The Italian Almanac

AC Ancona

Spiritual Help

An Italian soccer club is seeking spiritual help in its drive to return to the top flight. AC Ancona was in Serie A as recently as 2004 but was double-relegated after going bankrupt. It has rallied, however, and is currently topping the third division. But the club's new owners, the Schiavoni family, still think Ancona can do with all the help it can get - from higher powers if need be.

Ancona Chairman Sergio Schiavone and his son Giampiero, the club's CEO, have turned to Italy's main Catholic sports body in a bid to make sure it wins promotion to Serie B. The agreement with the Centro Sportivo Italiano (CSI), an organisation of lay Catholics, reportedly includes a commitment by both club and players to do good works "in remission of sins on the field," according to the CSI ethics code.

The world's media have got hold of the story and dubbed Ancona a "Vatican team" aiming to "get an edge from the Almighty". But the Vatican denied having anything to do with the Ancona-CSI deal - although it looked "benevolently" on such charity and anti-hooligan moves. "To my knowledge, neither the Vatican nor the Italian Bishops Conference have absolutely any connection with Ancona," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. However, he said the link-up between the club and the CSI was "praiseworthy and positive, especially at times like this" - a reference to recent Italian soccer violence.

Giampiero Schiavoni confirmed that the club had no hotline to the Vatican but, acting through the CSI, would fund social work in Italy and Africa. He said that, "unless there are any last-minute changes," players and managment were still slated to meet Pope Benedict XVI at an audience on Wednesday, where they would give him a club shirt with a No.16 on the back.

Meanwhile Ancona's famously left-wing fans, who regularly wave Che Guevara banners and campaign against neo-Fascists, said they welcomed any "worthwhile social initiatives" but did not expected to be "muzzled" by the club's new Catholic turn.