The cities of Florence and Turin may be separated by a not inconsiderable distance of around 400 kilometres, but when Fiorentina make the long trip north to face Juventus this Saturday, it will mark the latest instalment in one of the bitterest rivalries known to the world of Calcio.
Despite lacking in the geographical proximity or the clashing of political ideologies that might ordinarily provoke tension between clubs the length and breadth of the peninsula, the enmity between the Viola and the Old Lady is one that has endured for a number of decades now, and a victory this weekend may just cement Vincenzo Montella’s place in Fiorentina folklore.
Juventus supporters might argue that any bitterness inherent in the fixture is heavily weighted amongst those with a penchant for purple, and that their rivalry with Fiorentina is but a passing concern when compared to their seasonal tussles with Inter or occasional encounters with city rivals Torino.
For the Viola tifosi though, this fixture means everything. More than just another opportunity to put three points on the board, it is the chance to exact a small measure of revenge for a lost Scudetto and a departed idol.
The origin of the rivalry can be traced back to the final day of the 1981/82 season. A day that began with both sides level on points at the top of the table finished with Juventus crowned as Serie A champions for the 20th time as they picked up a 1-0 win at Catanzaro courtesy of a Liam Brady penalty whilst Fiorentina could manage just a goalless draw away to Cagliari.
However, a series of dubious decisions in both games – a penalty denied to Catanzaro, a debatable penalty handed to Juve and a seemingly legitimate Fiorentina goal disallowed – had the Viola conspiracy theorists crying foul.
As described by John Foot in his book Calcio: ‘Fiorentina fans have always seen these events as evidence of robbery. Their captain Giancarlo Antognoni made no secret of his views after the game: “They have stolen our championship”. Juventus, he noted, were the only team in the league not to have had a penalty given against them all season.’
If being denied what would have been just a third scudetto in the club’s history was bad enough, further grist was added to the Viola’s mill just eight years later when Roberto Baggio, the idol of the Artemio Franchi terraces, was plucked by Juventus a matter of weeks after their triumph over Fiorentina in the UEFA Cup final.
The news sparked riots in the streets of Florence, with Baggio himself adding to the tumult a year later by refusing to take a penalty against his former club before placing a discarded Fiorentina scarf around his neck after being substituted.
Fast forward to the present and Juventus are still finding ingenious new ways to scupper the best laid plans of their rivals, a recent case in point being last summer’s hijacking of the Viola’s attempts to sign Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United.
That the Bulgarian ultimately ended up joining Fulham mattered little in the eyes of the Viola, who promptly released a statement condemning the “reckless and arrogant actions of [a club] which have nothing to do with the values of honesty, fair play and sporting ethics.”
On the field, recent history is not on Fiorentina’s side as they head into this weekend’s clash. Since regaining their Serie A status in 2004, the Viola have managed just a solitary victory from their 17 league and cup encounters with the Bianconeri; a thrilling, last gasp 3-2 victory in Turin’s Stadio Olimpico back in March 2008.
However, Montella’s side can take encouragement from a terrific performance during September’s goalless draw at the Artemio Franchi, when only the want of a touch of composure in front of goal saw Antonio Conte’s side fortunate to escape with a point.
Juventus will start the match as clear favourites, but have looked fallible at times this season, not least when falling to a 2-1 home defeat to Sampdoria last month, or when receiving a second half scare during last weekend’s narrow 2-1 win over Chievo.
Fiorentina meanwhile will be buoyed by a first victory in five courtesy of Sunday’s 2-0 win over Parma, a result that came with the added bonus of misfiring forwards Stevan Jovetic and Luca Toni rediscovering their goal scoring touch.
Whatever the outcome on Saturday, the only certainty is that it will be a match fraught with tension, with incident and with any number of stories to add to the evolving history of this most curious of rivalries.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevertonFC_84