Cesena 1976: Keeping the Seahorses’ Heads Above Water
Currently in the bottom half of Serie B, Cesena are far from one of Italy’s bigger clubs. They have, however, enjoyed more successful periods in their time
“History is written by the victors” is an old truism that is often attributed to Winston Churchill, although the great British statesman never made such a claim.
Perhaps more accurately for the sporting arena, Liverpool’s great coach Bill Shankly once claimed “If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nowhere.”
The Scot had the luxury of being in charge of a team who were often first and seldom nowhere. Sixty-six teams have competed in Serie A since its inception in 1929. Only 13 have won the title. As such, by Shankly’s reckoning, 53 clubs have never been anywhere.
To think so is to ignore all the teams who have made the tapestry of Serie A all the richer with their outstanding performances that fell short of glory, or achievements that represented a different kind of success – a triumph over the odds, or a personal success amongst a collective disappointment.
The Cesena side of 1975-76 were a fine example of a club’s best performances, ignored over the passage of time. The Cavalluccio Marino were relative newcomers to Serie A life, having arrived in the top flight in 1973, clinching their first Serie B promotion with victory over Mantova.
The president of the club at this time was Dino Manuzzi, a name whose name is still synonymous with Cesena. The vegetable exporter’s name is now the name of the clubs stadium, that was formerly known by the ‘La Fiorita’ area of the city in which it stands.
In their first two seasons, Eugenio Bersellini’s side were unspectacular, but hard to beat. Each season they played 30 games, and both times they drew 15 of them. With just two points for a win, draws were more valuable, and stockpiling individual points allowed Cesena to achieve safety on both occasions.
In the summer of 1975, two things happened in Cesena that had a positive impact on the side. Firstly, Bersellini left the touchline to take the reins at Sampdoria. Then the playing staff was augmented with the arrival of veteran midfielder Mario Frustalupi and Lazio defender Giancarlo Oddi, just 12 months removed from a Scudetto victory with the Biancocelesti.
With Giuseppe Marchioro now coaching the team, the little side from Emilia-Romagna could look up the table. In their white shirts and black shorts, Cesena began strongly with only a defeat against a Napoli side who were to become something of a thorn in Marchioro’s side, in the first half of the season.
This run included a victory over Roma and draws with both Juventus and Torino; at a time when the Turin sides were a class above the rest of Serie A, this was impressive indeed. While Cesena’s home form was where they picked up most of their points, their stubbornness on the road lifted them above midtable. Low scoring draws were the order of the day with three 0-0s at Inter, Ascoli and Como proving vital.
Perhaps their best performance was in the 3-3 draw with Juventus. Racing into a 2-0 first half lead, the swift passing and midfield exuberance of Frustalupi caused the Bianconeri no end of problems in the first half. The champions would not lie down, and their immediate second half riposte brought them level.
Yet Marchioro’s side stuck at their task, with Luigi Danova and Giovanni Urban both drawing saves before Sauro Petrini’s deflected effort finally beat Dino Zoff. Juventus came back to draw, but both sides left the field not just satisfied with their display, but ruing what might have been.
Despite their impressive opening half of the season, the Cavalluccio Marino were already seeing Torino and Juventus disappear into the distance. Seven points quickly became ten and it was apparent that the battle was not for the title, but amongst the also-rans.
While Cesena battled throughout the second half of the season, the strength of the Milan sides, as well as Napoli, proved too much and they went into the last game of the season, a visit to a Torino side who needed a result to become champions, in seventh.
There was a last hurrah as they scrambled a 1-1 draw through a Roberto Mozzini own goal. Torino won the Scudetto and Cesena remained the only side not to lose to either Turin side throughout the season. More importantly, the point lifted them up to 6th spot and into the UEFA Cup.
That was as good as it got. The next year brought an embarrassingly poor relegation campaign and a fairly tame exit from Europe to East German side Magdeburg. None of that takes away from what that Cesena side achieved, however.
To finish sixth in Serie A is an achievement in itself, and to do so playing an expansive style of football that kept the very best sides on the ropes was enough to ensure Marchioro’s reputation, as well.
History may well remember the victors, but it would do well not to forget those who told the stories on the way. It would do well not to forget Cesena.