Saturday, August 14, 2010

If we are talking tricks and ‘never mind how we won, for only a win counts’, Italy is the perfect place. The classic place. Scandals – sure! 1973-74? A kind of a scandal too. Lazio (Rome) won its first ever title.
Nobody liked that, apart Lazio fans. Now, Rome is disliked in Italy, but Lazio were something else – they were and are considered Fascist. As for that – consider the Communists: the most outspoken player of this conviction, Paolo Sollier (Perugia) publicly said during the season that the only thing he wanted when seeing Lazio fans is to have a rifle and kill all of them. Little wonder the ‘curva’ greetd him chanting ‘Murderer’. Never mind… Lazio were – are – bad… and bad they were. Rough team. Perhaps the first team to fight among themselves during official match – today that’s the fashion, but it was not in the 70s. Lazio did it (Chinaglia attacked D’Amico at San Siro), however, and more – the team was so divided between ‘northerners’ and ‘southerners’, that two separate changing rooms were used. Each group to its own. Except for rugged defender Wilson, who belonged to the Northerners dressing room, but was also good friends with Chinaglia. The coach found that the best way to prepare the team was to leave them to play between themselves – they did it viciously for hours, until it was so dark nobody could see the ball. Their politics were no fun either, however exaggerated – Giorgio Chinaglia openly supported right wing parties and he was not alone. Curiously, order was the attractions for him. Sounds familiar? Sounds like today? ‘Security’ better than rights? It was very bad to say that in the 70s… Curiously again Chinaglia grew up in Wales, and along with Guiseppe Wilson, born in England, was not exactly native Italian. Both were rejected by grand British clubs as hopeless – in Cinagla’s case, the expert judgement came from Swansea City: he was dismissed as hopeless. And there was more to build a myth – weapons, leather coats, and fascination with parachute jumping. The latter happened to be preferred pastime of the Fascists of old. Elitist too. Add the guns… almost everybody in the team had one, and they shoot for fun. Lazio’s goalkeeper recalled that it was a casual thing someone of the squad to burst into your room in the morning and to shoot his pistol between your legs as a joke. To wake you up. The myth was eternally established when the midfielder Re Cecconi was killed after a prank in 1977 – he and a teammate went to a jewelry store and Re Cecconi pretended he has a pistol, shouting it is a robbery and asking for the stuff. The owner was not amused, got out his own weapon and shoot Re Cecconi dead. It added to the Fascist myth – Re Cecconi was blond, the Arian type… why even ask what were his political views (he had none). He belonged to the Northerners locker room, the ‘mellow’ one, and – irony of ironies – was one of the few players not to keep a pistols on himself all the time. Never mind Cinagla’s moving to USA in 1974: he never was a political problem in New York (the first real star Cosmos got), but he is a fascist in Italy to this very day… and he was not. Anyway, given the violence and the anarchy, and the bad rap, it is a miracle Lazio won the Italian championship. One of the biggest miracles in football really – these guys were unable to share a changing room! There was no chemistry between them, they hated each other… the very antipode of successful squad. And they won!
The team everybody, including the very members of it, loved to hate.
Bottom, left to right: Vincenzo D’Amico, Massimo Silva, Giuliano Fortunato, Pierpaolo Manservisi, Ferruccio Mazzola, Franco Nanni, Lugli, Renzo Garlaschelli, Luciano Re Cecconi, Mario Frustalupi, Sergio Petrelli, Labrocca, Filippo - masseur.
Top: Roberto Lovati – assistant coach, Ghiggi – assistant coach, Giorgio Chinaglia, Luigi Polentes, Giancarlo Oddi, Avelino Moriggi, Tommaso Maestrelli – coach, Gaetano Legnaro, Bruno Chinellato, Felice Pulici, Luigi Martini, Mario Facco, Guiseppe Wilson.
By Italian standards, not a great selection – no adorable mega-stars around. Surely some national players – Chinaglia, Wilson, Re Cecconi, Pulici – but given the reputation of the club, the 1974 World Cup fiasco provided perfect excuse to get rid of them and also to blame them, particularly the arch-villain Chinaglia, for the failure. If there was anything sweet at all, it was Ferruccio Mazzola, the brother of the superstar Sandro Mazzola, who was given a chance to win a title at last. In his last playing season the veteran played a few games, mostly in jest – he was no longer regular starter, but the few minutes on the pitch were good for a gold medal at the end. However, the good will was lost to the general negative view of Lazio. And because of same negativity it is difficult to judge what exactly the champions represented – a new wind in Italian football, or just lucky strike during particularly low time? Surely Lazio played different football – more physical, more pragmatic, more English somehow, with Chinaglia in front. Whatever he was, he knew how to score goals. Deadly headers. The team also had something of the German attitude – may be dull, but strubborn and never giving up the fight, they run to the last minute. Beauty was not in the books; winning was. No matter how… perhaps the most openly brutal Italian team. Yet… brutality, winning by hook or crook – these were traditional ‘qualities’ of Italian football. Tough and rough playing, good physical condition, abandoning artistry to get favourable results, mean treatment of opponents… it seems Lazio added nothing new, except they made it raw, open. No pretenses, just straight bullying. However, they were different, and are considered an approximation of total football, I guess for lack of better name for their style. I am inclined to think Lazio won mostly because everybody else was in bad shape – Milan and Inter were dangerously aging and Juventus was still in transition and rebuilding. And Italian football was outdated, stuck in the 60s – Lazio simply took temporary advantage and sunk in obscurity immediately after 1974. Only Chinaglia returned to the spotlights – he was Lazio President between 1983 and 1986 (and got new ill fame: charged with false accounting and fraudulent bankruptcy. With him as president, Lazio went really down to the drain.)
The hatred of Lazio in 1973-74 depreciated interesting things and hid negative events. Chinaglia was the top goal scorer with 24 goals and no one paid attention – perhaps they had to pay attention, because of the nature of his play, so different from traditional Italian patterns. Lazio were by no means high scoring team – they ended with 45 goals total. Their centre forward scored more than half of them! In Italy… where every defense consists of natural born killers. But never mind the Fascist… There was a bribing scandal again this season – Verona was punished with relegation; Sampdoria had 3 points deducted and barely escaped relegation; Foggia had 6 points deducted and relegated; Milan was involved; Napoli was involved… never mind, mind the Fascists, real or imagined. The season was no fun; Italian football was bad… never mind. Bologna won the Cup, but winning is just a polite word… they extracted victory from lowly Palermo in a penalty shoot-out. And if Lazio were nobodies, what great players Bologna had? Mmm… at least they were not Fascists… and Italy was to win the World Cup this year. Not only the Italians thought so.