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Calcio Catania no longer exists

In the minor leagues, around 190 teams have gone bankrupt since 2000, including the team I have supported for 28 years

Calcio Catania no longer exists In the minor leagues, around 190 teams have gone bankrupt since 2000, including the team I have supported for 28 years

In Italy there is often talk of rethinking Serie A, introducing strange play-offs and changing the tournament formula, and the hypothesis of reducing the number of participating teams often comes up, but little is said about the surreal situation in the marginalised and forgotten lower categories, especially in the third Italian league, which since 2008 has changed its name to Lega Pro. Catania, the team that I decided to support from 10 October 2005 at the tender age of 9, is only the latest in order of time to have gone bankrupt by losing its historic freshman team. But going backwards to find a championship without failed teams we have to go back to 1999, when as we said the current Lega Pro was divided into two modules: C1 and C2. It was a massacre that did not allow Italian football to grow and evolve as it should have done, but which above all shattered the dreams of thousands of fans who overnight found themselves (like me) without a team to support.

As you will have abundantly understood, who is writing these lines, is inextricably linked to Calcio Catania and it is not just a way of saying, with the official exclusion from the championship arrived Saturday morning by the Football League has also been canceled a part of me, one of my few certainties. As mentioned, it was October 10, 2005 when I realised that I could not have supported any other team but the red and blue one with the "liotru" (elephant) on its chest. It was pouring with rain and as always I had to play devil's advocate to convince my father to take me with him to the stadium and in the end I succeeded. I remember that day as if it were today, under those bleachers where even though I don't know how the rainwater got there, I saw Catania come back from a game that seemed lost with two Eurogoals. The first one was actually an own goal from a heel and the second one was one of those phantasmagorical shots from outside the box by Orazio Russo, which only 1 time out of 100 goes in behind the goalkeeper. From that day on, even though the Rossoazzurri didn't come out on top, they definitely won my heart, don't ask me why, it was love at first sight. 

But rewinding the tape, what brought Catania from being nicknamed the 'little Barcelona' to bankruptcy? The crucial date that marks the beginning of the end is 23 November 2019 and Catania is militating in Serie B after relegation arrived in the last days. That morning the Guardia di Finanza will go to Via Magenta, the headquarters of Calcio Catania, to seize and seal the entire area. During the night, the first notices of guarantee had already arrived for president Pulvirenti and several members of the management staff, foreshadowing the seriousness of the situation. From then on, the Etna club would slip into oblivion, surviving season after season. After Pulvirenti, the Sicilian club will be purchased through a public tender by SIGI, a group of local entrepreneurs and not that, despite various contacts with Joe Tacopina (former president of Bologna and Venezia) and other buyers, will not be able to resell the company (primary objective of the Sicilian group), arriving in December 2021 without money in the coffers and forcing the Court to assign the management of the club to receivers. Last Saturday, the circle was finally closed with the Lega Pro which ousted the Sicilian club from the championship, altering a championship that was already partly decided (Bari are mathematically in B) with only three days to go.

I have to be honest, when I realised there was nothing left to do I breathed a sigh of relief. As if I was breathing my last breath. Those who support Catania know, or rather can understand me, for years there has been no talk of football, playoffs or games lost, but the narrative concerning Catania is focused on money, debts, penalties, fines and various courts. Everything for which a fan does not follow football, in short. I was happy because Catania, drawing an unsympathetic comparison, seemed to me one of those people in an irreversible coma (and so in fact it was) and every court referral, every missed closing, was only useful to lengthen agony and suffering. Strange, I didn't think I would ever come to a conclusion like that in my life, and yet it was so. In spite of everything, in spite of Lega Pro football, cramped pitches, listless players and broken dreams, I continued to follow my team until the last second, I jumped through hoops to see the last derby in December against Palermo and what in mid-March was my last game at the Massimino, lost to Picerno. What I felt for 28 years was a unique feeling, a love that I hardly felt for other people, an obsession for these colours that influenced and shaped my early years.

What makes me angriest is that a communiqué, a piece of paper if you think about it, was enough to wipe out the entire history of the only Sicilian team that has never lost its registration number since its first affiliation with the FIGC after the Second World War. A differentiating factor that made us unique, at least in our region. It's a bit as if that announcement had washed away all the good times I've spent at the stadium, many of them with my father and brother Tonino or with Fabio, the friend with whom I've shared a bit of everything in life, especially the Rossoazzurri colours. To find yourself overnight without a team to support is something indefinable for someone who literally lives 90 minutes a week. It's as if a part of me had split apart, a puzzle missing a piece. It's true, you'll say, it's just a football team, one is dead and another will be rebuilt, as happened with Parma, Bari, Palermo and even before that Napoli and Fiorentina. But no, for a Catania man that jersey represents everything, an attachment that I cannot describe to you but what happened in Messina on 13 December 1998 can do it for me

What happened in Catania is the perfect summary, or mirror if you like, of the social and political situation in the Sicilian city. Another tireless fan (unfortunately not signing his name) whose passage I want to share highlights perfectly what I said above. "Catania doesn't just lose a football team, it loses tourism, companies willing to invest, it loses dignity, NOT because of the people, but because of how it has been treated in recent years (also and above all by people from the city). Catania at the moment is a city in disarray that has no administration and no adequate political class. It is enough to see what has happened, with the administration only showing up when there were catwalks to walk on or when it was too late."

I will always remember the 2002 promotion party in a packed stadium, which came after the exclusion linked to alleged financial defaults. I'll always remember Lulu Oliveira taking his shirt off when he scored. I'll always remember the stories of my brother who never missed a chance to tell me how lucky I was to be part of such a fan base. I'll always remember Vargas, who knocked down the doors of half of Serie A with his left foot. I'll remember Jonathan Spinesi, one of the most prolific strikers to come through this club. I'll remember Martinez and his incredible dribble past Materazzi in the 3-1 win over Inter in the triplete. I'll remember Pitu Barrientos, a player who made me dream with his plays even though he wasn't able to make his mark in other teams. I will remember Carrizo, Terraciano, Andujar, Gillet, Iezzo, Pantanelli, Pisseri and all the other goalkeepers who made me scream like never before. I'll remember Luca Moro, a great prospect who can't wait to explode. I'll remember Biagianti, a Florentine transplanted to Catania who gave his soul for this team. I'll remember Gomez who, before he exploded in Bergamo, dispensed class and magic under Etna. I'll remember the 4-0 thrashing of Palermo, Mascara's goal from outside the box, Montella, Zenga, Simeone and all the Argentinians who came to Sicily. I'll also remember those I haven't mentioned in this article, either through forgetfulness or because I simply didn't have the opportunity to experience them. I will always remember the number 11700. 

To this day I can't tell you how I feel, just on Sunday one of my teammates asked me which team I supported. "One that no longer exists,' I answered immediately, not thinking about it much. As if someone very dear to me had passed away, immediately after that answer I felt a feeling of emptiness mixed with anger that will keep me company for a while, especially when I will pass by that stadium that officially closed its doors on Saturday. A place where my memories will remain embedded, both the dearest and the saddest ones, which I will have to get used to because since last Saturday Calcio Catania no longer exists.