Way back in February of 2007, after a long flight from Philadelphia that had a snow delayed layover in London, I finally arrived at Rome’s Ciampino Airport. By the time our bus transfer arrived on the outskirts of Siena, it was already dark. Upon our arrival to a random parking lot, I was quickly introduced to my host family—complete strangers at the time—hopped into their car and was whisked away to their home. There I was, a 19-year-old University of Delaware sophomore, sleep-deprived, yet ready to embark on the biggest adventure of my life to date.
By the time I started my semester in the beautiful Tuscan hillside city, I was already loyal to the Giallorossi. And while I was abroad, I took advantage of the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Olimpico for a Roma match. However, Serie A calcio was right under my nose.
At the time, the Serie A landscape looked much differently than it does today. After suffering the punishment of Calciopoli, Juventus was in Serie B. Meanwhile, the top flight featured sides like Ascoli, Catania, Livorno, Messina, Palermo, and Reggina. Oh and another side—one that some more recent comers to calcio may never have heard of—AC Siena.
I was fortunate enough to spend three and a half months in Siena, during the club’s most successful spell in its history. After winning Serie B in 2002-03, the Bianconeri were promoted to Serie A for the first time ever for the ‘03-04 season. Against all odds, Siena was able to remain in the top flight for seven straight seasons, including my time in the city during the 2006-07 season.
Naturally, as a calcio fan, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to attend matches in the intimate setting of the Stadio Artemio Franchi—not to be confused with Fiorentina’s home ground, which the Sienese loath. And boy, was this a whole new stadium experience from what I was used to in the States.
Sure, as a New York Yankees fan, I’ve heard plenty of expletives and insults thrown at opposing players, but what I saw in the Curva Robur was on a whole ‘nother level. Seeing 20 and 30 year old men in the Bronx curse is expected, but at the Artemio Franchi it was different. It was in that stadium that I witnessed 60+ year old Italian women with a cigarette in one hand while gesticulating with the other, and cursing like a drunken sailor. Wow! Who needed the Bleacher Creatures when you had Nonna Maria cursing out opponents?
My admiration for the side quickly grew as I fell in love with the city and the passion of it’s inhabitants. Everyone loves a good underdog story and Siena was just that. And the fan base stood behind it’s side.
The Sienese have long been overshadowed by their Florentine neighbors since the Medici days and with it there is a deep seated hatred of the Viola. And that hatred brings me one of my favorite memories of my time living there.
As a collector of football shirts, I couldn’t pass up buying the beautiful purple Fiorentina home shirt during a weekend trip to Florence. Upon returning to my host family’s house, unaware at the time of just how little the Sienese care for the Florentines, I proudly showed off the shirt to my host sister Sofia.
“Bella, no?” I asked her innocently enough, expecting a 10-year-old girl to appreciate the regal color of the Viola. She quickly replied “Ma che schifo.” (It’s disgusting.) And it was there that I realized that the passion I witnessed in the stadium was bred from a young age.
It was that passion that endeared me to the club and I have kept it in my heart since. Unfortunately, in the years that followed in my time in the city, things haven’t gone so well for the club.
Siena was relegated to Serie B after the 2009-10 season. It was a relegation that only last a season, as the Bianconeri won promotion the very next season under the guidance of none other than Antonio Conte. It was a promotion that Conte rode to the Juventus job, while Siena would only last two seasons this time around in the top flight.
However, the thing that really brought down AC Siena wasn’t it’s play on the field. After all, the fact that they had played seven straight and nine out of ten seasons in Serie A by the time of their demotion to Serie B in 2013 was a minor miracle in itself. This was a club that had often toiled in Serie C for much of its history with a few spells in B and even some in Serie D.
No, it wasn’t the relegation that brought the club down. Even Serie B is somewhat punching over the club’s historical weight. It was the financial crisis of 2008. Siena was propped up financially by the Banca Monte dei Paschi of Siena—the oldest active financial institution (founded in 1472) in the world. However, not even the world’s oldest bank was immune to the global recession and the downfall of the bank spelled the downfall of the club.
With the bank needing a bailout in 2013, the club was out of luck. Without it’s primary sponsor and financier, Siena was unable to enroll in Serie B for the 2013-14 season and had to declare bankruptcy. The club was reborn in Serie D as Robur Siena gaining immediate promotion to C, but still my beloved Siena struggles. The club again had to be rebranded and return to Serie D for the current season.
Now, the club exists as ACN Siena 1904 with a crest that is barely recognizable to someone like me that saw the club in it’s glory days. The days when a minnow like Siena could toil with the giants of Serie A and survive year after year. Looking back, I can see that I was spoiled to be able to see Serie A football live in the heart of the Tuscan hillsides and continue watching the Bianconeri on TV Stateside in the years that followed.
Now I just hope that my “second club” in Italy can begin to find its way again. I hope that this new version of Siena under the new Armenian ownership can again begin to climb the ranks of Italian calcio. While a return to Serie A likely won’t be in the cards anytime soon, the Sienese deserve far better than Serie D. So, here’s to hoping that current manager Alberto Gilardino can guide the club back up the calcio ladder.