Friday, 16 May 2008

Episodes from a footballing history of Italy

Today, the Tuscan seaside resort of Viareggio means two things, in footballing terms. Firstly it is the birthplace of World Cup winning manager Marcello Lippi; secondly it is the location of the most important youth tournament in the world, the Torneo Viareggio, also known as the Coppa Carnevale since it takes place during the pre-Lent carnival period each year.

The Torneo Viareggio, incidentally, is a fascinating thing. Though since its foundation in 1948 it has nearly always been won by Italian sides (Fiorentina and Milan lead the way with 8 wins apiece) it is an international competition. Dukla Prague won it 6 times in the 60s/70s, Ipswich Town were losing finalists in 1981 and 1982, Partizan Belgrade won it back in 1951 and more recently the Uruguayan side Juventud de Las Piedras won, in 2006. In 2008, I'm very happy to be able to inform you, Tottenham were knocked out in the group stages after drawing with Genoa and losing to Cisco Roma. Mind you, Empoli knocked out River Plate so it's not exactly indicative of much. The tournament has, though, been a launching pad for many of Serie A's stars over the years: recently players like Giovinco and Balotelli, but further back men like Giuseppe Giannini, Sandro Mazzola, Gianni Rivera and Giancinto Facchetti all made their mark in Viareggio.

But the town does have its own footballing side: F. C. Esperia Viareggio. This is the heir and successor of Viareggio Calcio which dissolved in 2002; Esperia Viareggio have worked their way back up from the amateur leagues into C2, though that status is now threatened since they will be competing in the "play outs" for relegation, starting on Sunday. They play in black and white stripes, rejoice in the original nickname "le Zebre" and won the Italian Amateur Cup in 2006.

Now, Viareggio is in the province of Lucca, the second largest town after the Lucca itself, and not surprisingly there is a considerable footballing rivalry between the two places. Viareggio's ultras' site welcomes you with the prominent declaration "LUCCA MERDA." Lucchese, originally Lucca Calcio, have a considerably more prestigious history and have played several seasons in Serie A. Even in their early days, there are signs they were a decent side: in 1919-20, playing in the second division (then known as Promozione, this was before the creation of Serie A & B) they won the Tuscan Regional Cup, and also promotion into the top flight. And in May of that year, as the season drew to a close, they went to play away at local rivals Viareggio.

The period 1919-20 was one of turmoil in much of Italy: it was known as the Biennio Rosso, as socialist, anarchist and communist councils came to power in towns across northern and central Italy. And as now, Tuscany was always a Red heartland. Minor episodes of violence were beginning to break out with increasing frequency between those on the left and the nationalist veterans' associations, the Arditi, and Mussolini's brand new Fasci del Combattimento. The state and its agents were caught in the middle, distrusted, ineffectual, attacked by both sides (sound familiar at all?)

On 1 May, as part of the celebrations of International Workers' Day, a woman poet came down from Milan and spoke in a packed theatre in the centre of Viareggio. "Don't you know that in Milan, the revolution has started?" she urged them. "They have taken over the factories. Long live anarchy." The town was in a state of turmoil... and on 2 May, hated local rivals Lucca arrived.

At some point during the match, perhaps unsurprisingly, violence broke out. Sources disagree as to whether it began in the stands or on the pitch, among the players. The barriers dividing the cheap standing areas from the pitch were broken down, and fans stormed aggressively onto the grass. The carabinieri, seeking to restore order, went into action and inexplicably opened fire on the crowd: many were wounded but only one man fatally. They had succeeded in killing the referee. His name is now sadly lost.

At this point all hell broke loose, and what became known as "le Tre Giornate", the three days, followed. A full-scale local revolution took place: barracks and police stations were besieged, an anarchist council established, representatives of the state fled in terror. Order was only restored three days later, in part through the arrival of a fully armed naval vessel designed to intimidate the town into submission.

The violence didn't stop there, as on 4 May protests against this incident of police brutality in Viareggio were held in nearby Livorno, another communist stronghold. Demonstrators in the city centre came into contact with the police, who chose to .... open fire, killing 48 year old carpenter Flaminio Mazzantini, socialist and father of eight.

When the media here tell us that today's football-related violence is unprecedented; when they tell us that there should be no connection between football and politics; when they tell us that the rioting after a policeman fatally shot an innocent man in a football context (see Gabriele Sandri) is a sign of the decay of modern society - well, I think they should take a closer look at Italian history.


ursus arctos said...

What a brilliant post.*

I never knew any of the historical bits and thought that Viareggio's rivalry was with Cararra up the coast (which is where Buffon is from). The Tuscans do the local rivalry thing very well, though. Siena still gives the Viola crap about the 15th century, and we saw a "Pisa Merda" sticker from a Livorno ultra group on a lampost in Cannes two weeks ago.

The poet was of course seriously over-egging the reality of what was happening in Milan (more of that happened in Torino), and is perhaps best seen as engaging in the now well-established Milanese tradition of talking crap to the locals while taking a five-day weekend by the seaside. I'd be somewhat surprised if the more down to earth Tuscans really took her seriously; they no doubt had their own reasons to cause trouble with the police.

BTW, I'm pretty sure that Carletto Mazzone lives in Viareggio now. You can pay him a visit to the Gialorosso legend next time you are there.

* except for the dig at Tottenham, at least we were invited, unlike certain other English teams.

oscar said...

Great post!

I must admit I find the holier-than-thou attitude (to a great extent is my native country's media a guilty party to this) concerning the difficulty of seperating football from politics in Italy to be quite naïve...
My time in Italy has taught me it's nigh impossible to seperate the two, as much as one may would like to - the né rossi né neri from a few years back made me smile, sure! But it doesn't have to be as crude as red or black, it goes beyond that, in infilitrates everything.
This post is a great example of this...only by dismissing--and ignoring--history can we try to convince ourselves that there's a way to seperate these three topics, which so often cross over, and into each other.

I'm so very happy I found this blog!

Spangly Princess said...

According to the "Ultras Fighters Viareggio 1984" group, the main rivals are Lucchese followed by Massese, Pistoiese and Prato. There's a T-shirt:

So now you know.

I don't know which is less surprising: "Milanese talks crap while taking long weekend at seaside" or "poet not accurately representing political situation." But yeah, what was happening in Turin was certainly more dramatic (the occupation at FIAT and so on).

I wonder can Mazzone make himself understood up there in Tuscany?

Oscar I am very happy you found my blog too, you are most welcome!

Antonio G said...


That's the best post I've seen in ages.

Your Padania piece was excellent too, btw.

Anonymous said...

Fine post.

Attempts to separate sport and politics alweays fail, of course, because sport doesn't exist in a vacuum (and because everything is political, but that's the old Foucauldian speaking). What is surprising is the sanctimonious note often struck by people who think they should be kept rigidly apart.

Ursus, I expect Arsenal's youth team was too busy playing in the Carling Cup :-)


ursus arctos said...

dv, you mean the one with lillywhite and navy ribbons on it?

Albert Herring said...

Inexplicably, you omit to note Nottingham Forest's 3-2 humbling of Lazio in the 1984 tournament (before being knocked out by Torino in the quarters). More homework needed, clearly.

Spangly Princess said...

Ouch, Ursus. That is ice-cold.

Albert, I apologise for neglecting to mention your team, and I apologise to all my loyal readers for omitting to mention a Lazio defeat when I had the chance to do so. I shan't do it again.

NickLazio1900 said...

Good post. Football was more dangerous and more violent twenty years ago, let alone almost a century ago.

"What is surprising is the sanctimonious note often struck by people who think they should be kept rigidly apart."

I don't know what club you support, however if you were a fan of one where the political make-up of the club's support has been scrutinized incessantly for the past ten years, I don't think that you'd feel that way.

FailedGenius said...

Yea good post....although you missed two very important facts:
1. I have a vague memory that Pierluigi Collina was born there. But hey, I may have dreamt that.
2. I broke my wrist in Viareggio, actually playing football on the beach with my brother. And spent a pleasant hour trying to find the hospital...which confirmed every stereotype I've ever had about Italians.

Anyway, I should be reading vague books in preperation for Disciplines of History...

joejoejoe said...

Great post. I learned a ton!

Spangly Princess said...

FailedGenius: Collina lives there now but is originally from Bologna.