Conor Clancy Date: 27th June 2020 at 11:16pm
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Neither Leonardo Copelli nor his father Vittorio will be unfolding their scarves this Sunday evening, despite Parma playing their first home game in 141 days.

The Crociati welcome Inter to the Stadio Ennio Tardini and will fancy their chances given both sides’ last games, but they will be doing so without the support of their fans who regularly fill the Curva Nord Matteo Bagnaresi and surrounding stands on a Sunday afternoon.

“It’s not really football,” Vittorio Copelli, now 51 years old and a Parma season-ticket holder since their Serie C days in 1978, explained to Forza Italian Football.

In his 42 years supporting his local team he has seen just about everything. He started in Serie C, saw them challenge for Scudetti and win European trophies in the 1990s and even stayed by their side as they dropped down to Serie D, before remarkably chaining together an unprecedented three consecutive promotions to return to Italian football’s top tier.

But being forced to watch on television from a kilometre away is something he’s not accustomed to. Even his son Leonardo, 12, has already grown used to watching on from the Curva every other week since attending his first game in Serie D.

“It’ll be very strange to watch at home,” the younger Copelli added.

It’s not just fans within the city who will have to find new routines and, as Paolo Speroni explained, the Crociati are well-supported even away from the historical centre.

“For a three o’clock game I like to come down in the morning to Parma with my wife, she enjoys coming and wishes she had a season ticket but left it too late this season,” Speroni, who lives 50 kilometres from the city in the village of Bardi, within the province of Parma and close to Liguria, said.

“I have my lucky Parma top and scarf which I wear to every game. I get a bite to eat and then head to the stadium about an hour early – I like the whole experience, even if there’s nothing to do. I like to watch the warm ups and take in all the action.

“I have my normal spot in the Curva Nord. It’s about halfway up and just to the left of centre, if you’re looking at the Curva. I’ve been a season ticket holder for 13 years now, so I know most of the faces around me.”

Even without their usual 50-kilometre drive and lunch in Parma’s charmingly idyllic city centre, the scarf and shirt will be worn nonetheless.

“Tomorrow I will probably go to my local bar, which will be full of Inter fans,” he continued.

“I’ll be wearing my Parma top and scarf and I’ll sit in the middle of them, shouting at every Parma shot, just to annoy them all.”

Some Crociati supporters will be coming in from even further afield though, even in the knowledge that they won’t be able to have access to the stadium.

Dejan Zuber, head of Parma Club Crociati Balkan, and his daughter Hana will be watching on from the city centre having driven 500 kilometres from Pula, Croatia.

“I’ve always liked underdogs,” Zuber began, explaining why he chose Parma, “I like smaller cities and white kits.

“Parma are something special. They came out of nowhere and [they had] this [Faustino] Asprilla guy, with his long sleeves and long steps.

“We fell in love, my brother and I.”

Despite that inexplicable love for the Gialloblu, Zuber and his brother never made the trip together before Vedran passed away in 1995.

“I travel a lot, but I never wanted to go to Parma because of him. But then Parma had their darkest days in 2015, exactly 20 years after his death and I finally went to the Tardini. Since then, I can’t resist it anymore.

“If I ever had to leave my hometown, it could only be for Parma. The people are kind, relaxed, the food is great, there are a lot of trees and I have the feeling that I belong there.

“It’s my haven. I can just eat on some terrace, drink a beer, watch the easygoing crowds and feel immortal.”

Zuber, like the Copelli family, isn’t a fan of this ‘new normal’, but even the ongoing pandemic can’t keep him away from Emilia-Romagna, so he and his daughter will be cheering their team on from a secret location in the city.

“I can’t stand this lockdown and these chains, my way of life has been ruined. I told TV Parma that I’d be back as soon as possible, so Hana and I are coming by car, alone.

“I’m always the driver of a group. In my car, a rented van or whatever. I pick up guys in my country and, 500 kilometres later, we get to Parma.

“Even now, with the sad atmosphere in the town and the closed doors, we’ll be close.”

Much like 12-year-old Leonardo, Zuber’s daughter, Hana, fell in love with all-things Parma at an early age.

“I noticed that Hana was mesmerised with fan chants at some local tournaments,” her father said, explaining how she started joining him on his 1,000-kilometre round trips to Parma.

“It is in her blood. She cries when we win and when we lose.”

Things aren’t going to be the same for what’s left of 2019/20, but Zuber and Speroni are examples of how some things will stay the same with fans.

“If you’re a fan, you’re a fan forever,” Vittorio summed up, “we’ve supported Parma and attended games against clubs and in little villages that we’d never heard of before”.

Whether Roberto D’Aversa’s men win or lose on Sunday evening, they’ll have their supporters ready to flock back to the stadium as soon as the doors are reopened, be they from Emilia-Romagna, Croatia, Scotland or elsewhere.

For now, though, they’re all fully focused on the Nerazzurri’s visit and although they each maintained, as did members of their playing staff, that the priority is still ensuring survival, they’ll back themselves to cause an upset after seeing Sassuolo’s performance at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

“I’m confident for Parma-Inter,” concluded Leonardo as he, for a split-second, appeared to forget that he wouldn’t be there to watch on, “but I’m just looking forward to a time when we can go to the stadium again”.