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The sad tale of Parma FC


Recently I was one of the examiners for a PhD thesis on cheese.   One of the other examiners was Italian and there was a big debate about the quality of different types of Parmesan cheese.   There are real cheese wars going on between 'New World' and 'Old World' countries and it's a major source of conflict in international trade negotiations, not least over what can be sold as 'Parmesan' cheese.

However, this is nothing compared with the sad tale of Parma FC.   Wages unpaid, no heat or hot water at the training ground, club vehicles taken away on a low loader.   Their last match didn't go ahead because the police would not issue a safety certificate.   They will not able to carry out their fixtures for the rest of the season and will be expelled from Serie A.

Football matters are often murky in Italy.   In their heyday in the 1990s, Parma won two Uefa cups and the Cup Winners' Cup.  They were owned by Parmalat, the giant food company.   In 2004 Parmalat was found guilty of fradulent accounting to cover debts of £12 billion.

The club wen into administration and in 2007 they were sold to an entrepreneur from a wealthy family, Tommaso Ghirardi.   The club's gross debt then stood at £9 million which was manageable.  Initially they were run with reasonable investment and yo-yoed between Serie B and mid-table Serie A.

Then Parma began to borrow against future TV revenues and the debt ballooned year by year.  Gross debt now stands at £145m or £71m net.  Turnover is £51m or £40.6m excluding player trading.

One of the problems was that Ghirardi decided to start up a network with a lower division club (Gubbio) and a Slovenian team (Nova Gorcia).  They were meant to act as feeders, but somehow Parma ended up with 200 players on contract, most of them out on loan at the feeder clubs or elsewhere.   Parma failed to pay a £210,000 tax debt and as a result Uefa denied them a licence to play in the Europa League this season.

In December the club was sold to an Albanian businessman, Rezaert Taci, for €1.   He stayed for 54 days and then resold the club for €1 again to someone called Giampietro Manenti.   Little is known about him, but he failed to produce the promised lines of credit, leading to bankruptcy proceedings.  It's another sorry tale.