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From Sapri with a False Name – A Tale of Football, Salerno, and Heritage


Salernitano

Raimundo Bisogno was born and raised in a small fishing town in the Italian province of Salerno, called Sapri. He was one of the three brothers and one sister. His family could trace its origins to the forced migration of northern Italian non-Catholic Christians during the 17th Century. Said Christians often fled to other portions of the peninsula to avoid persecution from zealous supporters of the Papacy who all too often turned to violence. Most of these people settled in Southern Italy, looking to put considerable distance between themselves and said violence. It should be noted that Italy at this time was not a single country, but rather a region split between many kingdoms, with most of southern Italy controlled by the Kingdom of Naples.

Art by Charbak Dipta

Raimundo found himself needing to escape his hometown, Sapri, as he was present at a bar where a card game had turned into a violent brawl and one person was killed. Though he was not directly involved, the police went after all those present at the bar. The Bisogno family decided it was best for him to disappear from Sapri. The police were looking for a young man by the name of Vittorio, Raimundo’s real name. It was decided that he should take his younger brother’s name instead, which was Raimundo, in order to avoid being detained by the police as he sailed Corsica. The real Raimundo’s noticeably different age and appearance would be enough to keep both brothers from any form of punishment, as the police saw it as impossible that the Vittorio they eventually questioned was not the one at the bar.

As Raimundo separated himself from Italy, calcio continued to spread across the peninsula. As the game continues southward, it passes through Salerno, both province and city, and finds a new home in the form of Unione Sportiva Salernitana. The club would, to this very day, hold a reputation for being a constant in the middle of the Italian football pyramid, spending large stints in Serie C and Serie B. The club would appear in Serie in the 1947-48 season, during which they finished 18th and were relegated, and would not reappear in the top flight until the 1998-99 season, in which they finished 15th and were, again, relegated. 

The club went bankrupt in 2005, an obstacle which faces all too many Italian clubs, from small Serie C mainstays to major Serie A challengers. Despite finishing mid-table that year, Salernitana would find themselves out of professional football. At the time of their bankruptcy and dissolving, the club’s greatest accomplishments were two Serie B titles in the 1946-47 and 1997-98 seasons. Left with no good options in an impossible situation, the club did what it had to and started over.

New Beginnings

Seeking to leave Corsica and make a new life, Raimundo searched for work. He would never again set foot in Sapri, or any place in Italy, again. He found his way out of the Mediterranean in an expedition looking to bring labor to Panama in order to further construct the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal was largely finished in 1914. Raimundo’s journey to Panama would end in 1918, leaving him and his fellow Italian labourers excess and unneeded and in search of new places to live and work.

With its journey complete, the vessel prepared to return to Corsica, causing unrest amongst its passengers who had hoped to leave Europe. The captain decided to allow anyone who so wished to disembark in the several ports in which it would make stops. These ports included those of Barranquilla, Cartagena and Santa Marta in Colombia, and Maracaibo, Coro, Puerto Cabello and La Guaira in Venezuela. 

They did not have proper migration documents and hardly any money, but documents were not considered an issue in those days and they were somewhat experience workers, more than willing to work at the ports to cover cost of basic needs.

Raimundo disembarked at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela in 1919, where he rather quickly found work at an industrial ice block plant owned by an Italian expatriate. Two years later, he was able to start his own business as a blacksmith.

Perhaps second chances are ingrained in the very blood of Salernitanos, as the luck of the man was shared with the club. Reborn as Salerno Calcio in 2011, though only for a year, the club entered Serie D under the management of Lazio owner and president Claudio Lotito and his brother-in-law, Marco Mezzaroma. 

The club would climb back to its former status efficiently, winning Serie D, Lega Pro Seconda, and Serie C titles along the way, and would return to Serie B for the 2014-2015 season, just nine years after falling far from the second division due to financial troubles. The club has yet to leave Serie B since that season, consistently finishing in the central portion of the Serie B table, this time backed by a constant flow of Lazio loanees and a more stable ownership group.

The End of the Journey

In 1930, Raimundo, now a very well established and well to do shop owner, was offered the job of setting up shop in the city of Barquisimeto to become the sole provider of artistic forged iron railings for several public parks.

Raimundo would marry twice, having several children and living a full life in Venezuela. Though rumors of his false identity were not completely stamped out, he was rarely forced to explain himself to his new community. He passed away after falling off a ladder he’d climbed to change a lightbulb, an event which his family had warned him against due to his age and physical state. He attempted the eventually fatal task regardless. He died known for his accomplishments, his sometimes-cruel demeanour, and never looking back on his choices.

1919 would prove a year of rebirth and creation. Vittorio left Sapri and Salerno to be reborn in South America as his new persona, Raimundo. Little did he know that the province he had left would give birth to a regional institution the same year. Raimundo would live the rest of his life a traditional man, marrying twice, known for a tough approach to fatherhood, crafting cold, metal fences for his buyers just as he crafted a fake person for his survival many years earlier. 

Raimundo was remembered, but only just, and for something he wasn’t. Perhaps Raimundo is what Salernitana could’ve become and still could be, what so many Italian clubs end up being. He survived, was remembered, but in the end faded away into the backs of family chronicles and grey memories, never truly celebrated as a great traveler or brave immigrant.

Back in Salerno, a club with potential continues to struggle its way up the calcio ladder, though often stumbling along the way. US Salernitana’s average attendance this year is just over 9,000. Perhaps a return to the spotlight of calcio will be enough to make this club more than remembered.

At the end of the 2018-2019 season, Salernitana became part of a strange tale, in which fellow Serie B club Palermo was relegated due to financial issues, despite finishing high on the table. This relieved Salernitana from having to play the relegation playoff it had qualified for. Palermo, however, would then be spared relegation and instead face a point reduction. Salernitana would then play Venezia in the relegation playoffs, winning in a penalty shootout after two legs.

With their Serie B status still in hand, the club would celebrate their 100 year anniversary in the summer of 2019, announcing a new badge and a new series of kits with Zeus, having previously worked with Givova.

The ownership of Claudio Lotito has improved the outlook for Salernitana by miles, but the club has yet to ever pose a serious chance at promotion since he brought them back to Serie B. The stagnation has led to occasional relegation battles, with the club consistently getting close to securing a promotion playoff spot before losing three or four games in a row and ending several spots away.

Though the security of a new home has indeed been found, the club plays a dangerous game and the threat of dropping down to Serie C threatens to send years of work to the fire.

Despite all of this, there are glimpses of Salernitana’s potential to even just slightly creep into the main stages of Calcio. One of those glimpses may indeed be found in my finding of the club.

I discovered Salernitana in 2017 after working to learn more about my family, ancestors, and geographic heritage. I went on to briefly run an American-fan account of the club, titled  Salernitana USA. Franco Signorelli signed for Salernitana the same year. The midfielder had previously played for the likes of Empoli and Spezia but was born in the far-off city of Mérida, capital of the state of the same name, just under 238 miles from Barquisimeto, another state capital of Venezuela. Sometimes history throws you a bone.






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