Today’s stadium tour takes us to North-Central Italy. We’re going to talk about a stadium whose history and expansion went hand in hand with that of the team it hosts. It is a story of late glory, unexpected falls, and a slow but deserved resurrection.
We are heading to Parma and therefore to the Ennio Tardini Stadium. This is one of those playing grounds that we really love, one of the oldest in the country, and with a large old very characteristic gate at the entrance that gives it a certain harmony with the architecture of the Old Town.
Mr. Ennio Tardini was the driving force behind the creation of this stadium in the 1920s. Tardini was a famous lawyer in the city and the president of Parma Football Club, passionate about sport and his city’s team.
Along with the Comune of the city of Parma, a competition was launched for the construction of a new city stadium. The committee formed seemed undecided between the projects of two Parma architects, Atanasio Soldati and Riccardo Bartolomasi.
But finally, and surprisingly, Ettore Leoni’s project was chosen instead of the two shortlisted – not without some controversy as it is said, and quite rightly so, that Leoni’s original idea was “strongly influenced” by the Stade de Gerland in Lyon.
Under the name of Stadio Municipale, the project works began in 1922. However, a bad fate prevented its promoter from seeing his great work finally realized and completed. In August 1923, just one month before the end of the works, Ennio Tardini died. That is why, almost unanimously, it was decided to change the name as a tribute to the deceased president.
A few years later, the Parma club encountered great financial problems and asked for help from the fascist regime – which, as we know from other stadiums we explored, loved to appropriate sports facilities. Thus, in return for the help, the stadium name was changed to Walter Branchi, a fascist martyr.
Back in the days, and for about 15 years since its construction, the stadium would be little more than a field with grass. It had no stands, no facilities, just a football pitch, and an athletics track. In 1936, a decade after the fascist regime had promised a stadium that would “cope with the great sporting fever in the city of Parma” but left it pretty much unchanged, the Comune retook control of their playing ground and approved the works to provide it with at least two stands on the sides.
Few changes happened since then until the 1980s, – and when we say few changes, we really mean it: There was hardly any relevant match in over 50 years, partly because Parma was far from being a top club and partly because the stadium was not able to host any major sporting event.
But, with the arrival of the Parmalat company and their president Callisto Tanzi at the helm, the team reached its glory days in the ’90s, and so did its stadium.
Parma had a meteoric rise and in 1990 were promoted to Serie A, being forced to carry out a major renovation of their stadium in order to meet the conditions required by the first category. To give you an idea, the maximum capacity of the Tardini at that time was around 13,000 people, while the Serie A required a minimum of 30,000 seats. A major remodeling was necessary.
In 1990, the Tribuna Petitot, including the VIP and press areas, was completely renovated. The modernization work took into consideration not only the new needs of the team and the fans but also the original architectural elements that characterized the original facade of the stands. In 1992 it was the turn of the Curva Nord (“North Stands”) where locals are situated, while a year later the Curva Sud (“South Stands”) was also rebuilt.
You cannot mention the ’90s to any Parma tifoso and not see them shedding a tear. A team that in almost 90 years had not even made it to Serie A, went on to win more than most clubs do in their entire history in just a decade. In their record books from 1991 to 2002, Parma boast three Coppa Italia (also losing two more Finals) and one Supercoppa Italiana (losing three).
But this is not the most surprising thing, as a team that barely had a regular football field at the end of the ’80s, reached two UEFA Winners’ Cup Finals (winning one) and two UEFA Cup Finals, which they both won, also winning a UEFA Super Cup in just eight years. That’s almost one title per year, which makes them the most successful Italian club in Europe behind none other than Milan, Juventus, and Inter.
That’s crazy, right? Well, but that’s not even the craziest part of this story. Parma’s fortunes indeed went along with their managing company Parmalat’s. And, just as Parmalat had brought the best years out of their club, when the company collapsed in what was likely the biggest fraudulent bankruptcy and speculation scandal ever made by a private company in Europe, they took Parma down with them.
That was not necessarily when Parma hit rock bottom, as in 2004 they still managed to re-establish themselves and move away from Parmalat, remaining in Serie A for a few more years despite suffering a lone relegation in 2006.
The real annus horriblis for Parma was 2015. After achieving qualification to the Europa League guided by Antonio Cassano, UEFA denied them the European license to play because they weren’t up to date with payments to the Italian Football Federation. A team that was finally coming back to walk the European stage was now seeing the dream slipping through their fingers.
Parma’s finances were in disarray and, after being passed around to a few evanescent, shady entrepreneurs in the space of just a few months, the club was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy and restart from the Serie D (the fourth division).
However, the rebirth of Parma was a true modern calcio fairytale. Although there have been several team re-foundings recently (check our Palermo’s La Favorita and San Nicola Stadium articles for more), they were never followed by such a passionate response from fans, who set one attendance record after another and even acquired part of the club’s shares. It was on the shoulders of their tifosi that Parma returned to Serie A in 2019 after three promotions in a row.
Not everything is a joy at the Ennio Tardini, unfortunately, as there have also been tragic events associated with it. The Curva Nord is dedicated to Parma ultra Matteo Bagnaresi, who died on his way to a match against Juventus as a Bianconeri supporter bus accidentally run over him during a fan scuffle. In 2009, another Parma supporter, Eugenio Bortolon, fell to his death from the stands, prompting a reduction in the numbers of seats of the Curva Sud.
Although the history of this stadium and its club has been relevant since 1990 only, the Ennio Tardini remains one of the oldest and most iconic grounds in Italy. This is where Parma made themselves a name for being a legitimate, fighting, and never-say-die team – in perfect symbiosis with an ardent fan base who are as attached to their colors as they are to their stadium and heritage.
Click Below to Visit Some More Temples of The Italian Football Cult:
The San Paolo Stadium in Napoli
The Luigi Ferraris aka Marassi in Genoa
The Stadio Olimpico in Rome
The Renato Dall’Ara Stadium in Bologna
The San Nicola Stadium in Bari
The Renzo Barbera or La Favorita in Palermo