built the temporary Sardegna Arena in just over four months. Being rebuilt alongside is the Sant’Elia, Cagliari’s former long-term home and due to re-open in 2021-22, when the Sardegna Arena will be taken down.

Cagliari first built the Sant’Elia during the 1960s, opening it weeks after winning the title for the first and only time in 1970. Replacing the nearby Amsicora, home to the club from 1952, the Sant’Elia was sited in desolate wasteland just across the Canale Palma separating this area of the same name from the rest of town. Today this is somewhat of a no-go zone, the only nearby facility being the Grandi Eventi concert hall.

The original capacity was 60,000, with 63,000 squeezed in for the visit of St-Etienne, and Cagliari’s only European Cup campaign. Two unroofed tiers surrounded a pitch and running track, and little else. For the 1990 World Cup, while Cagliari temporarily moved back to the Amsicora, the stadium gained a new pitch, individual seating and a roof. Capacity was reduced to 42,000. Swathes of rubbish-strewn land were cleared to create a car park.

The authorities could do little about the elements, though. England kicked off their Italia ’90 match here against Ireland in a near gale, a dire draw, and their following two games produced only one goal – FIFA gave England a seeded place in this off-mainland group to contain potential hooliganism.

Shortly afterwards, entrepreneur Massimo Cellino took over Cagliari. Presented with the decision of the Italian League not to grant the Sant’Elia a Serie B licence in 2002, Cellino decided to revamp the old terraces, extending them over the running track but decreasing capacity to 23,500.

Later reduced to 20,500, the Sant’Elia continued to crumble in the salty sea air until, in 2012, it was declared unsafe. Cellino tried, unsuccessfully, to play games here using only half the stadium, then settled on a groundshare agreement – with Trieste, as far north-east from Cagliari as you can get without being in Slovenia.

After being refused permission to build on land bought for that sole purpose by the airport, Cellino moved focus to the Quartu Sant’Elena, separate from Cagliari, where he had the seemingly makeshift Is Arenas stadium put up in five quick months.

The stadium saga ran through the 2012-13 season – Cagliari games being played either behind closed doors in the equally unsafe Is Arenas or in front of meagre crowds in Trieste – and into 2013-14. Cellino was even arrested for alleged misuse of funds.

With Tommaso Giulini now in charge, the club is on a much more firm footing. Occupying the former car park of the Sant’Elia, the Sardegna Arena is an all-seater holding just over 16,000, 3,000 places covered in the main stand. Two tiers sit behind each goal, the Curva Sud and Curva Nord, with away fans allocated a section of the Nord.

When it’s built, the new Sant’Elia is expected to hold 21,000.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Bus 6 runs from key spots in town – via Dante, viale Regina Margherita, via Bonaria close(ish) to the station – to the Sant’Elia/Sardegna Arena. From focal piazza Giovanni XXIII near the Opera House, you can also take bus 3, journey time around 15-20mins.

A taxi from Cagliari station shouldn’t take more than ten minutes, the fare barely into double figures.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Of the club’s three outlets, the main one at largo Carlo Felice 76, the Cagliari 1920 Store (daily 9am-8.30pm), near the Old Square pub in town, should distribute tickets. You can also try the smaller shop (daily 9am-1pm, 4pm-8pm) in the piazza L’Unione Sarda mall by Santa Gilla station, one stop/1.5km north of Cagliari main train station.

Ticket sales in person require you to show ID. There are also online sales through Listticket.

For most fixtures, it’s €30 to sit in the Curva Sud or Nord, €45 in the Distinti Laterale, a sideline seat towards the corner flags. You pay €70 to sit nearer the halfway line in the Distinti Centrale. The best seats are in the Tribuna Centrale, either Blù (€80) or Rosso (€100). Everywhere but either Curva, it’s €15-€20 cheaper for women, under-18s and over-65s, and €15 anywhere for under-12s, availability willing.

For lesser opposition, prices drop considerably, down to €12 for a place in the Curva, and €10-€15 cheaper elsewhere.

Note that away fans cannot purchase admission at the stadium on the day.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The club has three outlets, the main one at largo Carlo Felice 76, the Cagliari 1920 Store (daily 9am-8.30pm), close to the Old Square pub in town. There’s a smaller shop (daily 9am-1pm, 4pm-8pm) in the piazza L’Unione Sarda mall by Santa Gilla station, one stop/1.5km north of Cagliari main train station. You’ll also find an outlet at Cagliari Airport.

Among the red-and-blue merchandise, you’ll find chef’s hats, beach towels and ponchos bearing the badge of the Four Moors, as used on the flag of Sardinia, its origins probably dating back to the medieval Aragonese.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Over the Canale Palma by the Hotel Panorama, the Cafè Etnico (via Rockfeller 39) is a convivial spot serving teas, spirits and light snacks, a 15min walk via pedestrian walkway from the stadium set in a desolate, bar-free wasteland. 

Away from Sant’Elia but on a spit of land close to the former stadium of Is Arenas, La Marinella is a quality, calcio-centric, seaview restaurant popular with locals on Serie A Sundays.