An afternoon of soccer and family fun at Viola Park

An afternoon of soccer and family fun at Viola Park

Cheering on Fiorentina Women and enjoying the club's new football training ground

Wed 06 Mar 2024 3:52 PM

It’s Match Day at Rocco B. Commisso Viola Park.

Opened in October 2023, near Bagno a Ripoli, in the green environs of Florence, the ultra-innovative and environmental-focused training ground for ACF Fiorentina’s entire soccer club is a breath of fresh air. Designed by proud Florentine Marco Casamonti’s architectural studio Archea, 25 hectares of previously unkempt fields now discreetly feature low-rise pavilions in earthy tones that rise no higher than the original villa at the core of the development. While the site is renowned as being the training ground for the Serie A men’s team, Viola Park is the home stadium for Fiorentina Women and the club’s various youth teams, each of which benefit from having their own dedicated facilities.

In between the adjoining Curva Fiesole and Davide Astori stadiums at Viola Park before the fans arrive. Ph. @marcobadiani

Such is the growth of women’s football (consider last year’s record-breaking Women’s World Cup) that ACF Fiorentina Femminile, the first professionally affiliated women’s football club in Italy, has moved its operations from a drab setting in Due Strade to centre stage in Bagno a Ripoli.

On the Sunday that we watch the “purple” ladies take on Juventus in the first leg of the semi-final of the Coppa Italia, fans of all genders and ages file through the weathered steel gates. Ahead of kick-off, supporters pop into the striking sports bar, where TV screens show the latest tennis, volleyball and rugby games in some holistic sports viewing. A couple of kids are excitedly running around as their parents sip an espresso and a bottle or two of Fiorentina-branded beer. Everyone’s attention is drawn through the floor-to-ceiling windows to the pitch outside: the women are already out doing drills. Wearing the full Viola kit, they ably execute a few one-twos before kicking on target, while the defenders tame long kicks mid-air and the linesmen (yes, men) limber up alongside. Seeing the warm-up right by the grass is a genuine treat and a testimony to the skill of these pros.

The hospitality section at Viola Park. Ph. @helencfarrell

An elevated experience is available for sponsors in the hospitality section, which scores us a parking spot right by the Curva Fiesole Stadium at Viola Park. A hostess slips an elegant band onto our wrists as we marvel at the space. Crowned by a wood-slatted ceiling that sinuously follows the steps of the overlying stands and vaunting the same glass frontage onto the action, in a tender moment a dad lovingly lifts his daughter up to watch the women warming up outside. Perhaps in a nod to the Italian-American owner for whom the soccer complex is named, we all indulge in complimentary hot dogs, burgers and popcorn provided by an external caterer, washed down with Tuscan wine.

Ten minutes before kick-off, the fans take their seats as flags are unfurled and banners are attached to the railings. Over the loudspeaker, the line-up is announced, every Fiorentina name met with cheers and polite applause for the visitors from Turin. The whistle is blown, and we’re off! The accuracy of the women’s game is on full display, which prides precision over power, teamwork over individual stardom. While the match engrosses for the level of play and strategy in action, the stands are equally fascinating. Men respectfully cheer on the “ragazze”, young girls support their idols with admiration and the Stelle Viola fan club unite us all in the chorus. It’s been a while since I was last at a Fiorentina game and my memory’s rusty, but I’m soon singing along with everyone else to the Viola soundtrack, albeit uttering totally the wrong words. Rain begins to fall, but the women appear unaffected, the odd slip excluded on the hybrid turf. Tucked away beneath the cleverly constructed roof, we remain snug and dry, sneaking the occasional glance at the cypress tree curtain surrounding the rectangle and the quintessential Tuscan countryside all around.

Fiorentina Women play Juventus Women in the home leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals. Rocco B. Commisso Viola Park, March 3, 2024

It’s 0-0 after a competitive first half, but Fiorentina go into the locker room growing in confidence. In between refreshments, a few fans are welcomed onto the pitch in a healthy competition to hit the crossbar before being presented with purple scarves emblazoned with the words “Dream Big”.

The second half gets underway. A Viola fan behind us ironically compliments a Juventus fan on his black and white scarf, which raises a collective giggle. As a group, we jibe the referee on his lack of vision-correcting glasses as he clearly, in our opinion, neglects to give a free kick to Fiorentina. “Insensibile!” shouts one supporter, in the ultimate Tuscan accusation of imperviousness. We all murmur in agreement. And then the roar goes up. It’s the 65th minute and Ancona-born Michela Catena gets the ball over the line. The lady next to me, a total stranger, hugs me before she embraces her son and I smooch my husband. It’s a woman thing. The action begins again and we suffer together as Juventus launch a full attack. Nearing the 90th minute, Fiorentina concedes a free kick on the edge of the box. “It’s like giving birth again,” my new friend confides, half in English, half in Italian. “So much sofferenza!” After what feels like an eternity, the final whistle sounds and it’s smiles all around. The kids, so many youngsters, flock to the edge of the stands to applaud the athletes. In return, the squad takes a running bow and clap back in appreciation of the support, a 1,500-strong attendance gate for a wholesome afternoon of family fun.

There’s one last stop before leaving the ground. Moved by the experience, I invest in a purple and pink Fiorentina Women’s scarf. This was my first time seeing the Fiorentina Femminile play, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Find out more about visiting Viola Park here and getting tickets here.

The Sports Bar is open 8am-12 noon, 4.30-8.30pm: register at the entrance and receive access with a virtual card. The Fiorentina Store at Viola Park is open from 5 to 8pm Tuesday to Friday or during match days.

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