Parma – The Sad Story Of The Seventh Sister
Reports had swirled on Saturday evening that Parma, one of the Sette Sorelle – the Seven Sisters of Italian football – were in dire financial straits and on the cusp of folding.
All funding by the current owner had been stopped with their weekend game against Udinese pulled by the players with the club unable to pay for security or match stewards and the threat of being dissolved looming large.
It is reported they have just €40,000 left in their accounts with the players or staff not being paid since last July. The situation is so catastrophic that many of the youth team players keep taking ill due to having no electricity for hot showers. For Serie A, Italian football and ultimately Parma, it is an incredible sad tale and a far cry from the halcyon days of the 90’s and Gazzetta Football Italia.
That exotic coffee shop setting, the refined, suave-looking English gentleman with the pink sports papers; it was pure, unadulterated glamour on Channel 4. While other kids may have been settling down to watch the Sunday morning cartoons on offer, nineties’ football fans would be readying themselves for that weekend’s spectacular, Football Italia.
Money saturated the game in Italy back then with the world’s best players plying their trade there. You had the all-conquering AC Milan side of Baresi, Maldini, Gullit and Van Basten, the great Juventus team of Roberto Baggio and the precocious Alessandro Del Piero, Fiorentina spearheaded by the talismanic Gabriel Batistuta and twin threats from the capital, Lazio and Roma.
Parma’s story was slightly different from the rest, though. They were a small, regional club in the north of the country with a population of just 170,000. They had never competed for major honours up until a takeover of local businessman Calisto Tanzi and his Parmalat Company: a business the self-made millionaire had grown from the ground up into Europe’s biggest dairy production.
Tanzi had ploughed tens of millions of his own capital into the football club, acquiring some of the finest footballers Europe had ever seen: their 1998-99 side of Buffon, Sensini, Thuram, Cannavaro, Veron, Baggio, Asprilla, Crespo and Chiesa still brings shivers to the spine. That particular team had won the UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia that season but bigger fish would eventually come calling as one star after another departed for astronomical fees.
The fraud scandal of 2004 would crush Parma, though. Tanzi and his Parmalat Company were caught up in the biggest fraud and embezzlement incident Europe had ever seen. Supposedly sitting on assets worth €3.95 billion, the business had actually run up debts of €14.5 billion with Tanzi forging documents to keep a veil over his illegal activity. The club, caught up in the corruption, were made insolvent and relegated to Serie B.
They returned, renamed FC Parma and fought their way back to Italian football’s top table but they never really recovered from the previous regime’s financial antics and would bob and weave between top half finishes and fight relegation for much of the next decade. Things finally came to a head last weekend with the club on the brink of bankruptcy once again; reported debts of around €197 million decimating any chance of recovery.
The future remains incredibly bleak for one of the former giants of Serie A – a stark warning to the rest of European football that you may only ever be a handful of bad decisions away from absolute catastrophe. Whatever comes to pass over the next few days, their fans will always carry the memories of that glorious era in the late ninties and, just like in 2004, hope remains that they will once more rise from the ashes.