Date:20th March 2020 at 10:15am
Written by:

There are a million reasons that football matches might stay in your mind. Some of them are thrilling, unexpected affairs that lift your soul with their artistry and leave you on a high that takes days to leave you.

In others, there is such beauty that it warms you on a human level with the knowledge that people are able to create such majesty, in the way of a symphony or a painting.

There are other reasons, too, and they were all present at a packed Stadio Renato Dall’Ara in Bologna in the early summer of 2014.

This was a bad Bologna side, let’s not make any pretences about this. Back when Forza Italian Football had a reporter for each Serie A team, I chose to fill my weeks that season with the Rossoblu because Rolando Bianchi had joined and I wanted to see his progress.

They went into the penultimate game of the season desperate for a win against a Catania side who were almost certain to be relegated and had not won an away game all year.

This game came at a tricky time for me. I was on a family holiday in Greece and knew I had to see the match somehow. It turned out that I could log into a Greek iteration of an English betting site and, after positioning myself near enough to a local bar that I could access their wifi, I settled in to watch the match on a tiny phone screen. Despite everything, I had hope.

It was always likely to be a tight affair; Bologna had struggled for goals all year. They had taken action to change things, like selling top scorer Alessandro Diamanti to China in January, only to fail to meet his intended replacement at the airport.

Davide Ballardini had stepped in after Stefano Pioli was sacked in January and somehow made a turgid, stagnant team worse. Bianchi had three goals to his name all season. Surely they would do something when the game was so important.

The fans had turned out, for sure. The players even started on the front foot and might have nicked an early goal.

Then things started to go wrong. Luciano Monzon slotted home a free kick to give the Elefanti the lead. He didn’t strike the ball particularly well but it flew past a flat footed Gianluca Curci. A few minutes later the visitors were down to ten men, Gino Peruzzi flying into a tackle on Lazaros that saw him given a second yellow card and dismissed.

Against ten men, Bologna laboured. Bianchi toiled, Panagiotis Kone received his fifteenth booking of the season, and the chances did not come. They got to the break and resumed, starting again with fire in their bellies, but still could not create anything worthwhile.

After an hour, Ballardini turned to Robert Acquafresca. He had not scored a Serie A goal for two years at this point. Things looked bleak. Finally, Archimede Morleo pounced on a loose ball at the back corner of the Catania penalty box and rifled home an equaliser. Ten minutes to go and finally Bologna started to press and started to look likely.

It was inevitable, then, that the Sicilian side would block an attack, run the length of the field, and slot home a winner. Gonzalo Bergessio took such utter delight in the goal that gave his side three points that one would be forgiven for thinking he might not have realised that both teams finished the day being relegated.

I had spent my season trying to stay upbeat, trying to find the positives in a team that were so obviously woeful. Never have I felt so let down by a team who had to perform to such a minimal standard to achieve their goal.

Never has a match stuck in my mind so much because it acted as the denouement for one of the worst farcical comedies that football has ever seen. I had fallen in love with Bologna over that season, and they broke my heart along with 30,000 others.