For those unfamiliar with Italian league football, the recent promotion of Pro Vercelli to Serie B after 64 years spent flittering between Serie C and the amateur leagues will mean very little. But for dedicated fans of the Bianche Casacche (White Shirts) the besting of Carpi 3-1 in the 2012 Liga Pro Prima play-off represents a significant advance for the tiny Piedmont club with an illustrious, and often contentious past.
In spite of their contemporary minnow status, Pro Vercelli are one of the most heavily decorated clubs in Italian football history. Between 1908 and 1922, they collected seven Serie A titles, more than Lazio, Roma and Napoli combined. At the height of their success, their modern training methods, unparalleled fitness, and aggressive style made them almost unbeatable. In short, they were one of the best teams in the world.
Formed in 1892 by local P.E teacher Domenico Luppi, the Pro Vercelli Gymnastics Society initially specialised in gymnastics and fencing. Then in 1903, local fencer and high school student Marcello Bertinetti – who subsequently achieved two Olympic Gold medals for fencing at the 1924 and 1928 games – returned to Vercelli after a trip to Turin to watch Juventus with his latest purchase: a football. With his friends, he founded U.S Pro Vercelli Calcio.
The team played their first official match on the 3rd August 1903 against Forza e Constanza. The next year, they participated in the Lombardy Cup in nearby Casteggio, and travelled the 70km distance by bicycle. While crossing the River Ticino, the group tried to avoid paying a bridge toll, but the keeper of the bridge noticed and managed to catch striker Sessa, and forced him to pay for all 11 players. The team lost 2-1 to Milan, but returned to Vercelli as heroes.