It was January 2017 when Italian powerhouse Juventus F.C. announced their new, and controversially discussed, logo. Club president Andrea Agnelli justified the move with the need to enter “new strategic markets” and become “more mainstream” and “more
Although Berlin’s 7th league football club “Club Italia” and the Italian record league winner couldn’t be more different, it felt oddly familiar when the Berlin side announced that they would change their name to “Berlin United”. They figured they would gain more sponsors by using the word “Berlin”. Their current logo, featuring il tricolore and the words “Club Italia Berlino”, will be replaced by a fridge magnet-like badge depicting the Brandenburg Gate, a Berlin bear and an eagle, representing the surrounding state of Brandenburg. Even though they didn’t include the Ampelmann (Berlin’s ubiquitous traffic light icon), you can definitely say that the club name and crest are far more mainstream now. This recent announcement is just another entry in the saga of Berlin’s most written about non-league club in the last two years.
The club has its roots in the “Gioventù Italiana Berlino” (GIB), founded in 1963. Berlin-based Italian Don Luigi Fraccari entrusted Andrea Fusaro with forming a football club for West Berlin’s Italian youth. Fusaro became the first president of the GIB, their coach and part-time player. More than fifty years of dedication to Club Italia (and Berlin sport in general) made the Milan-born sports enthusiast one of Italia’s most important figures. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the city had lost all of its workers from the eastern part and desperately needed as many labourers as it could get. Throughout the 1960s more and more Italians arrived in West Berlin, mostly working in gastronomy. The new Italian restaurants started to form football teams and competed against each other. The best players of these teams were picked for Club Berlitalia and took part in Berlin’s regular league system.
In 1980 the GIB and Club Berlitalia merged to become Club Italia Berlino. Unsurprisingly, the inventor of the name and first club president was Andrea Fusaro. After its admission to the German FA in 1991, the club played throughout the 1990s in the lower levels of Berlin football. In 2006 restaurant owner and Italy aficionado Florian Sinnig joined Club Italia and boldly announced the club’s aim for the Bundesliga. After three promotions in 2008, 2009 and 2012 the club reached Berlin’s highest level, the Berlin Liga, for the first time in its history. The club was drawing big crowds at that time, which may have been helped by the fact that they handed out free pizza at important games and a 5 Euro all-you-can-eat flat rate at home games. In 2010 Club Italia gained Fiat as a sponsor and Sinnig hoped to repeat the story of VW-backed Wolfsburg.
The future looked bright, but then a series of injuries and bad defeats threw the club into turmoil during their first ever season at Berlin’s highest level in 2012/13. By the end of the season, they had only won one game and conceded 233 goals. The second half of the season was an unmitigated disaster, with Club Italia losing every game and conceding double digit goals in 12 out of 17 games. Unsurprisingly, Club Italia was relegated. Club President Sinnig, the Fiat Company and almost every player in the first XI left the club, which leaded to another relegation in 2014.
But the Italians didn’t hide their heads in the sand! In 2016 the club signed Thomas Häßler, Germany’s World Cup and European Cup winner, as coach of the first team. The Berlin-born, former world class player with Italy experience (AS Roma 1991 – 1994) seemed to be the perfect fit for the club’s history. And most importantly: Club Italia was back in the news again!
During the 2016/17 season, Club Italia bulldozered through the 8th division, only losing 2 games and scoring almost 100 goals. Not even Häßler’s short vacation from being a non-league coach to take part in the German version of “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here” in the winter break could stop them. Dreams and high hopes started to grow again in Berlin’s Westend. But Club Italia wouldn’t be Club Italia without news, rumors, turmoil, excitement…
In the pre-season of 2017/18 they didn’t sign any new players and lost five talented players to other clubs. Just weeks afterwards the news broke that they had lost their main sponsor. Rumors about bankruptcy started to spread and the team lost seven consecutive games in the league. The club’s sports manager Mario Livolsi called the situation an “earthquake”. But even in the most hopeless situation, the Italian phoenix still manages to rise again! Livolsi managed to gain new sponsors within weeks and the club signed seven players in the winter break, including former Hertha BSC and TeBe Berlin midfielder Lennart Hartmann. In 2018 the team has won four of their five games in the league so far and climbed to 7th place in the table.
On 29th March Club Italia announced that it was merging with Berlin United, a club founded in 2017 and without a men’s team so far. From next season on the club will take part in the league as “Berlin United”, using the Brandenburg Gate logo. This is intended to be a big step for the club in reaching semi-professional and even professional football within the next few years – but the rebranding somehow feels (at least for the author) at odds with the club’s (Italian) roots.
Berlin United may be the end of Club Italia, but it surely won’t be the end of news, rumors, excitement, passione e scandali.