Cesena’s Fairytale

My grandmother’s house is on the other side of the street from the Stadio Dino Manuzzi in Cesena, Italy. Every weekend she hears the screams of the fans, cheering their team on. But none of the weekly shouts could compare to the celebrations, screams of joy, and frenetic honking of horns on the night of Sunday, May 30th, 2010.

You’ve probably never heard of Cesena. It is a city on the Italian Adriatic Coast with 95,909 inhabitants. It’s football team is called AC Cesena, has black and white colors, and its symbol is a seahorse.

Its been a tough 19 years for Cesena fans. Since dropping down from the Serie A in 1991, they almost went back up in 1994, but failed in the play-offs final. They were relegated to Serie C1, the third tier of Italian football, in 1997, and, although they went straight back up in 1998, they were back in the third division from 2000 to 2004. In the 2005-06 season, they were surprise promotion contenders, but failed once more. They then languished in 2006-07 and were finally relegated in 2007-08. In 2008-09, they easily thrashed all their third division opponents and achieved a flawless immediate promotion from Serie C1.

Which brings us to this season. Cesena started the season as favorites for mid-table mediocrity or for a relegation dogfight. Instead, they played scintillatingly to stay in second place for most of the season, clinching a historic double promotion and their first Serie A promotion in 19 years with a 1-0 away win to Piacenza last sunday.

The repercussions of this will be enormous. Although Cesena is a part of the bigger Emilia-Romagna region, Emilia and Romagna are two distinct cultural areas. Emilia is home to powerhouses Bologna and Parma, as well as Serie B clubs Piacenza, Modena, and Sassuolo. Romagna contains Cesena, ex-Serie B and current Serie C1 team Ravenna, and ex-Serie B team and Serie A promotion contender but current Serie C1 team Rimini. Cesena and Rimini have long been the biggest clubs in Romagna, but neither has ever made an impact and it has been a long time since any of them has been in the Serie A.

Although there is a massively fierce rivalry between Cesena, Rimini  and Ravenna, the three clubs from the three major cities in Romagna, all Romagnoli will be cheering on AC Cesena to make an impact in the Serie A and beat their bitter rivals Bologna, their hated cousins from Emilia.

Whether they will make a big splash next season is doubtable, but with the volatility of Serie A and its split from Serie B to become more like the English Premier League, Cesena will do all it can to make its fans and ‘countrymen’ proud. They made it this year having virtually sold all their best players, and living off of youth prospects, cheap foreigners, and unwanted loanees. But manager Pierpaolo Bisoli has worked a real miracle in Cesena these past two years. Who’s to say he won’t do it again?

Good luck, seahorses. Your fans are behind you, forever.

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