Throwback Thursday: The Lazio Playout on the Edge of Serie C

Not only of victories and trophies the memory of a football supporter is made. Sometimes, even a narrow escape can become part of a fan base’s collective memory – especially when it ends up becoming a fundamental turning point in the history of a club.

That is surely the case with Lazio, whose memories from the 1980s are strongly influenced by an episode that most likely altered the course of the Biancocelesti’s history: The 1987 Serie B relegation playout against Campobasso.

The 1980s were a dark age for Lazio. While their cross-town rivals of Roma would go as far as winning a Scudetto and reaching a European Cup Final, the Biancocelesti spent most of the decade in Serie B and went even close to plummeting into Serie C1 (the third division) – had not they managed to win this notorious relegation playout.

They started the season with the ambition to be promoted but rather ended up playing a dramatic relegation playout against Campobasso: This, gentlemen, is the Lazio roster from the 1986-87 season

In the 1986-87 season, the capital city’s club fought an exhausting battle against all odds to maintain their slot into the second level of calcio. Due to the involvement of one of their players into a match-fixing scandal in the previous season, Lazio were inflicted a nine-point penalization before the new campaign start.

In an age when still two points were awarded for victory, that meant that a squad built to aim at a promotion suddenly found themselves involved in the relegation dogfight – a fight they were about to lose, as with eight minutes to go in the last Serie B matchday they seemed set to be demoted.

But then, the first miracle in this story happened as striker Giuliano Fiorini managed to score a late goal to Vicenza and helped Lazio clinch the fourth-to-last place in the table. There was still hope, as coach Eugenio Fascetti’s side was now tied with Taranto and Campobasso. They had managed to recover the deficit and end just at the margin of the danger zone, but that was still not enough.

To determine the last team to be relegated, a three-team round robin was to be held at the San Paolo Stadium in Naples. The top two teams in the group would be safe while the last one would be doomed to relegation.

Lazio faced Taranto in the first game but unexpectedly lost 0-1, even if the Apulians’ goal appeared to be in offside. Taranto tied the second match against Campobasso and removed themselves from the dogfight.

Thus, the last game to be held on July 5, 1987, was going to be decisive. But while Campobasso could be happy with a draw, Lazio had no other option but winning. The Biancocelesti were about to put their whole history at stake in one single game against a club that very few people had actually ever heard of.

Who were indeed Campobasso? It takes a really aged and hardcore football fan to have a memory of them as the playout with Lazio would be the last time the red-and-blue Wolves showed their faces above the lower tiers of the Italian football pyramid.

The city of Campobasso is the regional capital of Molise – which is arguably the least known among the 20 Italian regions. So small and unacknowledged is this beautiful area in the center of the Belpaese, that even Italians (including Molisans…) use to joke that “Molise does not exist” and amiably call it Molisn’t.

THIS is Molise, in case you ask…

But if you ask Lazio fans, they would have no doubts about the Molisans existing or not: On that hot Sunday afternoon in 1987, they were alive, kicking, and ready to give battle to the Biancocelesti to win their permanence in the Serie B. It was a do or die day for Lazio. No less than 25,000 tifosi swarmed from Rome to Naples to support a club that despite the recent gloomy years had not lost its appeal.

The match – as it could be expected – was a nervous stalemate in which both sides were afraid to make any wrong move. All Campobasso had to do to survive was defending the nil-nil draw, and yet the Rossoblu were the first to come close to scoring as striker Francesco Boito incredibly failed to head the ball home from point-blank range.

But then, after the sudden scare, the world stopped for Lazio supporters on minute 53. Domenico Caso served Massimo Piscedda on the left side and the then 25-year-old lobbed the ball in the middle of the box. High and high the ball went, for a few seconds that seemed interminable, before descending and being headed by Fabio Poli towards Campobasso’s goal.

Gigantic goalkeeper Massimo Bianchi seemed to catch it but for some reason didn’t manage to parry it back and ended up pushing it into his own goal. Lazio had made it. The Biancocelesti had to defend their lead for 37 more tense minutes, before the referee’s final whistle would certify their permanence into the football aristocracy.

Fabio Poli celebrates after scoring the goal to Campobasso that won him a seat of honor in the collective memory of Lazio fans…

But – since every football story must have a winner and a loser – Lazio’s miracle turned into Campobasso’s damnation. Since their unfortunate descent into the third division, the Molisani have never been able to regain access to Serie B and have experienced several restructuring and bankruptcies. After playing at an amateur level for many seasons, today they fumble in Serie D – the fourth level of Italian football.

After narrowly escaping relegation, Lazio started to swiftly climb up the calcio hierarchy: One year later, they were promoted back to Serie A and their story climaxed towards the end of the century as they conquered a Scudetto and the very last edition of the Cup Winners Cup.

But none of that would have likely been possible, had Lazio not managed to survive what became universally known as the playout with Campobasso – a true sliding-doors event in the modern history of Italian football.

The legend goes that, a few hours before the game, beloved TV commentator Maurizio Mosca – who was famous for his wacky predictions that were inevitably proven wrong – prophesied that “if Lazio manage to win today, they will capture a Scudetto in 10 years.” Well, that time he ended up being right.



July 5, 1987 – Serie B 1986-87 Relegation Playout

SCORER: 53’ Poli

LAZIO: Terraneo, Acerbis, Magnocavallo (39′ Piscedda), Camolese, Gregucci, Marino, Poli, Caso, Fiorini (74′ Brunetti), Pin, Mandelli (Ielpo, Filisetti, Rizzolo) Coach: Fascetti
CAMPOBASSO: Bianchi, Parpiglia, Della Pietra (62′ Mollica), Maestripieri, Anzivino, Lupo, Evangelisti, Baldini, Perrone, Goretti, Vagheggi (43′ Boito) (Picca, Accardi, Pivotto) Coach: Vitali

REFEREE: Mr. Casarin from Milano
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Marino, Caso (L), Vagheggi (C)