On 15 July 2014, A.C. Siena failed to register for the 2014-15 Serie B season and were declared bankrupt after 110 years of history. It was a poignant end for a provincial club who had overachieved in recent years, mixing it with some of Italy’s biggest names in Serie A and Serie B.
The club has since been re-founded and named Robur Siena Societa Sportiva Dilettantistica. They now play in Serie D – Italy’s highest tier of non-professional football. In light of Siena’s sorry demise, it felt appropriate to remember their ultras, supporters who continue to follow their club in the depths of Serie D but are in danger of becoming a forgotten entity.
Back in June 2013, a legion of Siena’s most prominent supporter groups marched through town converging on the Piazza del Campo. Perturbed and disgruntled, the Senesi amassed in the city’s medieval centre to save their club. After being relegated from Serie A, and having lost the backing of their historic sponsor, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (the oldest bank in the world), the club were on the brink of withdrawing from Serie B and worse, bankruptcy. The newly elected mayor, Bruno Valentini, had guaranteed the supporters he would do everything in his power to ensure the club would compete in the 2013-14 Serie B season. This did not assuage discontent and the blame was apportioned to the directors of the famous bank.
Banners expressed the supporters’ frustration. “La Robur deve vivere” (The Robur must live) was accompanied by “C’è Profumo di merda!!” (There is an aroma of shit), a satirical play on words decrying the president of Monte dei Paschi, Alessandro Profumo.
The Senesi eventually got their wish and the Robur were able to compete in Serie B, despite beginning the campaign with an eight point deficit due to financial irregularities. The supporters’ fealty proved vital to their survival and the episode encapsulates the tribal psyche of the ultras, who reject the corporate powers that threaten the modern game.
In 1908 a sports club in Siena opened its football section, named Societa Sportiva Robur. Adopting the black and white colours of the city’s coat of arms, the team became known as Associazione Calcio Siena in 1933. However the title Robur – meaning strength – was widely used by supporters to distinguish them from the city’s basketball team, Montepaschi Siena.
Siena have always been perennial strugglers, fighting in the lower reaches of Italian football. Yet over the last decade the club enjoyed a more successful period, oscillating between Serie A and Serie B. Due to their minnow status the numbers at their picturesque home, the Stadio Artemio Franchi, have fluctuated yet the ultras have been omnipresent.
Predominately residing in the Curva Robur (Nord), the Siena ultra-movement can be traced back to the 1970s after the birth of the Boys and Brigate Bianconere (Black and White Brigade). One of Siena’s longest serving ultra-groups – the Ultras Fighters (U.F.S) – were founded in 1979 following a fusion of a multitude of groups
Three men – Paolo Bartalucci, Simone Taddei and Francesco Rustici – are credited with forming the U.F.S and the group originally occupied a section of the ground known as the Gradinata Paolo de Luca, named in honour of Siena’s president who led the club to Serie A. Before shifting to the Curva Robur, the U.F.S hung their banner next to another prominent supporters group known as Fedelissimi (loyalists).
Fearing that their beloved Robur was on the verge of collapse, according to the Fedelissimi’s official website, a man called Piero Barbini wanted to create a core of passionate supporters that would give life to the footballing tradition in the city.
In their early years, the group brought renewed vim to the Senesi support, creating displays of banners and flags as well as using drums for the first time. As a member claims, this provided vital support for a team, which, due to a dearth of players in the early ‘70s, had to rely on two defenders leading their front-line. Known as the senators of the Siena support, the group are still active today and in 2010 they were joined by players and club officials to celebrate 40 years of existence.
While the Fedelissimi have been steadfast, other groups have lived a more tumultuous existence. In the 1980s, the Ultras Fighters monopolised the Curva Robur, yet their volatility and intransigence led to frequent clashes with opposition supporters and police. This, combined with the break-up of another prominent group, the Falange d’Assalto (Assault Phalange), a group with far-right political sympathies, saw the influence of the ultras wane.
In 1991, riding the wave of a brief but bountiful spell, the Senesi attempted to revive the support on the Curva by forming Gioventu Ghibellina (Young Ghibellines). However this was short lived and while Siena went back to struggling on the field, off the field the ultras developed a frosty relationship with the club hierarchy. The atmosphere at the Franchi was non-existent and many boycotted games. Following this pernicious period, some younger members of the U.F.S assumed leadership and restored the group back to prominence.
The turn of the decade signalled the start of a golden era for the club which included their first historic promotion to Serie A in 2003. The numbers in the stands swelled and a myriad of black and white flags would adorn the Curva Robur. The leadership of the Curva allegedly changed hands once again after the U.F.S dispersed back in 2008, leaving the reigns to Robur 1904 (formerly Ghibellini Robur 1904), L.S.B (La Siena Bene), Skala 40 and Vecchi Ultras.
The ultras of Siena may not be renowned across the peninsula but they certainly have a unique identity, one which is inextricably linked to their vehement local patriotism – otherwise known as Campanilismo. Surrounded by ancient walls, the Tuscan city is steeped in tradition, from the Palio di Siena, a famous horse race which celebrates the rivalries of the city’s contrades (city wards) to the venue that hosts it – Piazza del Campo – arguably Europe’s finest medieval square.
As a proud and wealthy city-state during the middle ages, the Ghibellines flourished after Siena defeated the Florentine Guelphs at the Battle of Montaperti in 1260. Although Florence would have her revenge, the Senesi remain unabashedly proud of their imperious past and calcio became an outlet for this pride. When Siena would face one of their eternal rivals such as Fiorentina – a game known as the Guelph–Ghibelline derby – the fixture transcended the average footballing rivalry. And while the battle ensued on the field, in the stands, the ultras waged a symbolic war, vying to become the eminent Tuscan state once more.
Although this fixture has not been awarded the grandiose status of a Milanese or Roman derby, its historical backdrop makes it no less intriguing. While no rivalry was quite as fierce as that against the Viola, the Senesi’s other enemies included Livorno, Roma, Empoli, Perugia, Grosseto and Arezzo, another war-time medieval foe.
Unlike the majority of teams in Italy, A.C. Siena were constantly competing for support with their more successful basketball cousins. But despite the travails, the Curva Robur provided a resolute and spirited support for the club, who acted as a bulwark of Siena’s prestigious past.
While the history books will tell you the Ghibellines are long perished, in a pocket of the Artemio Franchi, an expression of their dynasty lived on. Today, despite being banished to Serie D, the ultras still turn out at the Artemio Franchi, offering an unwavering support and hoping beyond hope that they can play an integral part in another renaissance story.
By Luca Hodges-Ramon. Follow @LH_Ramon25