It is great to see that Parma appear to be stabilising themselves back in the top division of Italian Football with their 14th place finish in the 2018/19 season. It is also easy to forget just how far they had fallen in such a short space of time and just how much they have achieved to have a seat again at the top table.
Looking at European football at large, the demise of Parma was on a scale rarely seen before (with the closest comparable being Glasgow Rangers. In the ten years from 1992 to 2002, Parma won eight trophies including three Coppa Italia’s (1991–92, 1998–99, 2001–02), one Italian Super Cup (1999), two UEFA Cups (1994-95, 1998-99), one European Cup Winners Cup (1992-93) and one European Super Cup (1993). Such was the success of Parma during the 90s and early 2000s, it made them one of the most prominent and respected clubs throughout the glory years of Italian football (and arguably club football).
The football aficionado would rejoice at some of the names that played for Parma in the 1990s. It really is like a who’s who of talent – Buffon, Thuram, Cannavaro, Zola, Crespo, Veron , Stoichkov, Asprilla. Parma really did find the perfect blend between established international stars and local talent.
The glory days began to curtail in 2003, when their main financial backer and shareholder Parmalat (which adorned their iconic shirts of the 90s) went bankrupt. While the clubs financial difficulties were multiplying, the club bizarrely stayed in Serie A, alternating between European qualification and mid-table mediocrity. Their difficulties caught up with them in 2008 when they were finally relegated to the Serie B. Some thought that the club would find it difficult to recover. However, the team only remained there for one season, finishing the season in 2nd position and booking a ticket back to Serie A.
Their financial issues finally caught up though, with Parma FC made bankrupt in March 2015 with total debts of c€220m including unpaid wages to players and staff of c€60m and were docked points in the months preceding. Things became so desperate for the club that games had been postponed because they could not even pay the match stewards.
To the leagues credit, Parma were allowed to finish the season in Serie A but with of course, relegation to Serie B a formality. Serie B then denied the club a place in the league as the club could not find a new buyer or pay their aforementioned debts meaning the club were folded for the second time in a decade. They would have to start the 2015-16 season, as Parma Calcio 1913, in Serie D.
The club were on the verge of going out of existence, but as has been proven when clubs are in their dying embers, the last thing to leave the club is the supporters. Parma fans supported their club financially when it was at its lowest point, with a crowdfunding scheme resulting in the fans owning 25% of the club. A consortium of local entrepreneurs, called the Nuovo Inizio (which translates as new beginnings), bought the remaining 75% of the shares and with it took over the new club, which was renamed Parma Calcio 1913. In doing so they brought in prominent figures from Parma’s glory days in the 90s such as Luigi Apolloni and Nevio Scala to help boost morale and connect the club with their past.
The fans were remarkably loyal, buying more season tickets in Serie D than they had in the club’s final season in Serie A. Their support on the terraces was reciprocated on the field with Parma Calcio 1913 winning promotion to Serie C in style, going unbeaten all season in the process and amassing the highest points total ever recorded in the league.
Parma’s next promotion, in 2016/17 to Serie B, was a little less straight forward. Parma finished second, which gave them a spot in the last-16 stage of the gruelling play-offs, beating Piacenza, Lucchese and Pordenone and Alessandria in the playoffs to secure promotion to Serie B.
Following the back-to-back promotions Chinese businessman Jiang Lizhang went on to purchase a 60% stake in the club to become majority owner and new president. Lizhang ensured the club did not repeat the mistakes of the past and kept it a fan-friendly club. As a result of the investment, Nuovo Inizio reduced their stake to 30% with the supporters retaining 10%. Parma then appointed their iconic former talisman Hernan Crespo as vice president with the club firmly set on a third straight promotion.
Again, promotion in the 2017/18 season to Serie A was full of twists and turns. Going into the final day of the regular season, Frosinone were in prime position to finish second and with it, earn automatic promotion to Serie A. Parma needed to win at Spezia and hope Frosinone would drop points at home to Foggia. With just over an hour gone Parma were 2-0 up and Foggia were beating Frosinone 1-0. The club had one foot in Serie A. But this script would offer at least one more twist.
In the space of five minutes, Frosinone scored twice to take the lead against Foggia and leapfrog Parma in the table. With the clock ticking down, it seemed as if Parma would have to settle for another tilt at the play-offs. But then, with just one minute of the season remaining, Foggia substitute Roberto Floriano scored an equaliser at Frosinone. They had left it late, but Parma had done it!
Their leader, their captain, Alessandro Lucarelli had been the cornerstone of the clubs renaissance. He had remained loyal to the club throughout their journey and offered to stand by the club. True to his word, he stood by the club when they fell to Serie D, the only player to do so.
Lucarelli was 40 years old when the club secured promotion to Serie A and personified the strength, determination and team work that the team showed on their journey from Serie D. He is also a man who kept a promise: That he would take the club back to Serie A.
At the end of his final game he was understandably overcome with emotion. “It can’t be true, it’s not possible, I can’t believe it,” he said, his voice cracking. “We have done something incredible in these past three years. Something out of this world. No one could have imagined a finale like this. I’m dying. It’s more than a dream. This promotion is a great prize for our fans who together with us never gave up. I am proud to be their captain. Now I can even retire.”
True to his word again, Lucarelli hung up his boots immediately after promotion to Serie A with the club retiring the Number 6 shirt in his honour, a fitting way to end his career. Here at KAISER Football we hope that Parma emulate their success of the 1990s but, whatever happens from here, the story of his incredible club’s renaissance and Alessandro Lucarelli’s instrumental part of it will be told for many years to come.