To keep my eye in a bit, and so I can enjoy the football of years gone by, here’s the first in a series of series reviewing football seasons you might not expect. First up, Fiorentina’s Serie A campaign of 1937/38.
Let me take you back in the mists of time, when Serie A was just a boy, when Inter were Ambrosiana and Sampdoria were Liguria, and let me tell you a story of a Fiorentina team that do not echo through the history books – the Viola of 1937/38.
Fiorentina came into this season having finished 9th the season before, a creditable finish for a team who were building themselves up into something special – they would win the Coppa Italia a couple of years later, but had been somewhat mired in scandal earlier; particularly in the late 1920s, when they had been fined, along with Savoia, for involvement in match-fixing, though it seems the Viola refused the offer, because they were winning pretty regularly anyway. All fairly standard stuff, and lead Fiorentina to a level of security in Serie A by the point we join them, and looking to build for the year to come. You’ll have to forgive some matches being covered in more detail than others – reports can be difficult to source from such times.
The season started disastrously for the Viola, with a trip to Roma. After conceding an early goal to Michelini, things slipped from bad to worse, with Scaramelli making it 2-0 to the Giallorossi after only 34 minutes. For a team who had scored only 34 goals in their 30 games the season before, a comeback looked unlikely as early as half-time – something confirmed a minute after the restart, when Michelini grabbed his second, and a couple of minutes later when he completed not just the scoring but his hat-trick, leaving Fiorentina defeated 4-0, and bottom of the table – one of four teams to lost on the opening day, but only alongside Livorno, who failed to score – at Juventus – in their 2-0 loss.
1. 12/9/37 – Roma (A) – L 4-0 – P 1 W 0 D 0 L 1 F 0 A 4 Pts 0 Pos 16
The Florentine public were, understandably, not optimistic the next week; that four goal thrashing being followed by a visit from the reigning (twice) champions Bologna. It was hammering it down in Florence the day before the game, and the morning, but had brightened a little before kickoff. Achille Piccini came into the home teams defence, adding an air of stability that was, evidently, lacking the weekend before. It was evident, however, that even in the boggy conditions that Bologna’s play was a level above Fiorentina’s hard work; indeed, after the Viola had started like a train, they were sucker-punched by the champions, whose superior technique came to the future, as Busoni found Maini, and he found the net. Despite that hammer-blow, Fiorentina pushed forward, and some 10 minutes later got their reward through Traversa, whose speculative cross was meant for Viani, but as he missed the ball, his movement foxed Ceresoli and it drifted into the goal. Following the equaliser it was, surprisingly, Fiorentina who made all the running, Bologna seemingly happy with the point; that was not to be, however, as Barberis scored late on (87) to earn the Viola their first win of the season.
2. 19/9/37 – Bologna (H) – W 2-1 – P2 W1 D0 L1 F2 A5 Pts 2 Pos 7=
Barberis, however, was missing for the next game, away at Genoa, Lametti coming in in his place, though he was dismissed during the match, and as such could do nothing to arrest the slide. Selvetti scored the only goal of the game for the gialloblu, who recorded their first win of the season, meaning they leapfrogged Fiorentina in the table.
3. 26/9/37 – Genoa (A) – L 1-0 – P3 W1 D0 L2 F2 A6 Pts 2 Pos 10=
The next week brought a visit to Milan, to face Ambrosiana. The hosts were unbeaten going into this game, having won against Livorno at home, but drawn both their away games. Despite Fiorentina’s return to their winning line-up from a couple of weeks before, it made no difference, as Meazza and Frossi put the hosts 2-0 up within twenty minutes, and, despite Viani’s reply before the break, both added another goal apiece to one from Ferrara in the second half. Ambrosiana ended up winning 5-1, and Fiorentina’s season was rapidly spinning out of control – it was as if the Bologna game had never happened. 4. 3/10/37 – Ambrosiana-Inter (A) – L 5-1– P4 W1 D0 L3 F3 A11 Pts 2 Pos 14
Back at home against Bari the following match, Ugo Conti got the Viola off to the start they’d promised against Bologna, scoring in the very first minute. Just as in that game against the Champions, however, the home side conceded in the 22nd minute, this time to Grassi, and this time, neither team to break the deadlock, however hard they flooded forward second half. Another point, though, took the season’s tally to 3 – all at home so far.
5. 10/10/37 – Bari (H) – D 1-1 – P5 W1 D1 L3 F4 A12 Pts 3 Pos 12=
After facing opponents who had travelled the length of the peninsula one week, the next week saw the Florentines embark on a similar journey themselves, travelling down to Naples to face the Vesuviani. It was not a day to remember; Napoli winning 3-0, cantering clear of Fiorentina, despite having been level at kick off time. For the second time during the season, a debutant was dismissed, too – this time Lomi.
6. 17/10/37 – Napoli (A) – L 3-0 – P6 W1 D1 L4 F4 A15 Pts 3 Pos 14
The next week brought another big team to the Artemio Franchi (or, the Comunale, as it was back then) – the Bianconeri of Juventus. As when Bologna visited, the heavens had opened beforehand, and the pitch was more quagmire than meadow. It was perhaps this that led to the ankle injury of Juve’s star striker Gabetto early on – he was ‘crippled’ after five minutes, but remained on the field, and, even though he was limping at that point, played the ball that caused the confusion that led to Tori putting through his own net to open the scoring. As in the game against Bologna; the younger Fiorentina team was trying to match football-smarts with graft, and got their reward early in the second half when whippet-like right-winger Mannelli surged forward and unleashed a drive that Bodoira got his hands to, but could not stop. By the end, Viola had acquitted themselves pretty well, though its difficult to tell (as always) whether the conditions neutralised the game; either way, Mannelli was impressive as well as his goal, and Lomi excelled in his second appearance.
7/ 24/10/37 – Juventus (H) – D 1-1 – P7 W1 D2 L4 F5 A16 Pts4 Pos 12=
We finish this first section, then, at the end of November – with Fiorentina beginning to show signs of coming to life. Ottavio Baccani has demonstrated that he isn’t afraid to experiment with youth, and though it’s a far while from being a successful season so far, the green shoots of recovery are visible after that disastrous start.
(Points are the bars – plotted on the left, league position is the line – plotted on the right)
Join me next time for the second part of the season, beginning with the home game against Liguria – the second home game in a row with Bortolani and Mannelli both featuring.