Florence | Football City Guide
If Roma or Venice isn't your top destination when visiting Italy for the first time, then Florence (or 'Firenze' as the locals call it) will most likely be a solid second choice.
Noted for its culture, renaissance art, architecture and monuments, this city became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982 and is famous the world over, welcoming millions of tourists annually.
It's population is smaller than you think, at just 380,000 (metropolitan area of 1.5 million) and is a major economic and industrial hub, with nearby Prato being the textile haven for the nation.
As you make your way around the city, you can quite easily lose your sense of bearings in the centre, with its winding narrow streets crammed with tourists, and the heat of summer even gets the best of the locals as it routinely goes past 40 degrees.
Florence is a city very close to my heart, having visited family here since I was a child. We'd take the long 40 minute bus up north west to the town of Capalle that sits in between Florence and Prato. I never manged to convince my parents to let me watch a game but we'd go hunting in the local mercato to find fake Juve and Fiorentina tops sporting the classic Nintendo logo.
The famous old bridge in the heart of Florence.
Florence is a city steeped in football history, and is partially credited with forming the Calcio we all know and love today.
Calcio Fiorentino was a local medieval variation of football and rugby (that's still played and celebrated locally) that originated in the 16th century. The aim is similar to the modern day version, with both teams attempting to get the ball into the opponents net, albeit by using almost any means necessary (violence is recommended). The word 'Calcio' means to kick, and was adapted and used for the modern day version.
It's history is reflected in ACF Fiorentina's badge through the city crest, the fleur-delis (the French lily). It's been adapted over time by various club owners, including the infamous 1980 version by then president Ponello, who mixed the lily with the letter F for Florence. Despite the protests it remained for 12 years.
The views from the Curva Ferrovia as Fiorentina took on Juventus in 2009
When you think of Fiorentina, you think of the colour purple. It's originals are loosely based on the folklore that the clubs original colours white and red half shirts mixed in the wash and came out purple (someone stuck the heat on a high setting presumably).
Founded in 1926 and formed in 2002 following bankruptcy, ACF Fiorentina been a staple of the Calcio diet for nearly a century. Despite its size and following, the club has only been able to amass two Scudetti (league titles) and six Coppa Italia trophies. They also finished runner up to arch rivals Juventus in the then popular UEFA Cup back in the early 90s.
Fiorentina were one of the seven sisters of Italy as the club went through a now nostalgic period in the 90s. After Roman-born Claudio Ranieri took Fiorentina back into Seria A in 1992, cult hero Batistuta joined La Viola alongside young talent Rui Costa. Various trophies and European cup runs followed including a Coppa and Super Coppa Italia. Arsenal fans will remember losing to the Italian side at their temporary home at Wembley in 1999 and Man United came away empty handed from a trip to the culture capital the same season (Roy Kean had a shocker with the first goal).
Many era's have come and gone, including the Gori and Della Valle, and the club is now owned by American-Italian Rocco Commisso. His forward thinking vision has made him a vocal critic of the slow bureaucratic legal system which posing a severe stumbling black to modernising their current home (something I touched on in a previous article on Italian stadiums).
Stadio Artemio Franchi
Renovated for the 1990 World Cup, the shallow seats in front was where the old athletics track stood.
Located away from the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists to the east of the city centre lies the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Popular architect Pier Luigi Nervi (famous for also constructing the Stadio Flamino in Rome amongst other things) was tasked with building the stadium which took two years to build and opened in 1932.
It's gone on to host high profile tournaments including the World Cup of 1934 and the 1960 summer Olympics of not-so-nearby Rome. It's a listed building and is owned by the local council, which in the modern era is starting to weigh the club down as they seek to rebuild or heavily modernise the aging ground.
As you enter the stadium (or run a quick check on Google Maps), you'll notice the peculiar design, which resembles something of a 'D'. This is because like most Italian stadiums at the time, they were multi-functional and in this case it originally hosted a 220 metre sprint track. You'll quickly spot that there's thousands of seats either side of the main stand that stretch way further than the pitch dimensions, leaving fans awkwardly straining their necks to the side to see any of the action (unless they fancy awkwardly staring directly at other fans in the curva).
The ground went through major renovations for the 1990 World Cup. The unloved athletics track was removed and the ground was lowered 2.4 metres to allow for a shallow new first tier (more on that later), along with a new roof and plastic seats which replaced the wooden ones.
Depending on where you're housed, you'll either be on the side lines with an unobstructed view, or placed what feels like a mile away in the main curva or distinti. This is where the ground feels outdated, as you practically need binoculars to see the action and if the heavens open up, you've got nowhere to hide. If you're unfortunate enough to be in situated the first tier behind the goal, we'd advise you to ignore your seat number and take a walk up the stairs for a better view.
This doesn't mean the ground isn't worth a visit, it's a stunning piece of architecture with head turning features such as the 'Tower of Marathon' which overlooks the pitch. Rising to 70 metres tall, the tower feels not to dissimilar from Bologna's Renato Dall' Ara, which has an imposing structure situated behind the middle of touchline stand opposite the dugouts.
Stunning views of the city skyline. The stadium is to the right of this photo.
It's hard to know where to begin with the amount of must see spots in and around the city. From the Piazza Del Duomo to the Uffizi Palace and Gallery, Palazo Vecchio to the Ponte Vecchio bridge (the scene of my father's marriage proposal), you can get lost in the cities' art and culture.
Always a fan of a good view, I'd recommend crossing over to the south side of the river and walk (or bus it) up to Piazzale Michelangelo. From here you'll get stunning views of the city and to the right hand side you'll make out the Stadio Artemio Franchi, with the flood lights giving it away. As day turns to night, the cathedral towering over the city lights up, giving you a perfect holiday snap.
It may well be a tourist hot spot but it's such for a very good reason, it's an incredible city. Get lost in its history, dine on some famous Tuscan steak and soak up the atmosphere of the La Vecchia Guardia Firenze ultras in the Curva Fiesole. A must for all Calcio and football fans alike.
Written by Richard Tester