Italian Football League (Serie A)

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The top echelon of Italian football leagues is commonly referred to as Serie A, or else by its official name, Serie A TIM, when referencing the league sponsor, Telecom Italia. It is made up of 20 elite clubs that play 38 games each from August to May, followed by a system of relegation and promotion in concert with the second tier league, Serie B. Although Serie A is currently ranked 4th among European leagues by the UEFA, it is widely regarded by fans as among the top three in the world, having produced the greatest number of European Cup finalists (26) and won the title 12 times, tied with England and second only to Spain’s record 13.

A Love Affair with Football

All football in Italy, from the clubs to the national teams, is organised and managed by the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), which was established in Turin in 1898. That very year saw the country’s first championship matches played among four fledgling clubs in May. The tournament was won by Genoa, a team formed just five years earlier as an athletics and cricket club. They defeated Ginnastica Torino 2–1 and then beat Internazionale Torino 3–1 later the same day to claim the inaugural “Scudetto”—the small tri-colour shield that identifies the national champion.

In 1905, FIGC arranged for Italy to join FIFA, just a year after its founding, even though Italian football remained organised into regional groups until 1921. An attempt was made to create interregional divisions—two North-South leagues—by renaming categories into divisions in 1922. In that year the first Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) tournament was launched, too. Interest was high as FC Vado prevailed in the finals by a score of 1-0 over Udinese Calcio, but it would prove to be the last Cup event for 14 years. FIGC had their hands full with internal crises that couldn’t be resolved until a nationwide solution was adopted in 1929, creating the single-tier league with a round-robin championship format that would become Serie A.

Initially, there were 18 teams in the new league and SS Ambrosiana topped the table to win their third national title (FIGC decided to recognise all pre-Serie A championships.). That club would go on to spend their entire history in the top flight of Italian football, but under a name that would become world famous—F.C. Internazionale Milano or simply “Internazionale.” From 1934 to 1942, Serie A would shrink to 16 clubs, even as the Coppa Italia resumed in 1936. The league managed to survive World War Two and the tragic plane crash in 1948 that killed all of the players on Torino FC.

European Cup wins by AC Milan and Internazionale in the 1960s put Italian football on maps worldwide. By the 1990s, Serie A had evolved into the most popular league in the world, broadcast in the UK on Channel 4. True powerhouse clubs developed, such as Juventus Football Club S.p.A., founded in 1895 and winner of nine Coppa Italia titles, a pair of European Cups and a record 29 Scudetto. Along with AC Milan and Internazionale, they would be founding members of the G-14 organisation (2000-08) that preceded the formation of the European Club Association. In fact, Serie A was the only league to produce three G-14 founders.

Onward and Upward

The current 20-club format was adopted for Serie A in 2004, but the competition is still dominated by the Big Three. In fact, AS Roma are the only other club to win the Scudetto in the new millennium (2000-01). AC Milan and Internazionale each have 18 national championships to their credit, and Genoa CFC with nine haven’t claimed a title since 1923-24. Still, the competition is fierce, with AC Roma gathering nine Coppa Italia victories in a record 17 finals appearances, and SS Lazio are the most recent winners, showing that there’s real opposition to at the top. Since 1988, the Scudetto and Coppa Italia champions have faced off in the Supercoppa Italia to kick off the coming season and eleven different clubs have competed with nine separate winners.

Competition is evident in the lower rungs of the league ladder, too. A total of 63 clubs have participated in Serie A since the league format has existed. ACF Fiorentina have managed to hang on to the top tier for 78 seasons, while Lazio count 71, Torino 70, and Bologna and Napoli number 68 Serie A seasons apiece. All have won the Scudetto in the past five decades, and all would love to do so again.

The Serie A defending champions going into the 2013-14 season are Juventus. The league lost Pescara, Siena and Palermo to Serie B through relegation, and the three clubs have been replaced by the Serie B champions Sassuolo making their top tier debut, along with runner-ups Hellas Verona and the play-off winner Livorno. The other 16 clubs that are competing for the 112th Italian football league championship are Atalanta BC, Bologna FC 1909, Cagliari Calcio, Calcio Catania, AC Chievo Verona, ACF Fiorentina, Genoa CFC, Internazionale, SS Lazio, AC Milan, SSC Napoli, Parma FC, AS Roma, UC Sampdoria, Torino FC and Udinese Calcio.

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