Origins: the SPAL name and the Salesians' colours

The original core of what would later become SPAL saw the light of day back in 1907 upon the initiative of a Salesian priest, Pietro Acerbis, who was at the time director of the Ferrara oratory located on Via Coperta. Acerbis founded a religious-cultural society under the name of Ars et Labor that, a couple of years afterwards, thanks to the new director’s work, became “Circolo Ars et Labor” and added sports activities to the artistic ones: initially athletics and cycling. The club colours adopted were white and blue, those of the Salesian congregation’s coat of arms.

The soccer division was established in 1912, when the sports branch separated from the oratory and set up as a multisport club: “Società Polisportiva Ars et Labor”.

At the start, the soccer team was known by the name of Associazione Calcio Ferrara [Ferrara Soccer Association]. It wasn’t until 1919, and the end of the Great War, that the soccer division also aligned its name with that of the whole multisport club.

The first official soccer match played with the current name was SPAL vs. Triestina: 1-4, on 16 June 1919.

The Pre-War Period and the First Serie A Championships

Between 1920 and 1925, SPAL played in Serie A: in that period, its best result was the semi-final of the national championship (1922), lost to Sampierdarenese. Demoted in 1925, it was not part of the single-round Serie A in 1929 and was, thus, assigned to the Serie B championship. From that time, and for more than a decade, SPAL encountered a long history of demotions, changes of name, and even club colours. For a period, in fact, the team adopted white and black striped jerseys, under the name of Associazione Calcio Ferrara, in homage to Ferrara’s civic colours.

In the 1920s and 1930s, players of the calibre of Bruno Bertacchini, Elvio Banchero, Abdon Sgarbi – who would also wear the Italian jersey – Aldo Barbieri, Archimede Valeriani, Mario Romani, Savino Bellini, and, subsequently, in the 1940s, Otello Badiali and Albano Luisetto took off from Ferrara towards great soccer.

The Post-War Period and the Advent of the “Wizard”

After the end of the Second World War, the club returned to white and blue and the name SPAL.

The guiding spirit of those years was a figure who will remain etched in the history of the city, and that of Italian soccer. Paolo Mazza coached SPAL on two occasions between 1936 and 1939, guiding the team in the third league where it brushed promotion to Serie B.

He became president in 1946. Under his leadership, SPAL quickly conquered Serie B and battled to conquer Serie A.

In addition to his sporting successes, the Presidentissimo had the ability to place many promising young players in higher categories. One of these was Mario Astorri, purchased for just 25,000 lire and transferred to Juventus just a year after for the then huge sum of 2 million.

Another important stroke in those years was the transfer of Egisto Pandolfini, purchased from Fiorentina for just a few lire and subsequently re-sold to the same purple team for a stratospheric sum.

Thanks to these and other brilliant transactions to promote his young champions, the sports media of the period affectionately dubbed Paolo Mazza the Mago di Campagna, that is: the Transfer market Wizard.

Single-Round Serie A and the New Municipal Stadium

In 1951, with Antonio Janni as coach and Giovanni Emiliani as captain, SPAL won the Serie B championship and entered the single-round Serie A for the first time. The new municipal stadium, the Stadio Comunale, was inaugurated for the occasion.

The typical lineup that year was the following: Bertocchi, Guaita, Carlini; Emiliani, Macchi, Nesti; Trevisani, Colombi, Biagiotti, Bennike, Fontanesi. In addition to them, Dini, Patuelli, and Rosignoli.

The next 15 years saw SPAL rise to front of stage in national soccer, even if, in 1954, it was forced to contest the relegation playoffs. SPAL managed to stay in the highest league thanks to the victory against Palermo with the goals of Bernardin and Olivieri. In 1955, though demoted, the white and blue club was returned due to sports offences by Udinese and Catania.

Mazza and His Champions

Many players arrived at SPAL who were totally unknown but quickly obtained national and international success: the goalie Bugatti, taken from Seregno in September 1951, was called up to the National team after just nine months in the white and blue jersey. Together with him in the Italian jersey was the left wing Fontanesi, later transferred to Lazio.

But they weren't the only ones. A great number of players, promoted by the Ferrara club, continued their careers with the country’s great teams, like Armando Picchi (European and world champion captain with Inter), Egidio Morbello (Inter as well), Giorgio Bernardin (first with Inter then Roma), Sergio Carpanesi (Roma then Sampdoria), Carlo Novelli (Napoli), Orlando Rozzoni (Udinese then Lazio), Fabio Capello (Roma, Juventus, and Milan), Albertino Bigon (Foggia, Milan, and Napoli), Gianfranco Bozzao, Luigi Pasetti, and Carlo Dell´Omodarme (Juventus), Saul Malatrasi (Inter, Fiorentina, and, finally, Milan), Gianni Bui (Milan and Torino), Carlo Facchin (Torino and then Lazio), Giuliano Bertarelli and Dante Micheli (Fiorentina), Edoardo Reja (Palermo), and Luigi Delneri (Udinese).

But, in those years, the contribution of players who arrived at SPAL with an already consolidated career was also important, players like: Sergio Cervato, Giovanni Mialich, Onorio Busnelli, Battista Rota, Angelo Villa, the Swedish players Sigvard Lofgren and Dan Heiner Ekner, Enzo Matteucci, Manlio Muccini, Gianni Corelli, Ottavio Bianchi, Carlo Mattrel, Osvaldo Bagnoli, Fulvio Nesti, the Hungarian Jenő Vinyei, the Danish Nils Bennike and Dion Ãrnvold, Vincenzo Gasperi, Giancarlo Vitali, Pietro Broccini, Sergio Sega, Silvano Trevisani, Giulio Pellicari, Alberto Orlando, Glauco Tomasin, Enrico Muzzio, Edoardo Dal Pos, and Aulo Gelio Lucchi.

Massei's Arrival, the Best Placement, and the Coppa Italia Final

The 1958/59 championship proved disastrous. Mazza believed it was essential to profoundly renew the team. He transferred the older players Villa, Vitali, Dal Pos, Broccini, Lucchi, and Toros and sold the emerging players Malatrasi and Rozzoni to purchase the twenty-year-old Micheli, the Serie A debut players Picchi and Balleri, the expert Ganzer, and the returning players Novelli and Corelli. He only kept Bozzao, Morbello, Maietti, and Pandolfini from the previous year. He also purchased Massei, a player of total class, but thought to be “finished” by Inter, as well as Nobili, the third goalie of the black and blue team.

In a short time, Oscar Massei became the symbolic player of the Serie A years. The Argentine champion would remain in Ferrara, continuously, for 9 consecutive seasons. Against every prediction, SPAL reached fifth spot in Serie A - equal with Padova and Bologna. This placement was, as mentioned, its best, finishing, in the final ranking, only behind Juventus, the Italian champions, Fiorentina, Milan, and Inter. This is important because these four teams had, together, won all the championships of the previous ten years.

SPAL reached fifth place with the following typical lineup: Nobili (Maietti), Picchi, Balleri, Ganzer, Bozzao, Micheli, Novelli, Corelli, Rossi, Massei, Morbello. In addition to them, Catalani, Trentini, Cecchi, Balloni, and Pandolfini. The coach was Fioravante Baldi, the top goal scorer Egidio Morbello with 12 goals in 33 matches played.

In 1962, SPAL reached the final of the Coppa Italia, losing to Napoli, then playing in Serie B.

SPAL, coached by Serafino Montanari, deployed Patregnani, Muccini, Olivieri, Gori, Cervato, Riva, Dell’Omodarme, Massei, Mencacci, Micheli, Novelli. Napoli took the lead at the opening, with the penalty of the Ferrara native and former SPAL player Gianni Corelli, but SPAL drew equal after a few moments with Micheli. Ten minutes from the end, Pierluigi Ronzon brought the blues definitively ahead, thus gifting the Neapolitan team the first trophy of its history.

The 1970s, 1980s, and Farewell to the Presidentissimo

After Serie B, the club dropped to Serie C in 1969, in a very unlucky championship where Alberto Orlando, on whom the hopes of redemption rested, was injured and played just 6 matches without scoring even one goal. In that year, Mazza was subject to explicit criticisms and the irony of many Ferrara residents, who remembered his promise of a top championship, for the first time.

After four years in Serie C, during which Giovan Battista Fabbri, Tito Corsi, and Cesare Meucci alternated as coaches, at the end of 1972, Mario Caciagli replaced Eugenio Fantini as coach of the white and blue team, stamping the championship with a tremendous turnaround. At the end of the season, Franco Pezzato would be the top goal scorer and, with an amazing, historical comeback, SPAL returned to Serie B, where it would stay for four years. The team of that incredible promotion was composed of Marconcini, Croci, Vecchiè, Boldrini, Cairoli, Rinero, Donati, Tartari, Goffi, Mongardi, Pezzato.

In 1976 - at the fourth Serie B championship, after Caciagli was succeeded by Umberto Pinardi and Guido Capello - Mazza was kicked out by his own directors with an unexpected and controversial capital increase. After thirty years of soccer successes and after being Assistant Manager of the Italian team in 1962 at the World Cup in Chile, the Presidentissimo was pushed to one side and the club shifted to Primo Mazzanti, who’d already been part of the SPAL leadership for years.

SPAL, led by an inexpert and incompetent leadership, was demoted again in 1977 with Luisito Suarez as coach, but immediately returned to Serie B in the next championship, again with Caciagli, who thus entered the hall of fame of white and blue history.

The white and blue club suffered a new demotion to C1 in 1982 with, first, “Titta” Rota and, then, Ugo Tomeazzi as coaches. The previous year, SPAL's away game in San Siro against Milan, then demoted to Serie B, was memorable. The match became a scandal due to the cancelled penalty kick to SPAL, after Oriano Grop’s goal, and, above all, the famous hand goal of Walter Novellino, which allowed Milan to win 2-1.

After the Serie C1 championship with Gaetano Salvemini, first, and then Giovanni Seghedoni as coaches, SPAL seemed to come around under the leadership of Giovanni Galeone reaching fourth in 1984. In 1989, the white and blue club was demoted to Serie C2 for the first time.

The 1990s, Gibì Fabbri’s Double Ride

In 1990, SPAL obtained the second worst result of its history with tenth place in Serie C2. Also in 1990, the club was bought out by CoopCostruttori, a genuine giant of the construction sector in the period. The President of the cooperative, Giovanni Donigaglia from Argenta (Ferrara), became the new president. Alongside Coop Costruttori, some of the old members, including the ex-president Ravani above all, retained minority interests.

Thanks to this configuration, SPAL found itself with great access to financial resources, as had never before been the case. In two seasons, the team gained the double rise from Serie C2 to Serie C1 and from this to Serie B. In the first case, after a victorious playoff in Verona against Solbiatese, in the second dominating the championship, with the return of Giovan Battista Fabbri as coach, Giancesare Discepoli as deputy coach. On the field, there was an exciting team that warmed the hearts of fans, exceeding 20,000 spectators at the “Paolo Mazza” stadium, thanks to players who entered the hearts of Ferrara, like Giorgio Zamuner, Andrea Bottazzi, Andrea Mangoni, Andrea Messersì, Massimo Mezzini, Roberto Labardi, Michele Paramatti, and the captain Beppe Brescia.

Once in Serie B, the team was totally revolutionised to attempt an immediate landing in Serie A. They dreamed big and, in the city, there were those who advanced the idea of a European Cup SPAL since, after all, neither enthusiasm nor economic opportunities were lacking.

The huge, excessive financial means were not, however, accompanied by the necessary planning. The double-promotion group was dismantled to purchase players who weren't sufficiently motivated or who were technically unsuited for the cause. The team was demoted the same year, despite an intense head-to-head match with Fidelis Andria in the last part of the tournament.

After three attempts to return to Serie B (with two eliminations in playoffs at the hands of Como), the president Donigaglia decided to reduce the commitments of CoopCostruttori and, at the same time in 1996, transferred the president’s appointment to Vanni Guzzinati, remaining in the role of “patron”. A season that culminated with the demotion to Serie C2 followed, SPAL losing the relegation playoffs to Alzano Virescit.

With the team having fallen to its historical low, Donigaglia reassumed the presidency and immediately spurred an ascent: he entrusted the task of training the team to the expert Ferrara sports director Roberto Ranzani (Serie B veteran with Ravenna) who chose De Biasi as coach and, confirming just 3 players from the previous year, formed a genuine battleship bringing players of the calibre of Cancellato, Fimognari, Pierobon, and the expert Fausto Pari to Ferrara.

The team immediately reconquered Serie C1 at the end of an exciting battle with Rimini (70 final points). The following year (1998), Ranzani was the star of a summer transfer market, with prudent choices aimed at additionally strengthening an already very competitive framework. After an excellent start, a crisis in results occurred, which coincided with the double, long-term injury of the striker Cancellato. In the end, this cost them their playoff dream, but the team still attained victory in the Coppa Italia Serie C. With the failure to achieve the important goals that the city had now placed some hope in, the championship final led, however, to some misunderstandings between the club and technical leadership, which resulted in the failure to keep the coach De Biasi.

The following years comprised rather unremarkable championships: the most interesting player of that period was certainly Sergio Pellissier, who arrived for 2 championships on loan from Chievo.

2002-2012: The Greyest Decade

Due to the economic and legal problems that struck CoopCostruttori, in 2002, the club was transferred to Paolo Fabiano Pagliuso from Cosenza (at the time, he was the owner and president of Cosenza Calcio), and the presidential appointment was entrusted to the accountant Lino Di Nardo.

After two seasons of vacillating fortunes, a profound crisis in the new club made it impossible to invest to strengthen the team. The 2004/05 season ended with 9 th place in the championship. The following summer, a purchasing campaign in the name of renewal was undertaken, with the hiring of the coach Ezio Glerean and the arrival of many new players. But one hot day in the middle of summer, the glorious old SPAL was excluded from all championships due to financial collapse that generated the club’s bankruptcy.

In 2005, SPAL 1907 was established and the team was registered in the 2005-2006 Serie C2 championship. Gianfranco Tomasi became the President, a construction entrepreneur from Comacchio, who, from the start, didn’t skimp on commitment and economic means.

After a first season that began late as a result of its re-admission (thanks to the Lodo Petrucci), in which far-fetched salvation was obtained, the subsequent two championship lineups were created with the aim of promotion to C1. In both attempts, however, the team was eliminated in the playoffs: in 2006-07, against Paganese, and in 2007-08, against Portogruaro.

In 2008, the Bologna native Cesare Butelli took over the presidency. His management, which lasted 4 years, ended in the worst possible way, with the demotion of the team in C2 and its exclusion from the 2012-2013 professional championship due to economic issues.

SPAL, with Roberto Benasciutti, thus descended to Serie D, touching the lowest point of its glorious history.

SPAL's Rebirth with President Mattioli and the Colombarini Family

Fortunately, the shame of being amateurs only lasted one year. On 12 July 2013, Benasciutti came to an agreement with the Colombarini family, which worked towards the merger of SPAL and Giacomense. The new 2013 SPAL club, with Walter Mattioli as president, purchased the historic SPAL brand and was registered in the 2013/14 Lega Pro Seconda Divisione, a championship that the team, under the leadership of Massimo Gadda, finished in 6 th place. This was an important placing that enabled the newly created club to enter the following single Lega Pro championship, the third national league.

In the following 2014/15 season, with Leonardo Semplici having taken over the current championship from Oscar Brevi, SPAL brushed the playoffs that only escaped them on the last day.

The Double Leap from the Lega Pro to Serie A

In the following championship, Semplici remained at the helm of the white and blues and, with an extraordinary season, ended in first place with nine points over Pisa, in second place. SPAL won the Lega Pro B round, thus reconquering Serie B after 23 years.

The successes of the 2015/16 season didn’t end here. SPAL, in fact, also raised the Lega Pro Supercoppa, beating the winners of the other, third league rounds: Benevento and Cittadella.

In Ferrara, the euphoria of fans was through the roof after landing in the Serie B championship and the white and blue club started again with the confirmation of Coach Semplici, lining up a team with the aim of salvation. In the championship, however, after a tense start, the team changed pace and rapidly fell down the ranking, landing in the playoff zone.

In the first battles of the return round, SPAL continued to amaze everyone, gathering victories that allowed it to approach the top of the ranking. Continuity in results and the immense strength of the group awarded the white and blues, capable of outdistancing Hellas Verona and Frosinone, the two main competitors for supremacy, in the ranking.

On 13 May 2017, at the “Libero Liberati” stadium in Terni, despite the 2-1 defeat against the home team, SPAL conquered promotion to Serie A one day early. The maths arrived after the end of the simultaneous match between Benevento and Frosinone, which ended with the 2-1 victory at the last minute for the Campanians, who denied the Frosinone lineup any hope of reaching the white and blues in the ranking.

It’s a day that has entered the club’s history: returning to the top Italian soccer league after a 49-year absence.

On the last day, SPAL, already promoted, beat Bari 2-1 at the “Mazza” stadium, ending the championship at the top of the ranking with 4 points over Hellas Verona and Frosinone. It was a victory that triggered a long night of celebrations throughout the city.

The Tacopina Era

On the eve of the 2021/22 season, Joe Tacopina, an Italian-American lawyer, took over the club from the Colombarini family.

Joe Tacopina, previously on the board of directors for AS Roma, then president of Bologna FC, took over Venezia FC in 2015, then in Serie D, and, in just two years, brought the club back to Serie B in 2017 after 12 years. At the same time, Tacopina became the most victorious Italian football president (3 championships in a row).

In July 2021, the team was initially entrusted to the Catalan Pep Clotet, who, in January, was replaced by Roberto Venturato. The Ferrara players ended the tournament in 15th place. During the summer, the club’s sports area was revolutionised. Fabio Lupo was called up to direct the technical area, making use of the collaboration with the sports director Armando Ortoli and the technical collaborator Mario Donatelli.