I have had the pleasure of bringing more than a dozen towns, cities and regions of Italy to life for Football Weekends and only once from Serie A when newly promoted SPAL rumbled into the top flight. My world is more the characterful under card of Serie B, C and D, and writing a piece about Como has been high on my “must do list” for a long time, as it was on the banks of this beautiful lake where my love for Italy started way back in July 1982! I was on holiday with my parents in Como the night Italy beat West Germany in the Bernabeu, Madrid to be crowned World Cup winners for the first time since 1938! When Marco Tardelli scored to make it 2-0, and turned away to celebrate in a spine tingling passionate style that resonates to this day, people poured out onto the streets in wild celebration. Twenty minutes remained, but it didn’t seem likely gli Azzurri were going to blow that classic dangerous two goal lead, and when the referee brought proceedings to an end at 3-1, an impressionable young teenager was completely sold on my first ever trip to the country! It was largely a wonderful sleepless night, marvelling at the passion and joy unfolding in the main square and down by the lake, where flags were waving furiously, car horns beeping, and endless singing of “Italia, Italia”, or “campioni” were ringing out.This was such a memorable experience, Como Calcio became my second Italian team behind Cesena, who came into my world courtesy of subbuteo!
Como is just 40 minutes on a fast train from Milan, making it a favourite weekend escape, or day trip for the hard working Milanese, as well as the entire lake pulling throngs of tourists from near and far. Italian rail company Trenord run a joint venture Lombardia/Ticino service with Swiss Rail, and regular trains connect Milan, Monza, Como, Chiasso, Lugano and Bellinzona, all great footballing hubs!
Some of the places on Lake Como truly are the domain of the glitterati, but the same named city of Como remains more accessible to all, indeed a wee bit of money needs to be spent on the waterfront to bring it up to standard. One of the lakes most famous glitterati residents is George Clooney, who was certainly more regularly spotted in the vicinity before he got wed. Indeed George also took an interest in the football club, and for a time rumours circled that he was considering getting involved in the financing, but that never happened, which from a Como perspective was perhaps unfortunate. The far side of the waterfront near the funicular is full of bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as small areas of parkland and walkways by the harbour which houses some private boats, but not the sort of sea going massive yachts you’ll find in Portofino or Spezia for example. Being a lake, rather than a sea makes for a range of smaller pleasure boats, aside from the more regular transport vessels for locals and tourists that will whisk you to all points of this sizeable lake. Seaplanes are perhaps more the lake land play things of those with money, and right behind the stadium is the Como Seaplane Club! Even on a bright crisp winter Sunday in January hordes of Milanese pour off the trains making the tight pavements busy with walkers along the water’s edge. In summer it will be two or three times busier. A favourite subsequent trek is to queue to take the funicular ten minutes up to the hilltop settlement of Brunate, where the village provides a quiet ambience, for walks, eateries and stunning views of the lake and Como, with the football stadium clearly visible, even from this giddy height.
Como is the principal city on the lake, with a population of 85,000. Lake Como splits into two legs halfway down at the fabulous hinterland village of Bellagio. Como is on the southern tip of the left hand leg as you look at a map, with Lecco, a smaller town at the tip of the right hand leg. Both clubs representing these towns are in Serie C this term, and it will come as no surprise that the rivalry between these near neighbours is one of the fiercest in Lombardia, even if historically Como have largely been playing in higher leagues.
When Italy won the World Cup in 1982, Como had just been relegated from Serie A, where they’d managed two consecutive seasons constituting their third go at the top table. They first graced the top flight in 1949 when they stayed around for four seasons, but the next twenty years would mirror large swathes of the clubs subsequent history as they have been playing snakes and ladders with Italian football for decades! Another ladder appeared in the mid ‘70’s that saw them briefly back in Serie A for one term only, and then a Pietro Vierchowod inspired Como took them back in 1980 for those two pre World Cup winning seasons. By 1984 they were back in A for a club record five terms, which would include two impressive ninth placed finishes. This was the period when Italian football was at its global height in terms of luring the best “stranieri” (foreign players), albeit restricted to two per club. A Swedish centre forward called Dan Corneliusson (1984-1989) became a hero of mine as he regularly found the goals that kept Como up, along with more local Stefano Borgonovo. The German Hansi Muller joined from Inter Milan, brought in to pull the strings in midfield, albeit just for one season, with Pasquale Bruno (1983-1987) acting as the hard man who kept the defence in order. He would move onto greater things at the likes of Juventus, Torino, Fiorentina and Hearts, but who would have thought I would see his last ever game as a professional playing in the Scottish fourth tier for Cowdenbeath in a 2-3 loss to Ross County in March 1999! When Bruno left Stadio Sinigaglia the fate of Como seemed to nose dive, with relegation from Serie A signalling four successive demotions! It is fair to say that they were back on the snakes and ladder board, with added elements of violence and more regular issues with insolvency added to the troubles. Club captain Massimo Ferrigno was banned for three years following an horrific violent incident in a game with Modena as the club climbed back to Serie B, which led to another immediate promotion and an ill fated last visit to Serie A the very next season in 2002/03. However it was a disaster, with the fans taking up the violent mantle from the captain, actions that resulted in the Sinigaglia being closed for a number of matches. Yet again two successive relegations’ and surprise, surprise the club went bust, albeit for the first time, but more sinisterly they were liquidated as no one came forward to pump money in. A morsel of good fortune saw the new club, Calcio Como Srl being allowed to start in the 5th tier, then Serie D in 2006 and they worked their way back up the ladder for a brief run out in Serie B once more in 2015/16, but the relegation brought another bankruptcy, with the present club, Como 1907 being born from the burning embers back in D, which had become the fourth tier by then! They are back in the third tier now, but given the clubs entire history, we know this won’t be forever!
Eleven Sports IT gives an online season ticket for every Serie C game this term, a bargain for an Italophile like me, and Como have been viewed a number of times along with a few of my other favourites! It is amazing how many “great” old Italian clubs can be found languishing at this level. There continual financial issues have seen fans deserted the cause. Como is case in point, once a very well supported club, but now, even when jousting for a promotion play off spot they are struggling to get 1,500 in the door! It was great to be back in Como, after 1982 I finally saw a game in the Sinigaglia in April 1994 when i Lariani, as Como are known put on a real show thumping Spezia 5-0 also in the third tier. Aside from the goal fest, it will be forever remembered for the horrendous thunder clouds that eclipsed the sun as the game started but thankfully for a day visitor from Brescia in his shorts and T shirt, the cloud remarkably didn’t let go of its load until I was safely on the way south! Twenty six years on I was back, and having introduced my partner to football at Bolzano the week before, I was setting the bar very high for spectacular football venues, Como charmed her even more! I cannot think of two more picturesque stadiums in Italy or elsewhere to have as your inaugural venues to watch football!
Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia (capacity 13,602) has been home to the club since 1927 and was built to precise specifications of Mussolini! It sits right on the banks of the lake, forming part of Como’s crescent shaped waterfront. If you find yourself at the top of the considerable home Curva, you can enjoy views of the lake as well as the funicular train winding its way up the hillside behind the city.
Local team Renate were in town for this encounter, and I knew they are another small, well organised club who can’t play at home because their own stadium, the Stadio Riboldi doesn’t meet Serie C requirements, and are using nearby Citta di Meda’s ground. Renate has no great history or indeed any historical clashes with Como to speak about. What did surprise me was that they had absolutely no fans present for this early evening clash despite being third in the table to Como’s 10th, and with less than 30 kilometres to travel.
The game was fractious and end to end passages of play were rare. Despite having considerably more points Renate always looked second best as Como set about them with relish, but the bumpy surface wasn’t conducive to a smooth passing game. A pair of penalties, both dispatched well by Como’s Simone Ganz sent the 1,750 in attendance home relatively happy with the proceedings. Renate’s normal kit is identical to Inter Milan, but they trotted out in a change orange outfit for this clash. Pitch side adverts alerted everyone to the fact that Como were at home again the following week with Pistoiese in town, a fact that amused me in the sense that Italy’s only official orange kitted club would be playing in almost identical shirts to Renate, perhaps the first time such an occurrence of back to back orange kits playing in Como! The following week highlighted Como’s erratic form as the Tuscan team from Pistoia took the points south.
Stadio Sinigaglia is one of the closest to a city centre and the main Como San Giovanni railway station. It is three quarters of a kilometre, and a very simple trek once alighting a train. From the station, it is down the steps to the main road and turn left heading down toward the lake. You arrive at the stadium at the main stand side, but if you walk all the way to the lake and turn left you will find the ticket booth for the more impressive home Curva, and all the delights of the views, but if a thunder cloud is passing and you want shelter, head for the main stand as it is the only part of the ground that is covered. There are no bars close to the stadium, but the central area amenities are nearby, although beer is available in the stadium.
Como has been through some dramatic twists, and going bankrupt has a way of alienating some of the faithful as local businesses can get screwed by non payment of credit afforded, and staff lose their jobs etc. Once is forgivable, a second occasion becomes harder to mend fences and maybe that is why Como’s support has dropped off. Securing a berth in the exciting but lengthy play offs might help bring the crowds back just like they did at Arezzo and Trieste last season, even in glorious failure. Como is a place geared for a higher level, they just have to land on that next ladder to B, and who knows where they’ll go after that! One thing is for sure, it is a fabulous place, and as a football club they don’t hang around in any given league for long!