The revolution began with a good lunch. In the west stand of Udinese’s Stadio Friuli on Sunday, two new restaurants were opened to the public, each offering the same €15 set menu. An antipasto of prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella would be followed a main course of tortellini, then a piece of gubana (traditional Friulian cake) for dessert. A bottle of water was included in the price.
This was a new concept for fans more accustomed to grabbing a pre-game coffee and a sandwich at one of the stadium’s ubiquitous bars, but both restaurants did a brisk trade in the hours leading up to kick-off. As intrigued as they were by this new lunch option, most fans were even more excited by the prospect of what could come next. The opening of these two new outlets represented the first, tiny, step in the club’s plan to rebuild the Stadio Friuli into a modern, fan-friendly stadium.
Nine days previous on Friday 29 March, Udinese had finally positioned themselves to begin such a project, securing a 99-year leasehold of the communally-owned Friuli as well as the surrounding land. It should go down as one of the most significant days in the club’s history. In return for just €45,000 per year, plus a commitment to spending at least €21.5m on structural upgrades, Udinese had effectively established ownership of their stadium for the next century.
That was some coup. Eighteen months have passed since Juventus became the first team in Serie A to own their home ground, a move which was supposed to spur the rest of the country to action. Since then, however, only one other team had made any real progress towards stadium ownership. Cagliari’s example is not exactly one that others should seek to follow.
The Stadio Is Arenas, a temporary pre-fab structure built with council permission on communally-owned land, was supposed to represent a happy compromise for a club of modest means. Instead it has been an unmitigated disaster. Less than one year after the stadium’s opening, Cagliari are already looking to relocate again after repeatedly failing to obtain permission from the local authorities to open their ground up to supporters.
Udinese ought not to encounter such difficulties. The club does still have one or two bureaucratic hurdles to clear – their planned renovations must still be approved by the Italian Football Federation as well as a long list of local authorities including the fire brigade, police and construction commission. But they also have the stated support of both their city’s mayor and influential figures within the sport’s governing body.
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