Parma, December 2020 – In the league at San Siro, in Milan, against AC Milan, with Christmas on the horizon. It’s a dream fixture and one which is coming up for the Crociati on Sunday 13 December (20:45 CET) on Serie A matchday 11. This is not the first time that this has happened in Crociati History. Listen closely; it’s time for a story.

Cast your minds back to Sunday 22 December 1996 and a fixture with significant weight.

It was the fourteenth matchday of that particular season in Serie A.

Parma, led by Nevio Scala’s successor Carlo Ancelotti, had struggled to get going.

Our team were languishing low in the table, hovering just above the drop zone, with only 15 points taken and the second-worst attack in the league.

On that frigid Milanese midwinter afternoon, there was an air of excitement around San Siro. Former Parma man and talismanic coach Arrigo Sacchi had returned to the Rossoneri after Uruguayan Oscar Washington Tabarez had been shown the door. Sacchi had already won his first two games back in charge and was hungry for a third.

But the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza was not lit up by the home side that day but by the Crociati. Parma were radically changed from the previous weeks, inspired by a man who had not been at the Club long.

He had joined the Crociati from Belgian side Club Brugge at the end of November – during the then autumn transfer window.

The Croatian midfielder was a real dynamo, and capable of playing anywhere in attack.

His name: Mario Stanic. It didn’t take long for his name to go down in our Club’s history.

On that Sunday in December in Milan, during his third appearance for Parma, he scored his first-ever goal for the Gialloblù.

The clock had just struck 45 minutes when he rose highest in the AC Milan box, nodding home Ze Maria’s corner.

The ball grazed the underside of the bar. Angelo Pagotto, who was deputising for Sebastiano Rossi, had no chance.

AC Milan couldn’t find a way back and it ended 1-0 to the Gialloblù.

Carletto Ancelotti’s Parma side took off and, come the end of the season in May, were second in the table and secured a historic qualification to the Champions League for the first time in the Club’s history.

In the away end at San Siro, the travelling Parma fans unveiled a banner that was overwhelmingly positive, in spite of the poor start to the season.

It read: “Crederci!” (Believe!).

That show of support helped captain Nestor Sensini & Co to victory. After the full-time whistle, players and fans sang to the tune of Verdi’s Grand March from Aida in celebration.

On that day, an unstoppable journey began.

Photos: Mario Stanic, the Parma goalscorer, and Zè Maria, who assisted the Croat from the corner, ahead of AC Milan player Zvonimir Boban; the Away Section housing the Crociati fans.