Amid Boxing Day Racism In Serie A, Fabio's Story Gives Hope From San Siro

At the end of the 2016-17 campaign, Benevento shocked Italian football by reaching the top-flight through the playoffs in what was their maiden outing in Serie B. It was no surprise that there were wild parties in the streets upon their promotion to Serie A, but what followed was an unmitigated disaster in terms of results — a case of too much, too soon. 

“Le Streghe” (The Witches) had become only the fourth team from Campania to ever reach Italy’s top division along with Napoli, Avellino, and Salernitana, with the latter pair no longer present. The resultant derby with the Partenopei was the first between sides from the region since 1987-88 and club President Oreste Vigorito was overjoyed with the accomplishment.

“These players aren’t [Gonzalo] Higuain and [Paulo] Dybala,” he admitted to Sky Italia following the promotion. “But they have big hearts like them, maybe even more so.”  

The gulf between his squad and the rest of the more established sides in Serie A was proven as Benevento were relegated with 29 defeats from a possible 38 matches, conceding no fewer than 84 goals along the way. However, their presence in the league was not wasted, the passion of their supporters having entertained everyone despite having bombed in terms of results.

There was also that goal versus A.C. Milan, when the minnows secured their first ever point in the division as late as November, goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli drawing worldwide headlines with his headed 97th-minute equalizer.

Yet those headlines faded as Benevento dropped out of the top flight and therefore out of the spotlight, with only those hardcore supporters still willing their side on. Perhaps their only chance to play against Italy’s biggest clubs will come via the Coppa Italia in future, and sure enough they came across Inter in this year’s round of 16.

For a little boy named Fabio, the chance to see his beloved Benevento in action at San Siro was the cause of fervent excitement and his only wish in his letter to Father Christmas. As it happened, he was lucky enough to receive a ticket under the Christmas tree on Dec. 25, and it was not Santa who would ultimately let him down.

The very next day, a section of Ultras in Inter’s Curva Nord racially abused Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, the shameful Boxing Day events prompting the powers that be in Serie A to issue a two-match stadium ban. That meant that Fabio wouldn’t get to realize his dream after all, as not even away supporters would be allowed to enter the magnificent San Siro.  

Determined that his son still be able to get to see the match, Fabio’s father Daniele made an appeal via social media, also writing to the president of the Italian National Olympic Committee, President Giovanni Malago. Benevento owner Vigorito got on board with the campaign, and so it was agreed that the little boy would see the match after all. 

Just as during the 2017-18 campaign, Benevento suffered a heavy defeat to the comparatively gigantic Inter, but that did not matter to Fabio. Not only did he see the match, but he met his idols afterward, receiving a shirt from his favorite player, Riccardo Improta. 

It may be of small comfort to those who witnessed the abhorrent abuse of Koulibaly on Boxing Day — or those other fans who were blocked from watching the match — but at the very least Fabio’s story provides a small window of light on a very dark incident for Italian football. 

In the case of this little boy, the racists were not allowed to spoil his day, his dream having turned out better than he could ever have imagined in the end. It may only be a small gesture, but Fabio and those who have been touched by his story must never forget that sometimes good things come out of bad, and you simply cannot allow people with bad intentions to get in the way of your hopes for the future.

Chloe Beresford specializes in Serie A for a number of outlets and can be found on Twitter and on Facebook via her page CalcioByChloe.

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