Hearts leave lasting impression on Florence - fans behaviour, warm welcome, admiration of passion

As magnificent as Florence already was, it is arguable that the thousands of Hearts fans who travelled to Tuscany this week left it in a better state than they found it.

Perhaps not aesthetically, although thanks to a diligent clean up from the supporters that put the Fiorentina team’s sloppiness in tidying up the away dressing room at Tynecastle to shame, the morning after the night before it is evident that they have done nothing to detract from its beauty. But, mentally, they have left the residents with spirits lifted.

A one-club town, there has been plenty of doom and gloom, not just in the atmospheric and authentic Stadio Artemio Franchi, home of their beloved Fiorentina, but through in the restaurants, pubs, streets and piazzas of Firenze.

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Last night, there was tangible relief as Stephen Humphrys’ opening minute shot crashed off the post and their own men opened the scoring just four minutes later. By the time half-time arrived with a 4-0 advantage over Hearts, the smiles illuminated the stands, like party lights and flashbulbs.

Hearts fans travelled in their thousands to Florence to watch their team play Fiorentina.

“We needed this to boost our morale. We played very aggressively and scored a lot,” said the Viola’s manager Vincenzo Italiano, taking full credit when in truth, Hearts played a significant role in that. “It was a very important win for us in this group.”

It was an even bigger result in terms of him keeping his job. With only two wins in their first nine Serie A fixtures, the waning patience of the Fiorentina fans was there to see in a feisty and uncomfortable pre-match presser and in the pessimism of the fans.

It was glaringly obvious in the empty seats in the stands and the fact that the flouting of the segregation rules by Hearts fans was ostensibly rubber stamped by their Italian hosts, who posted a cursory couple of lines of stewards between the unofficial overflow sections and the home contingent.

That in itself was testament to the feelings the Italians seem to have developed for the Scottish fans. Last week, in Edinburgh, they were surprised by the warmth of the welcome they received. But if the capital was an ideal host, its inhabitants were also generous guests.

A Hearts fan takes a selfie from the stands at the Artemio Franchi Stadium.

Last week’s win had been a European fillip for the Italians and the fact they were gifted another well-needed three points last night only endeared them further. And, the pub owners will not be complaining either.

Treating the city as the type of exclusive party venue, usually reserved for the glitterati, it was the football version of the Met Gala, as history and art mixed with merriment and the making of memories. And Florence rolled out the red carpet.

They admired the passion, didn’t mind the temporary dressing of historic buildings in maroon and white flags, and offered the fans kudos when it came to their unquenchable thirst, as they drank certain bars dry and drowned out the peel of church bells with their singing.

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Most of the fans had travelled well aware that victory was a long-shot, but their ability to party in the face of adversity was widely admired. That level of positivity may not catch on if Fiorentina revert back to the losing ways in domestic competition but for at least a couple of nights, they were able to think of their team and smile.

Florence was decked in maroon and white for the past few days.