The Serie A 1984/85 season was probably the last when calcio fans could witness an authentic miracle on the pitch. It was the season when the Scudetto was won – for the first and only time so far – by Verona, a club that only two years earlier was still playing in Serie B.
Many were the reasons that made the miracle possible, but no small part in it was played by goalkeeper Claudio Garella, a true iconic figure of Italian football in the 1980s. Garella didn’t exactly have what you would call the physique du role. A stocky, sturdy figure with a bit of spare tire on his belly, he was known for his revisable – yet effective – goalkeeping style.
In 1985, Garella was 30 years old already and had been playing for the Scaligeri for 4 years. He had not been spared criticism in the past, especially in the previous two seasons. But when Verona unexpectedly found themselves top of the league, his performances helped preserving the Gialloblu lead and ultimately led them to an incredible Scudetto.
Garella’s heroics against Roma on October 21, 1984, in particular, gained a cult status among football fans in those days. The bulky goalkeeper held the Giallorossi to a goalless draw with a string of spectacular saves – so much that, still today, the most aged Roma fans would comment on a remarkable goalkeeping performance by uttering “Hey, you look like Garella!”
But why was that specific game against Roma so important? Well, what today would look like an ordinary top-flight matchup was actually the real deal in the Serie A of 1984: Roma were the incumbent Italian champions, featuring players like Azzurri winger Bruno Conti and Brazilian internationals Toninho Cerezo and Paulo Roberto Falcao.
Verona, on the other hand, were coming from a remarkable sixth place in the table the previous season. President Celestino Guidotti’s club had showed quite some ambition in the summer mercato by bringing in German full-back Hans-Peter Briegel and Danish sensation Preber Elkjaer-Larsen, adding them to a solid backbone of Italian players like Pietro Fanna, Giuseppe Galderisi, and Antonio Di Gennaro. Plus, of course, Garella.
On the bench, Osvaldo Bagnoli was at the helm since three seasons, adding stability and continuity to Verona’s project.
The Gialloblu were off to a good start in Serie A as they defeated Napoli 3-1 in the opener in the day of Diego Maradona’s Serie A debut. On Matchday 5, they stunned Michel Platini’s Juventus at the Marc’Antonio Bentegodi Stadium with an unquestionable 2-0 win. Verona really meant business in that season and Roma were next in line.
The Giallorossi welcomed Verona at the Stadio Olimpico in a sour mood, coming from a frustrating streak of five draws in a row. However, there were still 40000 screaming fans ready to welcome back Falcao, the “Eight King of Rome” (that was much before Francesco Totti would claim the title for himself…), after a one-month-and-a-half absence due to an injury.
Falcao felt compelled to oblige: Early in the game, he released his fellow countryman Cerezo on the right flank, but the Brazilian’s shot crashed into Garella’s gloves. And that was just the beginning. Verona’s sporadic chances took the form of a Briegel conclusion from a Galderisi service, but the German giant’s diagonal shot ended wide away off target.
The stage was soon set for Garella to steal it again. This time, he denied his former teammate Maurizio Iorio – who had just moved to Roma in the transfer market – palming the ball away from his volley.
Early in the second half, it was again time for Verona to try to trouble the scorers, first with an Elkjaer-Larsen shot, and then with a counterattack created from Galderisi, with Di Gennaro’s conclusion giving a chance to Roma’s goalkeeper Franco Tancredi to also shine.
But the rest of the game was an authentic Garella show. The Verona shot-stopper came up with no less than six additional live-saving stops in the second half of the match. Iorio tried to surprise him with a header, but Garella sprung to the right and removed the ball from the bottom corner of the goal. Ubaldo Righetti’s headed attempt ended similarly.
On 70 minutes, the gigantic goalkeeper painted his masterpiece with an astonishing double save on Di Carlo and Iorio. Antonio Di Carlo dribbled past the Verona defense and released a shot that once again tested hard Garella’s reflexes. As Iorio was ready for the tap in from point-blank range, the goalie courageously dived forward and stretched his hand to snatch the ball out of his feet.
The Giallorossi couldn’t believe their eyes but had not seen it all yet. There was still time for the Verona number one to show the rest of his repertoire, pushing back a Falcao free-kick and then saving with his leg from Cerezo’s last gasp attempt. It was just a no go. The score didn’t change and Verona preserved their Serie A lead, adding another small brick to their fairytale story.
When interviewing the hero of the day after the match, TV commentator Giampiero Galeazzi awarded Garella a nickname that would stick to him for the rest of his career. “From now on, you will be known as ‘Garellik’”, he said enthusiastically, with a reference to popular Italian comic book hero Diabolik.
That is how a seemingly-ordinary goalkeeper became a legend of calcio, eventually gaining a transfer to Napoli – where he would conquer the second Scudetto of his remarkable career.
October 21, 1984 – Serie A 1984-85 Round 6
ROMA – VERONA 0-0
|ROMA (3-4-3): Tancredi; Oddi, Bonetti, Righetti; Falcao, Maldera, Di Carlo, Cerezo; Pruzzo, Buriani (76′ Chierico), Iorio (Malgioglio, Ancelotti, Giannini, Graziani) Coach: Eriksson|
|VERONA (5-3-2): Garella; Ferroni, L. Marangon, Tricella, Fontolan, Briegel; Fanna, Volpati, Galderisi (82′ Turchetta); De Gennaro (83′ Bruni), Elkjaer-Larsen (Spuri, F. Marangon, Donà) Coach: Bagnoli|
REFEREE: Mr. Mattei from Macerata
NOTES: Yellow cards: Righetti, Pruzzo, Buriani (R), Fanna (V)