History of U.S. Città di Palermo

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Palermo supporters in the 2006 Sicilian derby

U.S. Città di Palermo, the top football club in Sicily and among the major ones in the Italian Serie A, has a long history, which spans from its foundation in 1898 to the most recent successes.

The club was refounded a number of times, more recently in 1986, and played in all the Italian professional leagues from Serie A to Serie C2 in different times. Its recent renaissance in the early 2000s brought the rosanero back to Serie A and later on to gain a spot in the UEFA Cup for the first time in the club history, thus giving the club a worldwide popularity. The club is currently involved in the Italian top division, winning UEFA Cup qualification for three consecutive seasons from 2004 to 2007.

Foundation and early years (1898–1927)[edit]

Ancient Palermo FBC logo
Historical first Anglo-Palermitan Athletic & Football Club lineup, year 1900
Lipton Cup winning side of 1910.

The club, in common with several other Italian teams, has its earliest roots in England. Football was originally brought to Palermo by English sailors of cargo vessels in the late 19th century who would play football at the muddy port in their spare time. There is some debate about the exact date the club was founded. Some authorities think it may have been as early as 1898 due to the existence of papers addressed to Joseph Whitaker, English consul in Palermo and originally believed to be first club president, about a Palermitan football team founded in the month of April of that year.[1] Actually, there is a probable misinterpretation of some sources: in April 1897, in fact, the future founders of Palemo Calcio create the association Sport Club.[2] The most common and officially stated foundation date is 1 November 1900,[3] as the Anglo Palermitan Athletic and Football Club. The club is thought to have been founded by Ignazio Majo Pagano, a young Palermitan colleague of Whitaker who had discovered football while at college in London, England, where the modern game of soccer originated from. The initial staff comprised 3 Englishmen and 9 natives of Palermo,[4] with Whitaker as honorary chairman, Edward De Garston as inaugural president, and with red and blue as the original team colours. The first recorded football match, played by the team on 30 December 1900, ended in a 5–0 defeat to an unidentified amateur English team. The first official match, played on 18 April 1901 against Messina Football Club ended in a 3–2 win to the Palermitan side.[5]

The staff foundations of the Palermo football organization was composed of 3 Englishmen and 9 natives of Palermo, including:[4][6]

  • Edward De Garston - President/Goalkeeper
  • George Blake - Player/Coach
  • Norman Olsen - Player
  • Benoit Marino - Player
  • Ignazio Majo Pagano - Player
  • Walter Gaffiero - Player
  • Natale De Stefani - Player
  • Matteo Macaluso - Player
  • Enrico Giaconia - Player
  • Roberto Pojero - Player
  • Vincenzo Pojero - Player
  • Felice Pirandello - Player

The event was featured on November 1, 1900 in the frontpage of the Giornale di Sicilia.[4] Joseph Whitaker and Conte Giuseppe Airoldi were also actively involved in supporting the club, with the former serving as honorary chairman.

The first known football match, played by the team on December 30, 1900, ended in a 5-0 defeat to an unidentified amateur English team. The foundation colours of the team were red and blue. The twelve players used to meet and train them on a football field located in Via Notarbartolo, of Whitaker's property.[4] The first official match, played on April 18, 1901 against Messina Football Club ended in a 3-2 win to the Palermitan side.[7] From 1905 onwards the two clubs competed in the Whitaker Challenge Cup, this was competed three times, Palermo won the competition once.

In 1907, the club changed its name to Palermo Foot-Ball Club, and the team colours were changed to the current pink and black;[8] some sources state that the club colours were changed due to an accident which happened when washing the old red and blue shirts, while others (including an official letter from the time) state that the colours are poetically intended to represent bitter and sweet.

From 1908 until the final one in 1914, Palermo also played in the Lipton Challenge Cup, not to be confused with the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, also organized by English businessman Sir Thomas Lipton. The competition saw them face off against Naples; Palermo won the competition three times, including a 6-0 victory in 1912.[9] Football activity in Palermo then halted until 1918 because of the World War I.[10]

On February 16, 1919 the club name was changed to U.S. Palermo,[11] the club was refounded by a committee of young university students and sportsmen with barone Sergio as president, just after World War I. In 1920, Palermo competed in and won the Coppa Federale Siciliana. For the rest of the early 1920s the club competed in the Campionato Lega Sud reaching the semi-finals in 1924, before being knocked out when facing Audace Taranto, Alba Roma and Internaples.

Early league prominence (1927–1943)[edit]

On July 10, 1927 Palermo was forced to withdraw from the national league without playing a game due to financial reasons; on July 14, 1928 the club agreed to merge with Vigor Palermo to become Palermo FootBall Club. The new club was then admitted to Prima Divisione (First Division), the equivalent of today's Serie C1.[10][12]

The club gained promotion from that division into Serie B in 1931, thanks also to 15 goal striker Carlo Radice. Palermo then got off to a great start in Serie B, almost gaining promotion during its first season with a third-place finish, only three points behind Bari. The following season it gained promotion and the Serie B championship, with Radice scoring 27 of the 50 goals for Palermo.[13]

For its first season in Serie A, the club moved to a new stadium named Stadio Littorio (Lictorian Stadium) in the Favorita neighbourhood, today known as Stadio Renzo Barbera. The opening match was played there on January 24, 1932 against Atalanta, with Palermo winning 5-1.[14] It took Palermo a couple of years to find its footing in the league, but by 1934–35 the club finished 7th, cementing its place as a well-established side. The next season however the club relegated to Serie B.

Down in Serie B Palermo spent three consecutive seasons finishing in 7th position. Notably for Sicilian football, the league featured all three major regional teams, Palermo, Messina and Catania; it was also the first time Palermo played against Calcio Catania on a national scale; their rivalry would then become known as the Sicilian derby.

Not considering the 1-0 Palermo win in a Reserve League match in 1929, the first official game between the two sides was played in Catania during the Coppa Italia 1935–36, and ended in a 1-0 win for the home side. The first derby in a domestic league was featured only a few months later, on November 1, 1936 at the Stadio Littorio and ended in a 1-1 tie, with Catania being supported by only eight people attending the match; Palermo got the better of Catania later in the season though, with a 1-0 victory.[15]

In 1936 the fascist regime forced Palermo to change its colours to yellow and red, after the official ones of the local municipality.[16] Meanwhile, economical troubles arose: causing even the imposition of a 10 lire meat tax in an attempt to finance the club.[16] However Palermo's fourth season for back down in the league was a troublesome one, as in 1940 it was expelled by the Italian Football Federation because of financial problems.[16] A merger with Unione Sportiva Juventina Palermo brought to the foundation of Unione Sportiva Palermo-Juventina, which entered Serie C in 1941 and played with light blue colours. In 1942 the club returned to Serie B and switched back to its original colours. In 1943, however, chairman Beppe Agnello was forced to retire the club from the league following the World War II events.[17]

Post-War Palermo (1946–1970)[edit]

The team, refounded, returned to Serie A by capturing the Serie B championship of 1947–48; the refreshed Palermo squad featured players such as Czechoslovakian legend Čestmír Vycpálek who was signed from Juventus alongside Conti, Di Bella and Pavesi. The president of Palermo from 1948 onwards was Prince Raimondo Lanza di Trabia.[16]

Palermo achieved eleventh position in its first season back in Serie A, but by the end of the season Italian football was struck by the tragedy of the Superga air disaster in which the Grande Torino squad died. Three seasons in the mid-table then followed, with a tenth place as its best result. On January 1, 1954 Lanza di Trabia killed himself in Rome, and at the end of the season the club was relegated in Serie B.[16][18]

With no discouragement, Palermo changed many people at the club, including a new president, Giuseppe Trapani, and new board members such as Artura Cassina and Salvatore Vilardo. A new coach, Carlo Rigotti, was appointed together with 14 players, including Enzo Benedetti who captained the club from 1955 to 1962.[19]

Palermo goalscorer, Santiago Vernazza.

This paid off by 1955–56, with a runners-up position achieved in Serie B which allowed Palermo to regain promotion. Palermo then became a sort of "yo-yo club," bouncing up and down between the top two Italian leagues. AC Milan legend Ettore Puricelli took over as trainer for a period, and River Plate star Santiago Vernazza pulled on the colours of the rosanero, making an impressive record of 51 goals in 115 games which make him still today the second-best topscorer in the club history.[20]

In the 1960s, goalkeeper Roberto Anzolin played for the club before being sold to Juventus where he would play over 200 games for the bianconeri;[21] Palermo would also sign local native Giuseppe Furino later. A good relationship was built up with Juventus in the 1960s, with the bianconeri loaning Carlo Mattrel (he would appear for Italy twice in the 1962 FIFA World Cup while at Palermo) and Franco Causio for a period in Sicily. The club had a great campaign in the 1961–62 season, finishing 8th in Serie A. For most of the 1960s Palermo however played in Serie B (from 1963 until 1968). Changing their name to Società Sportiva Palermo in 1967.

Mixed times (1970–2001)[edit]

Palermo crest from the late 1990s.

Renzo Barbera took over the club on May 4, 1970, becoming the new chairman; he would go on to be remembered as one of the greatest chairmen in the club's history. After 1973, Palermo played exclusively in Serie B for a long period time. Despite their lower league status, Palermo were still able to garner some success in the cup this period, reaching the Italian Cup final in 1974, against Bologna, Palermo lost on penalty shoot-outs after a 1-1 tie, with the Bologna goal, a penalty, scored during injury time in the second half.

Their name was modified again to Società Sportiva Calcio Palermo during 1977. The club's second Coppa Italia final, under coach Fernando Veneranda, was reached in 1979; the game was lost 2-1 to Juventus after extra time, with the equaliser goal for the opponents curiously scored again during injury time, as happened five years before.

On March 7, 1980 Barbera sold the club to constructor Gaspare Gambino, following a five-points deduction imposed by the Football Federation due to a match fixing scandal which involved Palermo midfielder Guido Magherini, then disqualified for 3 years and a half.[22] In 1984 Palermo relegated to Serie C1 for the first time in its history, but promptly returned to Serie B one year later. The 1985–86 season which ended in the summer was however the last for Palermo, as the club, after a struggling saving from relegation, was expelled by the federation because of financial problems. the summer of 1987, after a year without professional football in Palermo, the club was refounded, bearing the current name, and began to play down from Serie C2, which was promptly won.

A return to Serie B occurred in 1991, but lasted only a year. Palermo won the Serie C1 championship in 1993: that season, the league featured numerous other Sicilian clubs including Messina, Catania, Giarre, Siracusa and Acireale, with the latter promoted to Serie B together with Palermo. The rosanero stayed back up in Serie B for four season, and in 1994 wrote a piece of history for themselves with a 1-0 away win against AC Milan in the Coppa Italia second round.

In the 1990s, the 1995–1996 season was the highlight for Palermo, obtaining a seventh place after having fought hard for promotion, and even appearing in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia after eliminating Parma and Vicenza among others, with a team mostly composed of Palermitan footballers and coached by Palermo-born Ignazio Arcoleo.[23]

However, the following season ended with relegation to Serie C1. In 1997 Palermo played one of the worst season in its history, as they were due to be relegated to the Serie C2 division after a dramatic and shocking defeat in a play-off against Battipagliese; however Palermo was later saved by the federation due to the expulsion of Ischia Isolaverde, another Serie C1 team.[24]

AS Roma chairman Franco Sensi bought the team in 2001 but Palermo missed a spot in the promotion playoffs. However, Palermo won Serie C1/B and got promoted to Serie B the next year, after a hard fight against fellow islanders Messina, reached at the top of the table just at the last match-day.[24]

Back in Serie A (2001–2005)[edit]

In the summer of 2002, after a quiet Serie B season ended in mid-table place, Palermo was sold by Sensi to retail trade entrepreneur Maurizio Zamparini in a 15 million euro bid.[25] The former Venezia owner brought in various players, including several ones from his past club, such as Mario Santana, Kewullay Conteh, Stefano Morrone and Arturo Di Napoli.

The 2002–03 season was the first of the Zamparini era: the club went through two managers that season, Ezio Glerean and Daniele Arrigoni, the former being fired only after the first league matchday, a 4-2 loss to Ancona,[26] before arriving at Nedo Sonetti, who managed to help Palermo climb the league table. However, Palermo missed out on promotion to Serie A on the final day of the season, after a 3-0 away defeat to Lecce, who obtained the last promotion place. Palermo ended in fifth place, and Sonetti was replaced by Empoli coach Silvio Baldini for the upcoming 2003–04 campaign.

Zamparini was ambitious and reinforced the team with top signings such as Luca Toni, Lamberto Zauli and Eugenio Corini, and promising youngsters Simone Pepe, Andrea Gasbarroni and Christian Terlizzi. However, Baldini was fired in January 2004, after a shocking home defeat to Salernitana followed by public attacks from the head coach directed to the team chairman. Palermo, in third place at the time and reinforced still further with signings of Fabio Grosso, Antonio and Emanuele Filippini, replaced Baldini with Francesco Guidolin.[27] The rosanero ended its season winning the Serie B title season on goal difference over Cagliari, with Luca Toni finishing the league top-scorer by some distance, with 30 goals in 45 matches.

The 2004–05 season was the first back in Serie A for the Palermo club since 1973. The event was well welcomed by the team supporters, as the club managed to sell all the 33,000 home stadium seats reserved to local fans as season tickets.[28][29] Palermo ended the season with an excellent sixth place, allowing it to qualify for the 2005–06 UEFA Cup for the first time in its history. Luca Toni broke the Palermo's Serie A scoring record by notching up 20 league goals.

European years (2005–2013)[edit]

After two successful seasons in Sicily, Francesco Guidolin resigned as coach and Luigi Delneri was appointed to replace him for the 2005–06 season, the first in a European competition in Palermo's history. During the summer football market, Luca Toni was sold to ACF Fiorentina for 10 m and a couple of young internationals, Andrea Caracciolo and Stephen Ayodele Makinwa, were signed to replace him. The team had a good start in the new season, most notably with an exciting 3-2 win against Inter Milan and a successful UEFA Cup debut against Anorthosis Famagusta, defeated 6-1 on aggregate (2-1 and 4-0). Palermo successively won the group stage, finishing above RCD Espanyol, Lokomotiv Moscow, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Brøndby IF.

Despite good European form, Palermo was not able to keep up its form in the league; Delneri was consequently fired on January 2006 following a 2-1 home defeat to Siena and Giuseppe Papadopulo was appointed to replace him. He made his debut at the helm of Palermo with a sensational 3-0 win to AC Milan in the Coppa Italia quarter-final return leg, taking Palermo through to the semi-final round for the third time in its history; they eventually went out to AS Roma on away goals rule, the score being 2-2 on aggregate. Palermo was also eliminated from European by FC Schalke 04 in a 3-1 aggregate loss, after having defeated SK Slavia Praha in the round of 32. Palermo ended the season in eighth place, and thus was expected to play the 2006 UEFA Intertoto Cup. However, due to the Serie A scandal of 2006, the FIGC stated they would not enter Palermo into the Intertoto Cup. In the meanwhile, Francesco Guidolin left AS Monaco to re-join Palermo at Papadopulo's place.

After the verdicts penalized numerous clubs, Palermo's overall position for that season was elevated to fifth, meaning they had qualified for the 2006–07 UEFA Cup. In the transfer window, Palermo spent millions adding players to their squad, including Aimo Diana, Mark Bresciano, Fábio Simplício and Amauri, but sold World Cup winner Fabio Grosso to Internazionale. The events led several football pundits to tip Palermo to do well in the season ahead.[30] A very exciting start saw Palermo sitting on top of the Serie A table in September 2006 after beating Catania 5-3 at home in the Sicilian derby. Another notable victory was a 2-0 away win to AC Milan at San Siro stadium. The team started well also in the UEFA Cup by knocking out West Ham United. However, this time around the group stage proved to be more difficult than the previous year, and Palermo finished last in a group that contained Celta de Vigo, Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbahçe SK and Newcastle United.

On February 2, 2007 Palermo was involved in a controversial away Sicilian derby, suspended for 30 minutes during the second half and followed by violence outside the Catania stadium in which policeman Filippo Raciti was killed by a small explosive launched by a Catania hooligan.[31] This was followed by a two-weeks stop to all football leagues and national team matches in the whole country. Successively to these events Palermo, then clearly third-placed, did not manage to achieve a single victory, and dropped down to sixth position in the Serie A. Club chairman Maurizio Zamparini became more critical of Guidolin and finally sacked him on April 23, 2007 following a 3-4 home defeat to third-last placed Parma which extended the run of poor results to 11 games without a single win. Assistant coach Renzo Gobbo and youth team coach Rosario Pergolizzi, appointed as caretaker coaches at Guidolin's place,[32] led the team for two matches, a 2-1 away win at Livorno in their debut which ended the negative run[33] and two further defeats, including an upset 3-2 away loss against last-placed team Ascoli, already relegated to Serie B at the time, which left the rosanero in seventh place, the last UEFA Cup spot, only three points above Atalanta. The events led Zamparini to revoke Guidolin's dismissal and call him back for the remaining two matches.[34] Guidolin's return brought two victories, to Siena[35] and Udinese, ending the season in fifth place, obtaining thus qualification to the UEFA Cup 2007-08 for the third consecutive time and breakng its previous record of 53 points of two years before.[36] On May 31, 2007 Palermo chairman Maurizio Zamparini announced Stefano Colantuono as new rosanero coach for the 2007–08 season.[37] The first two signings for the new season, midfielder Giulio Migliaccio from Atalanta and goalkeeper Samir Ujkani from Anderlecht, were announced on June 8. Contemporarily, team captain Eugenio Corini, whose contract was due to expire within a few days, announced he was going to leave Palermo.[38] Palermo's moves in the summer market included notable signings such as Boško Janković[39] and Fabrizio Miccoli[40] to replace Andrea Caracciolo[41] and David Di Michele,[42] sold to Sampdoria and Torino respectively. A fairly unimpressive start in the season, including a shock UEFA Cup elimination against Czech minnows FK Mlada Boleslav, however convinced Zamparini to sack Colantuono after a crush 5–0 loss to Juventus, re-calling Guidolin at the helm of the rosanero.[43] Guidolin's fourth spell as Palermo boss proved to be even more unsuccessful, as Palermo struggled in the league, falling down to thirteenth place with concerns of being unexpectedly involved in the relegation battle. A 3–2 home loss to Genoa, the third in a row for Palermo, followed by Guidolin's controversial attacks against the supporting fanbase and the club management, brought in to Colantuono being reinstated as rosanero boss on March 24, 2008.[44]

Serie B and back to Serie A (2013–present)[edit]

Giuseppe Iachini, formerly a Palermo midfielder in the 1990s, replaced Gattuso as head coach during the 2013–14 season and led the club to a Serie B champions title and broke the highest-Serie-B-point record.

For the 2012–13 season, Zamparini came with another staff revolution, appointing Giorgio Perinetti as the new director of football and Giuseppe Sannino as the manager, both coming from Siena. Significant sales included Federico Balzaretti and Giulio Migliaccio, who left the Rosanero as part of a complete restructuring. The season started in unfashionable manner, leading to the sacking of Sannino and his replacement with Gian Piero Gasperini; days later, Perinetti resigned and Pietro Lo Monaco was named as the new club managing director. Results did not improve, however, and Palermo descended into the relegation zone; a controversial handling of the January transfer window and even more negative results led to Gasparini being sacked for Alberto Malesani, and called back after three games, the return of Perinetti in place for Lo Monaco, and ultimately a second dismissal for Gasperini who was replaced by a re-hired Sannino. Despite a slight increase in results, Palermo ended its season in 18th place, being thus relegated to Serie B after nine consecutive seasons in the top flight.

For the new Serie B campaign, Zamparini appointed former Milan and Italy international star Gennaro Gattuso as the new manager,[45] despite him having little prior managerial experience; he was sacked in September 2013, the 28th sacked manager in 11 years. Fortune was reversed rather rapidly, however, as Palermo regained promotion back to Serie A for the 2014–15 season thanks to a 1–0 victory over Novara on 3 May 2014 under the guidance of Giuseppe Iachini, who took the reins over after Gattuso was sacked due to poor results, with the Rosanero responding with a record-breaking Serie B season ended with 86 points, one more than previous record holders Juventus, Chievo and Sassuolo (all of them in the 22-team Serie B format).

Due to his successful results, Palermo confirmed Iachini as head coach for the 2014–15 Serie A season, and agreed a contract extension until June 2016 with him. A new director of football, Franco Ceravolo (formerly a scout for Juventus), was instead named in place of Perinetti, but was removed (with Iachini being instead confirmed) after a dismal season start led Zamparini to intervene in order to turn the team's fortunes. The non-playing staff changes at Palermo turned out to be ultimately successful, with Palermo winning many games afterwards and entering the fight for a UEFA Europa League spot thanks to the all-Argentine striking force of Paulo Dybala and Franco Vázquez.

In 2015–16 season, Palermo started their season without Dybala after the youngster moved to Juventus; the Rosanero therefore relied on senior striker Alberto Gilardino to play as a partner of Vázquez. On 10 November 2015, coach Giuseppe Iachini was sacked due to disappointing results in the beginning of the season; he was replaced by Davide Ballardini.[46] Ballardini only lasted for 7 matches with Palermo before fired by Zamparini after spectacularly falling out with Palermo's players.[47] Palermo captain Stefano Sorrentino reported that during 1–0 victory against Hellas Verona, the coach did not speak to Palermo players neither before nor after the match.[48] Fabio Viviani became Palermo's caretaker manager in a 0–4 defeat against Genoa. Rosanero hired Guillermo Barros Schelotto as a new manager. Schelotto, however, did not have the necessary paperwork to be registered as Palermo coach, so his position was taken by Primavera youth team coach Giovanni Bosi during a 4–1 win over Udinese. Schelotto was registered as a team manager during that match.[49] Giovanni Tedesco named as Palermo's sixth coach of the season while Schelotto is still waiting for the paperwork.[50] On 10 February 2016, following Schelotto's resignation after UEFA refusal to hand him a valid European coaching authorization, Palermo announced to have promoted Primavera youth coach Giovanni Bosi as new head coach, with Tedesco as his technical collaborator.[51] Five days later, Bosi was sacked, and Iachini was re-appointed as manager.[52] On 10 March, Iachini was sacked once again, as Walter Novellino was appointed as his replacement.[53] Novellino was then sacked on 11 April.[54] Davide Ballardini was rehired a day later for the ninth managerial change that season.[55] On 15 May, Palermo escaped relegation on the last day of the league with the necessary win over Hellas Verona 3–2, securing 16th place.[56]

For the 2016–17 season, Zamparini appointed Rino Foschi as new director of football, who however resigned after just a month in charge and was replaced by former Trapani director Daniele Faggiano. Most senior players such as Gilardino, Sorrentino, Vázquez and Maresca were sold and mostly replaced with Alessandro Diamanti plus a number of young and quasi-unknown foreign players. Ballardini, who was originally confirmed as head coach, left his position after a draw at Inter Milan at the second matchday of the season and was replaced with Serie A newbie Roberto De Zerbi, formerly of Foggia.[57] De Zerbi's stint as Palermo head coach ended in dismal as he was sacked following Coppa Italia elimination at home against Serie B team Spezia, and after seven league losses in a row, with former club captain Eugenio Corini taking over.[58] This was followed by Faggiano's resignations; his role was not filled as Zamparini announced his intention to operate in the January 2017 transfer market with the support of a number of consultants of his, mostly Gianni Di Marzio, football agent Davor Ćurković and Dario Šimić (who was successively officially announced as part of the club non-coaching staff). After two more defeats against relegation battle opponents Empoli and Sassuolo, no major signing in the first half of January and eight points deep into relegation zone, Zamparini however decided to change his mind by appointing Nicola Salerno as new director of football. On 27 February 2017, Zamparini stepped down as chairman of Palermo after 15 years in charge, announcing he had formally sold his controlling stake to an unspecified Anglo-American fund.[59] On 6 March, Paul Baccaglini of Integritas Capital Fund became the next president of Palermo.[60]

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