Hellas scale Serie A as Flying Donkeys collapse

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Until recently the setting for the lesser-known of Italy’s cross-city groundshare rivalries, Verona is no longer a tale of two clubs. The Derby della Scala between century-old Hellas Verona and upstarts ChievoVerona, like the medieval rulers it was named after, is now consigned to history. 

With the collapse of Chievo in 2021, Italy has lost one of its most romantic football fables, and Verona its derby, played out for five seasons in Serie A.

Chievo represented the suburb of the same name, called by the Romans ‘Hill of the Magic Wood’, 4km west of town tucked inside the river Adige.

Their fairytale rise from park football to Serie A was even backed by a local cake company. At their height, Chievo all but reached the group stage of the Champions League but maintaining Serie A status for so long proved onerous, and financial disorder proved their undoing. 

Relegated in 2019, the Flying Donkeys – a nickname referencing the unlikelihood of their success – were refused entry to Serie B in 2021. Currently a youth team and a renamed phoenix club both operate in the messy fallout to Chievo’s demise. 

Hellas, meanwhile, are best known for their title-winning season of 1984-85. After a recent decade yo-yoing between Serie A and B, Gli Scaligieri, the ladder in their badge yet another nod towards age-old local aristocracy, now seem steady on the top rung.

The stage the two clubs once shared, the Stadio Bentegodi, has been home to Hellas since it opened in 1963. Named after the local patron who helped Hellas and other burgeoning sports clubs more than a century ago, the Bentegodi is over the river from the town centre, in the western district of Borgo Milano. The original Bentegodi, where Hellas Verona first played in the early 1900s, was a field near downtown piazza Cittadella, a short walk from the Arena.

Between 1915 and 1928, Hellas played at Porta Palio, near the riverside hotel of the same name, then moved back to the original Bentegodi after a merger with two other local clubs. The site is now a car park.

When the new Bentegodi was being built, Hellas had only spent one brief season in Serie A but a city of Verona’s importance required a modern, municipal sporting arena to complement the historic one in the main square.

Very much showing its age – a faded Ciao mascot from Italia ’90 still features on the façade – the Bentegodi had already welcomed Chievo by the time Belgium played their group games here. Chievo had not long gained professional status, that year changing their name from one promoting local bakery Paluani to one that would soon feature in Serie B, then the top division, then Europe. ‘Donkeys will fly when we meet Chievo in Serie A,’ the Hellas fans used to sing – so Chievo adopted the nickname ‘The Flying Donkeys’ (‘Mussi volanti’) as a source of pride.

The day when they did meet in Serie A – having crossed pitches a handful of times in Serie B from 1994 to 1999 – came in 2001. Hellas fans occupied most of the Bentegodi, particularly their own Curva Sud, while Chievo’s were allocated the traditional away end, the Curva Nord. Both sets fly yellow and blue flags, the colours of the city of Verona adopted by both clubs. 2006 World Cup winner Mauro Camoranesi scored the vital third goal for Hellas in a 3-2 win that November.

Adrian Mutu’s goal wasn’t enough the following March to prevent a 2-1 Chievo victory. Hellas went down that May, and stayed there – in fact, sank even deeper – over ten long years, while Chievo were that season’s success story, topping the league for a few crazy, donkey-flying weeks, and ending up with a European place.

Thereafter, Chievo became happy underachievers, the neutral’s favourite, attracting four-figure crowds to the Bentegodi and notching season after season in Serie A. Hellas and their notoriously right-wing following continue to make a noise on derby day, although their main gripe was with Veneto rivals Vicenza, who came within a whisker of Serie A in 2015.

Neither the demise of Chievo in 2021, nor subsequent rival attempts to revive them, have so far forced the closure of classic supporters’ bar La Pantalona (via Aeroporto Angelo Berardi 80/82), a base for the Amici del ChievoVerona, by the pitch where the club played before moving up to the big time and the Stadio Bentegodi. 

A yellow-and-blue flag above the otherwise innocuous Café Hausbrandt awning sign leads into what was the scene of multigenerational revelry on match days. Many outside Verona will be hoping for the celebrations to return once donkeys take to the air once more.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Verona Villafranca (Catullo) Airport is 5km (3 miles) south-west of Verona, connected by ATV Aerobus (€6) to Verona train station every 20mins, journey time 15mins.

ATV also runs the city bus network – it’s €1.30 for a single ticket (€2 on board), €4 for a day pass. The stadium is west of town, a longish walk or, more easily, a short hop on the bus. A taxi (+39 045 532 666) from the airport should cost about €26-€30 to town. 

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Once an unpretentious football pub, the Re Carlo da Barca (via Carlo Cattaneo 12/corner vicolo Disciplina) has upped the ante on its gastronomic offering without losing sight of its twin attractions of regularly rotated fine beers and TV sport. Nearby Hartigan’s, tucked inside courtyard vicoletto Disciplina off vicolo Disciplina, is the main downtown Irish bar. Snakebites with McEwan’s are among the €5.50 pints.

Also big on beer is the Caffè Anselmi on piazza delle Erbe while, alongside bloom provides provides plenty of screen action and outdoor seating.

Equally upscale is Vini Zampieri, with fine wines and snacks, and football paraphernalia amid the bookish decor.

Finally, don’t miss a peek into the Patagonia (via San Nicolò 43), an ice-cream parlour themed after Argentine football, with beautiful old covers of El Gráfico and images of Maradona on the walls.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

The Verona Tourist Office has a hotel-booking service. Note also that Hellas Verona provides a room-booking service through the club website.

Conveniently halfway between station and stadium and walking distance to either, the Hotel Piccolo and adjoining Martini are part of the Hotels Verona group that also includes the nearby Porta Palio just over the stream. All are functional three-stars. Across from the Porta Palio, the Hotel San Marco is a spa hotel with pool.

In town, tourist magnet Verona has plenty of hotels, though all might be booked for summer’s opera season. All within a short walk of the Arena are four-star Colomba d’Oro, the standard San Micheli, the comfortable Bologna and the low-cost Albergo Trento and Hotel Torcolo. The Hotel Europa is a handy three-star in the same convenient vicinity.