Mark Consuelos and Kelly Ripa's Italian Soccer Team Earns Promotion: 'Magical Cinderella Year' (Exclusive)
"It was one of those bucket list moments. Being such a fan of soccer, I kept on thinking if my 16-year-old self could see me now," Consuelos tells PEOPLE
Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos' Italian soccer team has been promoted after a successful season — and now the couple is celebrating!
In November, Consuelos and Ripa announced their investment in two Italian soccer teams, Campobasso 1919 and Ascoli FC, along with a co-ownership role in Campobasso to help restore its success in the Italian soccer league.
After winning 28 of their 30 games, Campobasso's team was promoted to Serie D, but Consuelos, 52, tells PEOPLE the team's success was a surprise in the first season under new ownership.
"Oh my gosh, this wasn't supposed to work out," Consuelos says. "This was a hair-brained idea."
When Consuelos and North Sixth Group chairman Matt Rizzetta embarked on this journey with Campobasso, a small Italian town with little tourism, they had zero players, no head coach and no general manager. They also only had ten days until the start of the season.
Rizzetta came through and signed players from "in and around Italy" who were free agents, as the transfer window had already closed, Consuelos says.
"We assembled a team, many of which didn't see each other until three days before the first game. Our home field was in disarray, they had mushrooms growing on the field, so we had to play on visiting neighboring towns and small fields," says Consuelos.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
One of the players signed to the team during the short window was "the biggest omni of success" for the underdog team. "We signed a player named Francesco...wait for it...Ripa."
Consuelos says the athlete and his wife aren't sure if they have any mutual lineage, but he has plans to give them both DNA tests soon to find out.
"Anyway, he became the leader of our team," Consuelos says of Ripa the soccer player, 38. "He was a journeyman goal scorer, and he led the team the whole year through play."
Considering the 10-day window they had to form a team and the novice of Consuelos' ownership in the league, "this wasn't supposed to work out," says the actor. "It was just a magical Cinderella year."
The venture has also given Consuelos a chance to further connect with his Italian roots, he says.
"This past weekend, I flew to Italy and actually did a little tape piece for Live with Kelly and Mark. I had been all over Italy, but I'd never been to this region. It's between Naples and Rome off to the side near the Adriatic coast. I'm sure I've taken a train ride through this region, but the region is affectionately known as the region that doesn't exist. And they like it. They like it that way."
Related:Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos Are Now Co-Owners of Italian Soccer Team Campobasso 1919
But Consuelos wasn't sure how much the residents of Compobasso would trust him and Ripa to turn their team into a winning franchise.
"I wouldn't say they're closed off, but they like the fact that Naples and Rome and all those other places get a lot of tourists and they just like to have their own peaceful rolling hills, mountains and skiing and ocean, and it's a beautiful country."
He adds, "I think going into it, I'm sure they had a lot of suspicions and doubts. Like, 'who are these Americans that, obviously, they're Italian-Americans, but they're Americans. What are they going to do?' This team's going to start in the fifth division, and they kind of lost hope. I think slowly but surely, we gave them a little hope."
After winning their final match to earn their promotion, Consuelos says the energy was unlike anything he's experienced before. "It was amazing. The fans were so thankful. They were so energetic. I've never been part of anything like that when they won."
Consuelos says, "It was one of those bucket list moments. Being such a fan of soccer, I kept on thinking if my 16-year-old self could see me now."
Afterward, the team celebrated with Consuelos by letting him drive the team bus home. "I was just a little kid. It was just so great. So obviously, it was just one of those moments. It's indescribable."
The team's success has brought out his wife's competitive spirit, says Consuelos. "She's extremely competitive and she loved that we were winning. She was like, 'I'm all into this Campobasso thing, Campobasso 1919 for life.' And the fact that she has one of the star players, they share surnames. She's like, 'this is meant to be.'"
Related:Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos' Relationship Timeline
And Consuelos says "maybe" to the possibility of producing a documentary about the couple's travels to Italy with the team and beyond. "We'd love to maybe go back to our ancestors or our parents' parents' hometowns and find out where we came from."
Consuelos adds, "I love sports documentaries. I love the translation you can make between life and sport. There's so many themes that correlate to just everything we do in life."
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.