Richard Thomas investigates the dynamics of the Derby della Scala and says the fixture now has the opportunity to flourish.
Chievo and Hellas Verona may be two football clubs, both alike in dignity, but they have a long way to go before they can be considered calcio’s very own answer to traditional feuding Veronese families the Montagues and the Capulets.
Saturday’s match between the sides at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, where we lay our scene, will be just the 12th time these two local rivals have done battle, with only three of the previous 11 meetings having taken place in Serie A. The absence of a long and eventful shared history between the clubs means that, unlike any of the most famous Italian derbies, this is a rivalry based very much on new mutiny rather than any ancient grudges.
So why have these two teams’ stars crossed on so few occasions? A starting point to discovering the answer to the question can be found in the name of the fixture itself. The Della Scala - or Scaligeri - family acted as overlords of Verona during the Middle Ages, presiding over a golden period in the city’s history that lasted for over a century. Hundreds of years later the name remained synonymous enough with the area for the city’s premier football club, Hellas Verona, to adopt the nickname ‘Scaligeri’ as their own.
For a long time the team’s accomplishments and status mirrored the exploits of their aristocratic namesakes as they dominated the local footballing scene without any major threat. There may have been bigger and better powers further a-field but Verona consistently proved superior to the likes of neighbours Padova, Vicenza and Treviso, while any challenge from within the city’s own walls was non-existent. As they celebrated their one and only Scudetto in 1985, few Scaligeri fans would have imagined that the biggest challenge to their supremacy yet was taking shape right under their noses.
If Verona were the region’s footballing overlords, Chievo were every bit the peasants. Founded in 1929 in a suburb of the city, the Flying Donkeys spent more or less the first 60 years of their existence in the wilderness. Only in 1986, when they were promoted to the fourth tier of Italian football and forced to move into their neighbours’ home due to stadium requirements, did they even register on the average Verona follower’s radar. Indeed, initial acknowledgement was no more than a passing joke anyway, with Scaligeri fans claiming that flying donkeys would appear in the sky before a League derby took place between the sides.
The Chievo rise under the Campedelli family continued apace however and, on December 10, 1994, the sky was positively donkey free as the two teams took to the field for a Serie B encounter. If that day came as a shock, Hellas fans have been left all the more incredulous by the fact that Chievo have by and large surpassed their team in the 20 years since that first meeting. While their unfashionable neighbours have thrived and become a regular fixture in Serie A, the city’s older, better supported and in their eyes more legitimate club floundered during the 2000s to the extent that they dropped down to and remained in Serie C1 until as recently as 2011.
Under the guidance of Andrea Mandorlini, however, Verona have undergone a renaissance that the original Scaligeri themselves would have been proud of. Approaching the end of their first season back in Italy’s top flight the team sit in ninth place, still harbouring faint hopes of Europa League qualification. Just as importantly no doubt, they have reclaimed their ‘rightful’ place as top dogs in the city. Eugenio Corini’s Chievo meanwhile are embroiled in a now familiar scenario, that of a battle to avoid relegation.
The history and grandeur of a city such as Verona, coupled with the fact that for only the second time both its two principal football teams are in the top flight at the same time, means that there is great potential for a healthy and long-standing rivalry to now develop between Chievo and Hellas. Regardless of the result on Saturday, if Chievo can complete the job of remaining in Serie A this season, the scene should be set for far more frequent tussles to take place between two Veronese foes desperate for local supremacy. They could even write a play about it…