Calcio – A History of Italian Football
Calcio by John Foot features a familiar image on its cover. It is the timeless image of Marco Tardelli sprinting away in a state of delirium having just scored Italy’s second goal in the 1982 World Cup final. That single moment captures the high points of ecstasy that Italian football can reach: World Champions four times, just one behind record holders Brazil, and European Champions once.
The development of football in what quickly became one of the game’s powerhouses is a fascinating read. Violence, corruption, politics, tragedy and racism all feature in the turbulent history of what Italians call ‘Calcio’.
The Origins of Football in Italy
The Italians believe they had a form of football before pioneers like Dr James Spensley brought Association Football over from England in the 1890s. They called it Calcio, and the name stuck, while the English legacy lives on in the names of several club names, such as Genoa and Milan, and words within the game, such as Mister for coach.
Foot explores the very early annals of Italian football, from the formation of the major city-based clubs that remain today – and some lost along the way – to how Juventus, for example, became Italy’s most popular club and the alleged favouritism the club has enjoyed along the way.
Politics in Italian football
It’s well known that politics and football are symbiotic in Italy, with the curve (stands behind the goals) often vocal in their allegiances. While a handful of clubs veer to the left (AS Livorno, Perugia), most clubs’ ultrà supporters (hard core fans) position themselves at various stages of the right. Lazio, most notoriously, is renowned as a ‘fascist club’, with a history of offensive banners and salutes.
The development of the ultrà is covered by Foot. He argues that while for many hooligans in the dark days of English football violence was an end, for many ultrà violence is a means, and often far more deadly. Ultrà groups have been known to influence club decisions and police rarely enter the curva that they occupy.
These areas are often the sources of racist chanting and banners, particularly against black players, Jews and – in the north – southern Italians. Plus Foot covers the peculiar Italian phenomenon of ‘gufare’, or against-ism – supporting a team because they’re playing againsta rival team. [Continues]
‘The idea that politics and football should be kept apart is laughable in Italy,’ Foot writes. It is everywhere, he argues, and always has been since the days of Mussolini, when the Italian national side (World Champions in 1934 and 1938, Olympic Champions in 1936) were used as part of his propaganda machine, right up to media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s ownership of AC Milan.
Football exposes the divisions within Italy itself and its relationship with other countries and peoples.
The players’ story
Foot chronicles the development of professionalism in Italian football from its origins, up to unionism and the role of the many foreign players – particularly the oriundi, players of Italian descent who were born elsewhere – who have made their impact on the Italian game.
Foot even dedicates a fascinating chapter to the experience of British and Irish players who have plied their trade in Italy to varying degrees of success.
Serie A was until recently the most lucrative league in the world, now it finds its place at Europe’s top table threatened by the financial clout of the Premiership, La Liga and the Bundesliga. In 2015, Juventus ended a five-year absence of Italian clubs in the Champions League final. As the game continues to evolve in Italy, so John Foot’s Calcio is a wonderful insight into the country’s pivotal role in the game’s global history.
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