Benevento’s nickname, Le Streghe, translates to the Witches due to the Campania town being known as ‘the City of Witches’. The provincial capital is believed to have been the site of pagan rituals during the Lombards’ rule around 1,500 years ago, but even more important than religious relics is the team’s stunning journey to Serie A, which certainly seems like an act of sorcery.
A 1-0 aggregate victory over Carpi in the Serie B play-off Final marked back-to-back promotions for the Giallorossi in remarkably their fourth iteration as a club, having long been beset by financial problems. No club had ever before gone from Serie B debut campaign straight to the top flight. However, their turning point came in 2005, when two local businessmen took over the newly-reinstated Benevento Calcio.
Bankrolled by Ciro and Oreste Vigorito, the brothers not only invested heavily in building a Benevento team capable of climbing into Lega Pro, but also the club’s infrastructure and youth system. Just two seasons later, the side were promoted to the third tier and reached the Coppa Italia Serie C Final for the first time ever, although they failed to lift the trophy.
The southerners were dealt a sudden blow with the death of Ciro, but their fans successfully campaigned for his name to bear the name of the club’s stadium, in a sign of appreciation to their benefactor. In the meantime, Benevento sustained a title challenge in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione, even losing in the play-off Final to Crotone at the first time of asking.
The Giallorossi started the 2015-16 campaign with Oreste stepping down as President, but his continued financial support and management of the youth system provided the necessary foundations for a charge towards the Lega Pro Girone C title. Furthermore, their 3-0 victory over Lecce, which clinched the League crown, was witnessed by some 20,000 spectators.
Yet another blow saw Coach Gaetano Autera step down on the eve of this season, citing differences with Oreste. However, the owner regained presidency of the club and quickly appointed former Pescara and Novara boss Marco Baroni. From there, a shrewd recruitment drive saw the likes of Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno, Sassuolo midfielder Raman Chibsah and Inter striker George Puscas all arrive on loan.
The trio, coupled with the permanent captures of defender Michele Camporese and attacker Fabio Ceravolo – the latter’s 20 goals enough for him to finish as Serie B’s second-top scorer – ensured Benevento overcame a patchy start to the season and a mid-term slump to coast through the end of the campaign, going unbeaten in their final nine games.
Benevento are the latest in a recent spate of clubs to have emerged from relative obscurity, following in the footsteps of sides such as Novara, Carpi, Frosinone and fellow promotion winners Spal. Moreover, the Campanian derby will make a long-awaited return to the top flight next season. You’d have to go back to the 1987-88 campaign when Napoli and Avellino contested such an event.
“It was a promise made by two people, born as brothers by chance and who became friends by force,” Oreste told reporters after his club’s historic achievement. “Ciro and I said that we’d always try, and now we’ve got here… These players aren’t Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, but they have big hearts like them, maybe even more so. Serie A? You don’t get here to go back, we prefer to stay in paradise.”
Benvenuto Benevento, the club that just won’t die.