Fan group trying to modernize itself to attract younger generation
If you walk into Ciociaro Sports Bar and Grill in St-Leonard on a Sunday, it looks like any typical Italian café found in the East End: there’s an espresso bar, a panino counter, and people chatting around tables. But after taking a deeper look, there’s so much more.
Once you walk past the counter, into the back of the café, you can see a few people dressed in red-and-black soccer jerseys watching their favourite team, A.C. Milan, whose nickname is Il Diavolo, or “The Devil.” Ciociaro’s is home to Milan Club Montreal, a fan club dedicated to A.C. Milan fans in the greater Montreal area.
“It’s a camaraderie between fans,” said club treasurer Vince Tavernese. “[We have] people from all different types of cultures and religions, but we just meet up to talk Milan. Whether it’s four people here or 40, it’s the same feeling.”
In that back room at Ciociaro’s, they have their official flag and scarf hung up, with a framed jersey from the last time Milan won the championship in 2011. One piece of memorabilia that stands out is a signed Giacomo Bonaventura jersey, a midfielder for A.C. Milan, that the club received from Italy last year. The club’s president, Marcello Furgiuele, wanted to celebrate their one-year anniversary last year with a gift from A.C. Milan. Originally, Furgiuele asked for a player to visit them in Montreal, although he expected to get refused.
When Milan got back to Furgiuele, having denied the request, they asked him what can be done to celebrate their anniversary. “I put my thinking cap on, so I thought to ask for a signed jersey that we could hang up at Ciociaro’s,” Furgiuele said. “We asked the members which player they would like, and they voted for Bonaventura.”
A few weeks later, the signed authentic jersey came in the mail. “My hands were trembling, this was the first time in my life I held a player’s jersey, and not one I bought at the store,” the president said. “I was very emotional from it, I couldn’t believe it.”
This version of the Milan Club Montreal started in 2016, after the previous club had been inactive for a few years. Furgiuele said it was run by older men who wanted the club modernized. “The old administrators wanted to pass on the torch, modernize and get with the technology,” he said.
Furgiuele, Tavernese and vice-president Steve Polillo took over to modernize it in an age when soccer fans can watch games anywhere.
“In the olden days, you came to the bar to watch the game because it had it on, or else you’re not watching the game.” Polillo said. “[Now] it’s very hard to attract people to come to one specific location and leave their families to watch the game.”
Part of the club’s plan to attract more youth is starting the Milan Weekly Podcast. Polillo and Tavernese, who run it, wanted to create a way for English-speaking Milan fans to engage with their team. They wanted to emulate Radio Rossonera, a popular Italian podcast for Milan fans.
“Unfortunately, because European football is so European-heavy, it’s very hard to have English content for your team, unless your team is very [modern],” Polillo said. “So we partnered with Radio Rossonera to have an English-speaking podcast.”
— MilanWeeklyPOD™ (@MilanWeeklyPOD) July 25, 2018
Tavernese also said Europeans sometimes think North Americans don’t watch or like soccer as much as they do, but wants to prove otherwise.
“It’s very frustrating because our voices aren’t as heard across the pond,” Tavernese said. “Social media is a tool, so if we use it correctly […] people will know about Milan Club Montreal and the podcast.”
In April, people across North America got to see Milan Club Montreal when they appeared as a guest on La Giostra del Gol, a show that broadcasted weekly Serie A games to Italians worldwide on RAI Italia. They were interviewed before and after the game, as well as at half-time, during Milan’s game against Napoli.
“It was great, we got a lot of notoriety with that event,” Furgiuele said. “All the bars that were showing that Milan game got us free advertising. It was really cool; anyone that participated really enjoyed it.”
On Oct. 21, Milan Club Montreal had another viewing party for a game against Inter Milan. The A.C. Milan-Inter Milan rivalry, otherwise known as the Derby della Madonnina, is interesting because both Milan teams share the same stadium. Even as 80,000 fans watched at the San Siro over 6,000 kilometres away, there were dozens more at Ciociaro’s sharing their passion for Milan. At the end, their team lost 1-0.
“We all have the same interests to see our beloved Milan go back to the top of the world,” Tavernese said. “We’ve seen Milan suffer for the last six or seven years, so we’re all in the same boat.”
All three of them have deep connections to Milan, but Polillo wants his kids to fall in love with the team too. His father was a fan of Juventus, one of A.C. Milan’s rivals, so when his aunt sent him a jersey from her convent in Milan, his father didn’t like it, but allowed it.
“I’m going to be harsher than my father was, my kids don’t have a choice, they’re red and black all the time,” Polillo said with a smile. “It means the world to me.”
Main photo and video by Sandra Hercegova.