I am sure when you hear the name Monza in sporting chat, unless you are a Formula One guru, you’ll switch off! The town just slightly north of Milan is synonymous with the race car scene, so fire up the guitar solo from Fleetwood Mac’s, The Chain, but while Monza might be the home to the Italian Grand Prix, there is also a football team too, and they might just be on the cusp of the clubs grandest days!
AC Monza are the football option in the town that have been up to this point, in various guises, solidly and reliably playing well under the radar to anyone outside Italy, save the Calcio aficionado. As a club they’ve been going since 1912, but the road has had many potholes, culminating in a most recent bankruptcy coming at the end of the 2014/15 season. The phoenix club SSD Monza 1912 started life outside the professional ranks in Serie D, but they quickly won promotion to Serie C, the third tier, where the story is beginning to gather pace!
Monza have never graced Serie A, and while they sit 12 points clear in the third tier nearing the halfway point in the fixture schedule you could be forgiven for thinking such a fine start to this campaign isn’t necessarily going to have anyone dreaming of local derbies with the Milanese giants anytime soon. However, at the start of last term, the financial security of the club found itself a sugar daddy! Having sold AC Milan, Silvio Berlusconi’s love for calcio and the Milan area was obviously still prevalent in his ageing mind, and he bought Monza! A divisive figure in many regards, the ex-President of Italian can’t be faulted for his love of our beautiful game.
Last season Monza started to show signs of the form that has taken them well clear this term, and they very nearly added a fifth Coppa Italia C to the clubs roll of honour, coming up short in Viterbo. The home sides need was greater as the winner of this lower tier cup gets into the second tier promotion play offs, and while Monza had already secured a relative high berth in the lengthy 28 team competition, finishing twelfth meant Viterbese needed to win, and they duly did. Neither would make it through the tangled web of that play off series, and while Monza have gone from strength to strength this season, Viterbese continue to muddle along! Monza have been knocked out of this year’s Coppa Italia C competition, beaten 3-2 at home by Aurora Pro Patria, a near neighbour club, so it is very much eyes on the prize, a return to Serie B. Aside from winning the C cup, Monza have four Serie C Championship titles to their name, but no trophy is ever presented for such a success, however they do have a replica Anglo-Italian Cup from winning the 1976 edition. It was the first running of the cup after a small hiatus in the history of the troubled but entertaining tournament where “lesser” lights from both nations started participating from ‘76 onwards. They beat Wimbledon 1-0 in the final having gone unbeaten through the entire competition.
The second tier of the Italian game is an old familiar place for i biancorossi (the red and whites), as the club have participated in 38 Serie B campaigns, (an Italian record) and never once truly troubled the promotion slots to A. They were last in B 18 years ago, so it might feel more like unchartered territory should they continue the pace to the automatic promotion place. If they were to shoot straight through the second tier, they wouldn’t be the first to achieve back to back promotions, SPAL certainly were one who did it quite recently. One thing I am sure of is the knowledge that the purse strings will be loosened in order for the club to have the best opportunity to reach Serie A.
Monza’s home, Stadio Brianteo has a more than adequate capacity for C and B at 7,499, mostly housed within a sizeable roofed main stand, with visiting fans and home Ultras housed in the “curvas” behind either goal. Opposite the main stand is an imposing two tiered old unroofed stand, and whether it is available, should it be needed, or sat there unused as condemned and in need of upgrade is up for debate. Italian clubs register capacities lower than the actual, partly because the upper figure will rarely if ever be needed, and it also cuts down on bureaucratic paperwork for health and safety, stewarding etc. Monza’s full capacity is quoted as a whopping 18,568! If all of these seats were available for any future shot in Serie A, that would be more than adequate. As it is, the unused seating acts as a vaudeville-esque theatre piece for a game under the lights, with red and white spotlights bringing the whole thing to life, and beyond! In the build up to kick off, all lights, including the floodlights went off and sparked into life on and off as if disco lights to the music, with the strobing red and white effect across from the main stand being quite striking, let alone the dancing bulbs of the floodlight pylons! The floodlights had one final party piece with the letters of the home team being spelt out on them as the announcer read out the team lines!
The Brianteo stadium is quite far out of the centre of Monza right opposite the race track area which is considerable in size. The road to the stadium might be long at 3km, but it is almost straight. If arriving by train from Milan at the main station in Monza it is just over three kilometres, but if it isn’t a night game the Sobborghi station comes into play, just two kilometres from the stadium. Monza is not far from Milan, just 15 km, and the frequent trains take between 10-20 minutes depending on the nature of the service. Trenord are the carrier for the local trains, and just beware that after a night match their trains don’t go back to Milan Centrale after 22,15, terminating instead at Milan Porta Garibaldi.
With a population of 123,000 Monza is the third largest city in Lombardia. It’s proximity to Milan, the financial capital of Italy doubtlessly makes Monza a popular commuter town. There is nothing special here, only sporting tourism will bring anyone outside the business fraternity to Monza, but you will find hotel accommodation available should you wish to stay, assuming no Grand Prix is imminent! On my first visit to Monza back in 1998 I stayed in the city ahead of joining the away fans of my beloved Ancona at the Brianteo, a vital penultimate Serie B fixture, where only an away win would suffice to potentially avoid the drop. Three nil down, Ancona were waving B farewell with a whimper, but while wounded they weren’t broken, and as storm clouds gathered over head Ancona were throwing everything at the Monza goal looking for a winner, having pulled it back to 3,3 in one of the most pulsating games I have ever witnessed! As the final whistle sounded and the brave visiting players fell to the turf in anguish of being relegated, the heavens opened and instead of giving our brave lads a fine hand, we were all taking shelter under the terracing as it was one of the most biblical showers I have ever witnessed!
Twenty one years on, I found myself back in Monza for an evening encounter with Carrarese, having scampered from Brescia where I had watched Torino tear the home side asunder. It was a cold, crisp night and two of C’s most entertaining sides were not about to let us feel the cold! Right from the off this was an absolute belter of a game, with Monza racing into the lead on two minutes powering home a header from their first corner. They kept up a relentless fast pace winning countless corners and keeping the reeling Tuscans hemmed in. What happened next is a script we have all seen played out on a football field before; Carrarese won their first corner, and from the ensuing melee they were level. Buoyed by getting back into the game, the action swung from one end to the other, and with only twenty minutes on the clock they stunned Monza by taking the lead from a well placed shot following a slalom dribble. The game ebbed and flowed from end to end and both sets of players headed down the tunnel for a well earned rest without any more goals, but quite how was mystifying! If Monza were once kings of B, Carrarese are the C equivalent, almost reliably solid and entertaining, but an “always the bridesmaid” kind of team.
The second half continued in a similar vein with Monza especially looking the more dangerous side, and just about everyone in the stadium of a home persuasion thought they’d equalised except the important people, the officials. It was a decision that sparked a mini bout of a handbag reenactment of a battle, where just one yellow card was brandished on the field, but a Carrarese coach was told to walk the plank! Having subsequently seen the incident, the ball hadn’t crossed the line, it was a brave save. The tactic of arrowing a dangerous ball from the right wing into the left side of the visitors box was proving a useful weapon, and if the keeper had prevented that ball crossing the line once, the very next time the same ball zipped across, Carraese were a defender light again and this time the net bulged for the equaliser. Carrarese were punch drunk by now and offered little in attack, but they held out for a priceless point, and both sets of players deserved the applause at the end. This had been Serie C football at its very best, a tremendous advert for the Italian third tier.
As to whether Monza can scale the heights to Serie A remains to be seen, but if they do, it might just give the place a little more sporting acknowledgement away from the race track!