An animated experience awaits you just a thirty-minute hop from Florence or Pisa. We popped along to Empoli FC in Italy’s second tier, Serie B, and got to know its fans.
Monsoon-like rain welcomed us as we arrived at the Stadio Carlo Castellani for a Friday night fixture featuring two teams vying for top spot in Serie B. Empoli FC – until recently a Serie A outfit – and Palermo both enjoyed good first halves to their seasons and found themselves in playoff positions by the time we saw them in this cold, wet, windy night in Tuscany.
Empoli is a small market town just thirty minutes by car or train from Florence. There isn’t a great deal to see there if you’re based in Florence but we arrived early to purchase our tickets from the Empoli Store in the town’s main square.
The Castellani is just 1.5 km from the town centre and station, and can hold 16,800 spectators. It’s a classic municipal stadium with two main lateral stands with two tiers each, open stands at either end and a running track around the pitch.
On a night like this one felt for the Palermo fans in an open stand, 150 or so of them huddled under umbrellas after a long trip from Sicily. As the game was on TV and the weather really quite vile, attendance was 5,157. In Serie A last season the average gate was nearly 9,500.
Before the match, I had been introduced on Twitter to Francesco, an Empoli season ticket holder, by football writer Chloe Beresford, who was our guest on our Italian Groundhopping podcast. Francesco met us inside the Maratona and introduced us to a number of other Empoli fans. The Empoli fans were pretty lively throughout, dishing out particular attention to Palermo defender Giuseppe Belluschi, an Empoli player last season.
My assumption that Fiorentina would be Empoli’s biggest rival, being its nearest, proved incorrect. Francesco said Pisa and Siena are the ones Empoli fans really want to beat, and this isn’t just about football, this is a regional rivalry, while Florence was an ally.
‘The Blues’ played some really attractive football on the deck and created chances throughout, taking a 2-0 lead into the break; the second goal resulting from a phenomenal through ball. This kept the home fans in good voice and the flags flying. Palermo almost came back in the second half but by chasing the game they left gaps for Empoli to exploit, and Francesco Caputo added another two goals in the second half to complete his hattrick.
The scoreline by far outweighed the difference in quality. Empoli just took their chances while at the other end Gabriel – on loan from AC Milan – played a blinder to keep the visitors at bay.
Near the end, the Empoli fans, with scarves held aloft, sang a stirring rendition of ‘Volare’, a song made famous by Italian-American, Dean Martin.
4-0 it finished and Empoli went top of Serie B until the following afternoon when rival Frosinone won to leapfrog them.
If you are staying in Florence or Pisa and looking for a game in the Tuscan region, Empoli is a good shout.
How to get to Empoli FC
The Stadio Carlo Castellani is a 20-minute walk from the centre of Empoli. Empoli is on the train line between Pisa and Florence, and around 30 minutes from both.
For the main Maratona stand the options were €20 for upper tier seating or €13.50 for the lower tier, where many fans stand anyway. Remember, in Italy, you need your ID on you when you purchase a ticket and again at entry.