‘Four weddings and a funeral’: part 2

Leonardo Cardini
April 6, 2006

Vittorio Cecchi Gori


My Third Marriage


My third marriage was not entirely related to the history of the Fiorentina team. It was, in fact, a flesh and blood union between two real people - or more precisely, four. When my wife and I got married, we already had two boys who were by then, quite grown up. During the feverish delirium that led up to our wedding day, our children kept asking me ?Daddy, how many more days until we get married??


In the end though, the Fiorentina proved surprisingly relevant to our wedding vows. In that crucial moment of the ceremony, the Mayor of Fiesole asked my future wife: ?Do you Catia, take Leo to be your lawful wedded husband, knowing that every Sunday when the Fiorentina plays in Florence, he will leave you at home with the children, while he goes to the stadium, oblivious to weather conditions and both in sickness and in health?? She said she?d take me, and I?ll never cease to thank her for it.


The Funeral


But let?s take a step back to 1991 when Mario Cecchi Gori bought the Fiorentina Football Club. A Florentine-born movie producer, he spent  most of his time working between Rome and Hollywood. Mario had a son, Vittorio, whose vicissitudes were forever gracing the headlines of gossip columns. He was one of the protagonists of the Dolce Vita in Rome: entourages of beautiful women, great parties of Gatsby proportions, expensive sports cars, and villas in Hollywood. Vittorio was the exact opposite of his quiet, reserved father. ?You can choose your friends, you can choose yourself a good wife, but children just happen to you, and I ended up with a fool,? Mario Cecchi Gori loved to say of his prodigal son.  


Mario Cecchi Gori passed away in November 1993, and his entire cinematographic, financial and sports empire landed in the hands of his son. Vittorio quickly started his climb to the peak of the Italian top ten. Perhaps struck by the example set by Berlusconi, who in those years had become number one everything, Vittorio Cecchi Gori started to buy up a few local and national television networks. He also got himself elected senator of the Italian parliament, bought famous players for the Fiorentina, and was known for making promises like ?If you score me ten goals this year, I?ll introduce you to Sharon Stone.?


He was an Emperor, and as is common with emperors, Vittorio surrounded himself with a whole series of strange characters who both flattered him and took advantage of him. During those first few years of ?glamour? management, I have to tell you the truth; even if we didn?t win anything important, we sure had a good time. Too soon though, things started to change. Vittorio never did have real control of his companies? budgets and he soon reached the point where certain economic operations started to set off alarms at the Internal Revenue Office. The Florentine Municipal Court was suddenly very interested in the happenings of the ?Cecchi Gori Group?.


It was like the eruption of a dormant volcano.


The Emperor suddenly had no clothes.


The debts that VCG had accumulated over the years at the Italian Revenue Office were sky-high. Billions and billions of the old lire of taxes had not been paid. Hundreds of salaries were missing in action. Various small companies were forced to close their doors; they had worked for Vittorio for years and never did receive payment for their services.


And the Fiorentina? La Fiorentina, out of all of Vittorio Cecchi Gori?s  companies was probably the one that had the least amount of debts. It thus became part of that small ?band-aid? group that was sacrificed in efforts to stop the bleeding. The players were sold off one by one. Some left in tears, and all were forced to pack their bags and go. Despite this fact, nothing could save Vittorio from bankruptcy.


I have hundreds of memories from that crazy time, most of which I?ve blocked out to preserve my mental health.  There is one memory, though, that has really stayed with me. Every day during that period, I used to go into a famous Florentine bank where I was served by a very elegant, distinguished gentleman. He was probably fifty years old, and perhaps the deputy manager of that bank. I would stand in line and watch him speak with jewelery-clad women, company presidents and managers. After my turn, I?d leave the bank and catapult to the bar across the street. It was famous in Florence for being a hang-out for Fiorentina fans known as the ?Violet People.? Everyone - students, pensioners, old ladies and their dogs - would get together there on Monday afternoons to talk about the latest game. We?d gossip, argue and exchange comments about what had happened or try our hand at guessing what was going to happen next. People flocked to that bar by the hundreds in those days. All of us gathered together with our ears glued to the radio. A local station, specialized in Violet News transmitted non-stop news about what was going on in the courtroom and down at the Italian Football League.


It was July 27, 2002. The heat was suffocating. At 12 o?clock sharp the next day, the Municipal Court of Florence would issue its sentence regarding the Fiorentina. For the occasion, Fiorentina fans had organized a sit-in under the Violet headquarters in Piazza Savonarola. We wanted to be together to hear the last episode of our sad story. For the record, I have to say that in our hearts, we still had a faint hope that the commander of that Titanic, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, would do something to save the day. He had been interviewed by all radio and television stations and continued to say that the Fiorentina would be saved by a phantom bank transfer. It had supposedly been sent by fax from Medellin Bank in Columbia, and would arrive just in time for the verdict. That was Vittorio - grand to the end. Not even Stanley Kubrick would have been able to think of an ending like that one.

The morning of the verdict, I went to meet with hundreds of others at the bedside of our dying Fiorentina. As I turned the corner, twenty meters from Piazza Savonarola, I bumped into a man. He was alone, nude from the belt up, and covered in sweat. There he stood, a wild man, pulling at his hair, yelling unintelligible things to the Heavens. It was the deputy manager of the bank. We embraced each other in silence, and that?s when I truly understood. It was over.


My Fourth Marriage


A great Italian journalist once said: ?One can change wives, one can change religion, one can change political ideas, but no one can ever really change the football team they root for.? But what happens if your team no longer exists? What are you supposed to do then? Do you suddenly decide to become a fan of Roma? Milan? Juve? Do you decide to become a fan of basketball, instead? Impossible. On that horrible day at least two hundred thousand people in Florence were left orphans, and that?s not counting other orphan fans living around the world. All the team?s websites went down due to an overload of e-visitors.


The Mayor of Florence, Leonardo Domenici, together with the Councillor for Sports, Eugenio Giani, were touched by this city-wide mourning. They decided to found a new sports club, as we all waited for some entrepreneur to buy the team so we could start anew. We wouldn?t be allowed to use the name Fiorentina because it was connected to a bankruptcy case that was still in progress. Worse still, the new team wouldn?t be able to use the colour violet!!!


The new football club was thus named Florentia Viola. The team colours became white and red, Florence?s official historical colours.


Then at last, Mr. Diego Della Valle, president of one of the biggest ?Made in Italy? companies in the world, took this fragile embryo from the hands of the city?s mayor and transformed it into a team, a project, and an investment. We finally had a new Father, who would give us the chance to have a new start. But just where would we start?


Simple. From round zero, the lowest point of Italian professional football, where we would play against teams from miniscule towns that we barely even knew existed. But the climb towards Series A was beautiful, triumphant and, above all, fast. Both the team?s name and its purple shirts have been bought back from the Courts. All is well now. My fourth marriage is moving forward with flying colours, strengthened by events that could have tempted even the most faithful of husbands to stray.


I still remember the day when five of us were crowded under a single umbrella. There we stood, in a flood of biblical proportions, watching the Fiorentina play against Gualdo Tadino. Do any of you know where Gualdo Tadino is? I sure don?t.


Or maybe I used to know, but I don?t remember anymore.

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