The Death and Rebirth of Chievo
Author (and Hellas Verona fan) Tim Parks once described Chievo as: “A miserable case of working-class suburb overflowing into declining semi-industrialised fenland.” Its football club, ChievoVerona, spent six decades in the wilderness of regional football after its formation in 1929 and only joined the professional ranks in the late eighties once president Luigi Campedelli, owner of Paluani confectionery, stepped up the push to give Verona a second team.
The post-pandemic demise of Chievo Verona was different to the fate of far too many of Italy’s football clubs. There was no reckless spending, financial mismanagement nor dirty laundry aired in court.
After almost two decades in Serie A (with a brief return to Serie B in the middle), Chievo’s financial limitations caught up with them. A team from a Verona suburb, their Serie A attendances were far lower than their city rivals, Hellas Verona, were putting up during their years in the third tier.
The fallout of the pandemic meant that by August 2021, Chievo’s parent company, Paluani, found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. Production shut down at their factories as Italy suffered terribly in the early days of COVID-19, which set in motion a chain of events that ended with Chievo being put out of existence over unpaid tax bills.
I’m always curious to see how the messy aftermath of these situations unfold, as parties scramble to form a phoenix club rather than leave thousands with nothing to do each weekend.
Pellissier departed after falling out with the board just before the club went into bankruptcy.
The bid to save Chievo was led by club legend Sergio Pellissier, who had spent 17 years at the club as a player and joined the recruitment team upon his retirement after Chievo’s relegation in 2019. Pellissier had since departed the club prior to bankruptcy after falling out with the board, but returned in its hour of need.
He scrambled to find an investor to buy Chievo but no interest materialised, leading to the dissolution of the club. The glass ceiling presented by their lack of marketability and catchment area likely dissuaded any realistic investors, especially at a time when businesses were reeling from the effects of COVID.
After failing to meet Serie B and D requirements, ChievoVerona were no more. The club, as an entity, died that day but its history, albeit brief, remained intact, encased forever in the short period of ‘relevance’.
While their rivals, Hellas Verona, celebrated winning a highly unlikely scudetto in 1985, Chievo were toiling away against semi-professional sides around Veneto. It wasn’t until the following year that they achieved promotion to Serie C2 and were playing in C1 only three years later as two decades of toil from Luigi Campedelli began to pay off.
He assumed the club presidency in 1964 at the age of 33, and poured almost half of his life into Chievo before dying of a heart attack in 1992 and being replaced by his son, Luca, who, at 23 years old, became the youngest football club owner in Italy (since broken by Alessandro Ruggeri of Atalanta).
Based in the Chievo suburb just west of Verona, home to less than five thousand people, they still shared a 39,000 capacity stadium with their rivals, having moved from their decrepit old home near the city’s dam. Two years after Luca inherited the throne, they were in Serie B for the first time ever.
Hellas fans said Chievo would only ever reach Serie A if donkeys could fly.
After several years of Serie B consolidation and stagnation, Chievo hired Luigi Delneri ahead of the 2000-01 season and achieved an unexpected, historic promotion. They became known as the ‘Mussi Volanti’ (Flying Donkeys), a reference to the fact their rivals Hellas said they would only ever reach Serie A if donkeys could fly.
Twelve months after promotion, they were in the UEFA Cup, while Hellas were relegated to Serie B. Smart recruitment, a consistent theme in Chievo’s success, helped Delneri take the side into Europe, having briefly led the league at Christmas. Take Simone Perotta as an example. Picked up for a small fee from Bari, he played a vital role in Chievo’s midfield for a few years before heading to Roma for €7.2m, four times his original fee.
Although their foray into Europe ended at the first hurdle against Red Star Belgrade, Chievo’s greatest days were still to come. As the league reeled from the Calciopoli scandal, Chievo took the last Champions League spot, vacated after the punishments were handed down.
However, they were knocked out immediately again, losing in the qualifying rounds and setting the tone for a season that would end, bizarrely, in relegation. However, their stay in Serie B was brief, largely due to Pellissier’s 22 goals as Chievo went back up as champions.
The subsequent decade in Serie A was a tale of mid-table purgatory, with the odd flirtatious dance with relegation. As the wealth gap in football widened, Chievo’s glass ceiling became increasingly lower and, well, no longer made of glass. They limped to relegation in 2019, winning twice all season and finishing on 17 points, after a three point deduction due to false accounting.
The failure to return to Serie A and the financial chokehold of the pandemic made Chievo's survival unlikely.
While they reached the Serie B playoffs in both seasons after relegation, the inability to bounce back and the financial chokehold caused by COVID made Chievo’s survival increasingly unlikely, and eventually they crumbled.
The aftermath has been a juicy drama to the neutral but painful for the grieving Chievo fans. The war for the club’s soul rages on still, as Sergio Pellissier founded FC Clivense, referring to ‘Clivensi’, the name given to Chievo’s fans. Too late to join Serie D, they joined Terza Categoria, Italy’s ninth tier, which they romped, with Pellissier even appearing in the final match, scoring twice at the age of 43.
A successful merger with Eccellenza (fifth tier) team San Martino Sperme meant Clivense climbed from three divisions and took a place in Eccellenza Veneto, while Luca Campedelli attempted to merge ‘Chievo’ with Sona in Serie D, but the courts rejected his use of the old name and the deal collapsed. The same thing happened later with Vigasio, where Campedelli tried and failed to use the old club branding with ChievoVigasio.
Another successful campaign for Clivense, winning the league by seven points, means that they play in Serie D this year, where they have four points from four games. They’re building something, while Campedelli is suing the FIGC, Clivense and Pellissier for the club’s “appropriation of the Chievo brand”. The ‘Chievo brand’ is up for auction currently, and Clivense have been crowdfunding to raise enough money so that they might return the brand to the fans, or at least what remains.
How this plays out remains to be seen, but the events to date would indicate that Campedelli’s race is run, and Clivense may eventually end up winning out. Then again, what’s in a name? Is it worth spending valuable funds on a brand, purely for pride or to make a point? Isn’t it better to give the fans a better team to watch, rather than a name from years gone by? Perhaps, but this is football. There is no place for reasoned debate here, only emotion.