The History and Teams of the Sammarinese Football Championship

Three Feathers, Three Flowers, The Flowering One, The Walled One…The names of football clubs in San Marino are poetic and charming, drawing from Italian and from Latin to convey an image of calcio whose dimension is still genuine and down-to-earth.

Football is deep-rooted in the Most Serene Republic of San Marino. In a Country with a minuscule land area of 61 square kms and inhabited by just 33,000 people, you may be surprised to find no less than 15 football clubs buzzing and competing to win the local Campionato Sammarinese, scattered across the nine local Castelli. (that’s how the local municipalities are called)

The Campionato gained its official recognition from FIFA in 1985 paving the way for the San Marino National Team to start competing internationally. But the history of football in San Marino predates that: Before the league recognition, several occasional competitions were organized, including the national cup Coppa Titano.

Regularly held since at least 1965, the Coppa Titano was the most important local tournament before the creation of the Campionato. When the national championship joined the domestic cup, a Supercoppa was also added – previously known as Trofeo Federale and featuring the top two clubs from the previous league and cup editions.

These are the three tournaments still in place as of today.

Out of the original 17 clubs participating to the inaugural edition of the Campionato Sammarinese, Aurora folder after only one season of activity, while Juvenes and Dogana merged in 2000 in one team, reducing the total to 15.

There was a separation in two categories (Serie A1 and Serie A2) for a few seasons (1987-1996), but the local Association eventually came back to the original formula – split between a Regular Season and a Playoff Round – where all teams can compete for the title.

Oddly enough, there is not a clear home / away game structure as match venues are selected randomly among the six stadiums of the Republic, with the Final played at the San Marino Stadium in Serravalle in most cases. Since 2000, Sammarinese clubs have also gained access to the Preliminary Rounds of European competitions.

The most awarded local club are Tre Fiori (“Three Flowers”), based in the Castello of Fiorentino. On top of having won the local title eight times, the Gialloblu can also boast seven Coppa Titano and five Supercoppa wins.

Tre Fiori are also one of the most “successful” Sammarinese clubs in European competitions. In 2009, they became the first team from the Most Serene Republic not to lose a Champions League game as they held Sant Julià of Andorra twice in a First Preliminary Round match-up before succumbing on penalties.

In July 2018, they did even better than that as they crushed Welsh side Bala Town 3-0 in a Europa League Qualifier. Thanks to a few players signed specifically for the European match up, including goalkeeper Giorgio Pizzolato, Tre Fiori managed to hold in the reverse fixture and became the first club from San Marino to ever advance to the next stage of a European Qualifier.

Another Gialloblu side, La Fiorita (“The Flowering One”) of Montegiardino, are among the most famous clubs thriving atop the Mount Titano. One of the oldest clubs in the Republic, they won the Campionato Sammarinese five times and collected five Coppa Titano. La Fiorita are known internationally for having secured the services of former Italian Azzurro Damiano Tommasi to boost their European campaigns from 2015 to 2019.

However, despite scoring their first international goal ever, Tommasi didn’t ever succeed in qualifying La Fiorita to the next stages.

Like La Fiorita, also Murata (“The Walled One”) once resorted to an illustrious signing to enhance their chances for European glory. They were indeed a pioneer in that as in 2007 they were joined by the then 42-year-old Brazilian World Champion Aldair to face Tampere United of Finland. It didn’t help as the Finnish came out as winners 4-1 on aggregate.

Between 2005 and 2008, the club from the capital City of San Marino won the local title three times in a row – their only ones so far.

Travelling across the City of San Marino you may also happen to see the Biancazzurri of Tre Penne (“Three Feathers”). With four Campionato titles and four Coppa Titano under their belt, they have been the most successful club in the last decade.

But Tre Penne are part of the history of football in San Marino for more reasons: On top of being the very first club to also be recognized by the Italian Football Association and admitted playing in an Italian league in 1960, the most aged Sammarinese fans may remember with shiny eyes their legendary run in a non-professional tournament for small Countries played in Breganzona, Switzerland in 1966.

Tre Penne were runners-up in the international competition, only losing to an Austrian selection in the Final.

The club from the capital city can also boast a few more international achievements. In 2014, they were the first team from San Marino to win a Champions League preliminary match as they topped Armenia’s Shirak Gyumri 2-1. To date, their player Mirko Palazzi is also the only one from San Marino to have ever scored a brace in the European competition qualifiers.

Sammarinese “lost talent” Marco Macina – a former Milan signee regarded by many as a potential international football star back in the 1980s – started his playing career at the Tre Penne’s youth academy.

Moving further across the small Country, the Castello of Domagnano is home to one club that bears the same name. They won four national titles and eight Coppa Titano though their last success came in 2005. Domagnano also had little fortune in Europe so far, where they are yet to score a goal and have a 0-22 aggregate goal record so far.

Faetano’s last national title is even farther in time as it dates to 1999. Based in the homonym Castello, Faetano won the first Campionato Sammarinese officially recognized in 1986 but enjoyed little glory after that, collecting two more titles and three national cups. They are, however, the first club from San Marino to have ever recorded a clean sheet in Europe as they held Zestafoni of Georgia to a nil-nil draw in 2010.

Juvenes (meaning “Youngsters” in Latin) are the club that nurtured Massimo Bonini, the greatest Sammarinese player. They were originally the only team based in the Dogana district in the Castello of Serravalle – the largest in San Marino.

Dogana (“Customs”) were the second local club, founded in 1970. The two teams were once rivals but decided to join forces and created a new club that retained both their ancestor names in 2000. Since then, Juvenes-Dogana won two Coppa Titano and participated to the Europa League Qualifiers four times – though never scoring a goal.

Juvenes-Dogana also used to compete in the Italian Promozione Division – the 6th or 7th tier of the football pyramid in the Belpaese.

The Castello of Serravalle also hosts Cosmos – whose name was chosen to honor the legendary New York Cosmos back when the club was established in 1979 – and, in the Falciano hamlet, Folgore (“Lightning”). After winning the Sammarinese title in 2000 (the third of their fourth titles so far), they were the first club from San Marino to participate to a European competition.

Despite losing 1-12 on aggregate to Basel, Folgore set the record for the first Sammarinese goal scored in a European Cup as Alessandro Zanotti’s exploit made their defeat less bitter.

Cosmos, on the other hand, won the title in 2001 and collected four Coppa Titano. Their subsequent participation to a UEFA Cup Qualifier can be considered quite a success as the Sammarinese lost “only” 0-3 on aggregate to European veterans Rapid Wien.

Since the merger between Juvenes and Dogana, the only additional change to the Sammarinese league roster was Montevito’s name change to Fiorentino – to reflect the name of the Castello it is based in. Montevito won a national title in the 1991-92 season.

The only additional clubs to have won the title only once are Pennarossa (“Red Feather”) from the Castello of Chiesanuova and Libertas (“Freedom” in Latin) from Borgo Maggiore who, having been founded in 1928, are the oldest Sammarinese club still in activity and have collected an impressive 11 Coppa Titano across their history.

Libertas also hold the record for being the first team from San Marino not to lose a European game as they held Drogheda United of Ireland to a 1-1 tie in the 2007 UEFA Cup Qualifiers.

San Giovanni and Cailungo, both also based in Borgo Maggiore, have never won any national title though the latter can boast one Supercoppa, which they won in 2002. Little glory for Virtus (“Virtue” in Latin) as well – the only club representing the Castello of Acquaviva – whose trophy cabinet can only boast a Supercoppa dated 1989.