Parma-Reggiana: Divided by football, united by cheese.
To explain Parma and Reggiana’s disdain for one another, one must go back to the Middle Ages, a time when football was merely a sparkle in the eye of Florentine calcio storico players.
The towns of Parma and Reggio Emilia fought for decades to control the trade routes along the Enza river that separates the two cities and runs to the Po, the longest river in Italy and a trading chokepoint.
Like much of history, there are two sides to the story, both as unlikely and dramatised as the other. The Parmigiani say they crushed the Reggiani and gave them ‘square heads’, while the latter argue that they battered the enemy which somehow led to their heads rounding off due to the lice eating away at them. The sort of thing you’d hear someone say after twelve pints before you laugh and tell them to have a good night.
Anyway, the roundhead-squarehead dispute has evolved, as many bitter rivalries have, into a sporting one. Parma-Reggiana is the Derby dell’Enza or, to call it by its fun name, the Derby Parmigiano-Reggiano. Yes, after the cheese. They do share the protected name of the cheese, so it’s only right to name the derby after the one thing that unites, rather than divides.
To lean into stereotypes, Parma is the aristocratic city chock full of lovely buildings and piazze, boasting a strong history of art and music, while Reggio Emilia is full of farmers. Painting farmers as a ‘bad’ thing in one of the world’s most important agricultural regions would be stupid and wrong, but that’s the story history has written, despite Reggio Emilia’s aesthetic beauty and own contribution throughout art’s history.
It's often forgotten that prior to the 1990s, Parma had never kicked a ball in Serie A.
Football has followed societal stereotypes, with Parma being the more successful of the two, obviously. Every football hipster and Football Italia aficionado remembers the gialloblu hoops and the countless star names that wore it throughout the 1990s, but it’s often forgotten that prior to that decade, Parma had never kicked a ball in Serie A.
Neither had Reggiana until promotion from Serie B in 1993. Three years earlier, both sides of the cheese derby were chasing promotion to Serie A. In the first derby that season, Parma fans caused trouble by trying to stop the train early and bypass their police escort, before their team won 2-0. Parma clinched promotion in the penultimate game of the season, beating Reggiana again at the Tardini. Predictably, several Reggiana fans were arrested for being up to no good as their rivals celebrated a historic promotion.
Three years later, Reggiana joined their rivals in Serie A. Parma had just won the European Cup Winners’ Cup and were, as usual, too good for Reggiana, who survived on the final day but were relegated a year later.
Both sides met again in 1996-97 after Reggiana bounced back to Serie A with Carlo Ancelotti in charge who, after guiding his team to promotion, left for…Parma. To be fair, it was the club where his career started, but still, not cool Carlo, eh?
Several key Reggiana players left along with Ancelotti and the campaign was a disaster, not winning a home game all season as they finished last and started a two decade derby drought. Both sides’ fortunes oscillated wildly yet they never crossed paths until 2016, when Parma were declared bankrupt (again) and sent to Serie C.
Another season that ended up with promotion for Parma and frustration for Reggiana.
In the interim, the lack of battle led to suggestions of a friendly in 2010, an idea which the police immediately rejected. I can’t think as to why. The first derby since 1996 was the most attended game in Serie C 2016-17, with 17,358 piling into Stadio Giglio to see Parma win in another season that ended with Parma’s promotion and Reggiana’s frustration after a playoff defeat.
Six years later, they meet again. Parma made a brief return to Serie A but are heading into their year in Serie B, while Reggiana suffered bankruptcy in 2018 and have had to make their way back from semi-pro football before winning Serie C/B last season.
Despite Parma’s recent dominance, both sides have won 27 of the 81 meetings in the derby’s history. Reggiana can't hope to repeat the 1975 derby, when they relegated Parma from Serie B on the last day of the season, but they can be hopeful of a good campaign, given how well newly promoted sides tend to do in this league.
Parma looked a decent shout for the playoffs last season, but faltered under pressure. They look like legitimate contenders this time round, arguably favourites, so they'll fancy themselves to do a derby double.
One thing is for sure, the Tardini will be bouncing this weekend and the return game at the Giglio, on the final day of the season, could have massive implications for both sides.
Props to Reggiana for hiring Alessandro Nesta as manager this summer, earning them added nostalgia points.
The Derby is back with a capital ‘D’. It’s the first thing on every Reggiano and Parmigiano’s minds. There’s more than just cheese or civic pride on the line, but thankfully there’s nobody fighting on horseback anymore.