Juventus’ draw in Parma on Wednesday evening stretched their unbeaten run to 22 games in Serie A, yet despite this wonderful run, the Bianconeri still find themselves in 2nd place behind Milan. Should Juve remain unbeaten all season and still lose the title to the Rossoneri, it would be the second time Milan had celebrated in these unlikely circumstances.
When Franco D’Attoma took over as owner of Perugia Calcio in 1974, the entrepreneur could never have imagined the story that would unfold in his time in Umbria. Upon arrival, the silver-haired businessman found a club severely in debt and with one foot planted in Serie C. Luckily for D’Attomma, the grifone rallied after his arrival and survived on goal difference. The following season under new coach Ilario Castagner (above), a youthful Perugia side stormed Serie B to win the league and a first ever promotion to Serie A. Players such as Renato Curi, Franco Vannini and Paolo Sollier were superb in their first seasons at Serie B level and in the last game ever played at their old Santa Giuliana stadium, Perugia beat Novara to seal the historic promotion.
Upon arriving in Serie A, the small Umbrian side were expected to make an immediate return to the second tier. D’Attoma and Castagner had other idea’s, and Perugia finished 8th and then 6th in consecutive seasons, establishing themselves as a solid top-flight side. But during the 1977-78 season, tragedy struck for Perugia, as Calcio was robbed of one of it’s best players of the era, a man who symbolised Perugia’s rise up the leagues.
Renato Curi had been with Perugia from promotion to Serie B. On October 30th 1977, Perugia hosted Juventus before 30,000 fans at their new Stadio Comunale. The Grifone led Serie A along with Genoa, Milan and Juventus and some whispered that the minnows could even challenge for the Scudetto. At 15:34, with the score at 0-0, Renato Curi was chasing a pass before falling a few metres short. When it became clear something wasn’t right, medics surrounded the player but he couldn’t be saved. Renato Curi died of a heart-attack aged just 24. Today, the Comunale stadium is now known as Stadio Renato Curi in his honour. Without their inspirational midfielder, Perugia could only finish 7th, yet what followed the following season wrote Perugia into the record books, yet still the season would end in disappointment.
The 1978-79 season saw the Grifoni become the first ever Italian side to remain unbeaten for an entire league campaign (something only Fabio Capello’s Milan could equal thirteen years later.) Yet amazingly, the Biancorossi still didn’t win the title, losing out to Nils Liedholm and Milan, who claimed their 10th Scudetto. The season was unique for the Milanese as it was the first of Franco Baresi, and also the last of Gianni Rivera. Yet despite the Rossoneri claiming the title, little Perugia were the big story. In 30 games, they could only win 11 and draw 19, finishing three points behind top spot in the days on two points for a win. The Umbrians conceded a miserly 16 sixteen goals, with defenders Della Martira and captain Frosio being the heroes in a dogged Perugiani side. It could all have been different, as with six games left to play, Milan arrived in Perugia two points ahead of their rivals. The stadium was full two hours before kick-off, but with host of injuries for the home side, they could only draw 1-1, all but sealing the title for Milan. Perugia could only muster two more wins from their remaining games and their chance had gone.
The following years saw mid-table finishes before relegation and points deduction in the wake of the original ‘Calcioscommese’ scandals. Things would never be the same again for Perugia, and although they did return to Serie A under mad-cap president Luciano Gucci (the man who sold a horse to a referee due to officiate a Perugia game in the 1992-93 season- he was duly banned and Perugia relegated) and famously cost Juventus the title in the rain at the end of the 1999-00 season, the Umbrian outfit now find themselves in Serie C2 after falling as far as the regional leagues of Serie D.
Although clearly two very different clubs, Perugia 78-79 and Juventus 11-12 have some similarities. Although good sides, both weren’t title favourites and the strength of their title bids has surprised many. Both are also suffering from too many draws. 19 stalemates cost Perugia a Scudetto, whilst Juventus have been held 10 times already just over halfway through the campaign. And both sides are without a real superstar player, relying on spirit and determination rather than the magic of an individual to determine games.
The saying is lightning doesn’t strike twice, yet should the current trend continue and Juventus lose out to Milan, a group of fans 570km south of Turin will know just how they feel.