When Hellas Verona became champions of Italy

The 1984/85 season was a remarkable one for the Italian league. It turned out to be a season when Napoli of Diego Maradona, Michel Platini’s Juventus, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s Inter Milan, Roma with the legendary Falcao, and Udinese of Zico were all beaten to the Scudetto by the provincial side Hellas Verona. The Gialloblu had never won the league title in their history before that fateful campaign – and haven’t won since, but that one season made them immortals in the history of Italian football.

Antonio de Gennaro, who had a seven-year spell at the Bentegodi Stadium, was the undisputed star of the team, who were greatly helped by the performances of Hans-Peter Briegel, Preben Elkjaer Larsen, Pietro Fanna and Giuseppi Galderisi. Leading the Veronese outfit to their historic success was manager Osvaldo Bagnoli.

Hellas Verona began their league campaign at home against Napoli, a match in which the legendary Diego Maradona was making his debut for the Neapolitans. Courtesy of strikes from Briegel, Galderisi, and Di Gennaro the hosts went on to register a 3-1 win.

Now, the Gialloblu’s weren’t exactly in doldrums like Leicester City, who were struggling to avoid relegation last season, but still no one expected them to win the league. Not even after they dispatched Napoli convincingly in their opening fixture.

Verona went on to win their next two games – 2-1 against Ascoli and 1-0 over Udinese through a Galderisi spot kick – before dropping their first points of the season in a scoreless draw against Inter Milan away at the San Siro.

Their first decisive win of the season came as they defeated the Old Lady 2-0 at the Bentegodi with second half goals from Galderisi and Elkjaer. Bagnoli’s men continued their campaign defying all odds and it is remarkable that they lost the first spot in the league standings only once – after the 16th match day, following a scoreless draw against Napoli.

From late December until their 20th January clash against Napoli, Verona failed to win any of their four games as they drew thrice and lost 2-1 to Avellino. That little winless run threatened to throw their campaign off the rails, but Verona returned to form admirably as they defeated Ascoli 2-0 and followed it up with a 5-3 win over Udinese on 10th February.

Bagnoli’s men continued their unprecedented run and wrapped up the league before the final match day clash against Avellino, which they won 4-2 to spark off wild celebrations at the Bentegodi.

They ended the 16-team season with a record of 15 wins, 13 draws and two defeats to collect 43 points on their way to the title.

Interestingly, in a country where the referees are always under close scrutiny, it was the only season when the appointment of match officials was made through a random draw instead of a committee selecting the officials before games. And an unfancied team went on to trample over established giants to win the title. Status quo was restored in Serie A as Juventus won the scudetto the following summer.

But the 1984/85 will forever remain etched in the memories of Hellas Verona supporters.