Ask any football fan younger than thirty to name a Milanese club and the first name that comes to their mind would be AC Milan. But what about the other club based in Milan which plays in striking black and blue?
This particular club – the second most successful in Italy prior to its descent in 1990 – had, in its first 80 years of existence, won 13 Scudettis compared to the measly 8 by its admittedly more illustrious city rivals in that period. It had pioneered the use of talented foreign players fifty years before it was in vogue in the peninsula. Having initially pioneered the much-reviled Cateneccio, it would later prove to be magnanimous enough in bowing to its fans’ wishes by being the first club to discard it.
This club, with the longest uninterrupted stint in the Italian top-flight, holds the European record for the longest winning streak in the domestic league with seventeen consecutive wins.
A club so rich in history, that most people over the age of forty will have no hesitation in naming it as the club that best exemplifies the city of Milan.
I give you, Internazionale of Milano.
Professional football was brought to Lombardy and Milan by a group of English expatriates led by Alfred Edwards. The Milan Cricket and Football club, or the Milan CFC, was formed in 1899 with football’s popularity on the ascendancy. Soon enough, Milan CFC would become the premier national team winning 3 national championships over the next ten years .
Perhaps almost unsurprisingly, considering the foreign influence at the club, an ‘us versus them’ xenophobic mentality had gradually begun to kick in at Milan CFC. Before the club had celebrated its 10th Anniversary, Milan CFC had split. A group of influential Swiss and German expatriates, along with a few other influential Italians decided to form their own club with a more inclusive charter. Thus in 1908, Internazionale of Milano came into existence. From its origin, its charter was written to welcome the best Italian and international talents to play for the club.
The Early years
In the first five decades of its existence the club won seven league titles, evenly spread out with at least one per decade. With the core of its support drawn from the middle-class (and consequently, more conservative) section of the Milan crowd, the club would become the second most popular and successful club in Italy.
La Grande Inter
In 1955 a middle-aged businessman, fresh from his conquests in the deserts of Libya, became the chief Patron of the club and heralded the golden era of the club. Over next 12 years, Angelo Moratti presided upon a side known more as ‘La Grande Inter’ or ‘The Grand Inter’ as they won five Scudettis and two back to back European cups, reaching the finals four times.
The key architect of the side was a man who was as Internazionale as the club itself. Helenio Herrera, born in Argentina to Spanish parents, grew up in Morocco and eventually ended up in Charles de Gaulle’s France to become a French citizen. Herrera revolutionized football, introducing the much hated Cateneccio into football lingua franca. Playing with a sweeper behind the two central defenders who was quick in bringing the ball out, Inter became masters of the one-nil win.
However with the arrival of the “fantasista” Sandro Mazzola, Herrera was quick to ditch the Cateneccio approach, making use of the roaming playmaker instead. Mazzola was the hero in Inter’s first European cup triumph, landing a brace against six-time champions Real Madrid.
Between father Valentino (who was part of the Grande Torino side of 1940s) and son Sandro, the Mazzolas would most likely rank as the most talented father-son duo in world football. A pity indeed, that Sandro didn’t have a son to continue the Mazzola football dynasty!
Return to Mediocrity
Angelo Moratti stepped down in 1968 and fortunes on the field waned. By this time Inter’s city rivals from whom the club had split, had recovered their winning touch. The two city clubs were the toughest challengers to Juventus.
Inter continued winning titles at regular intervals and except for two seasons always finished in the top eight of the league. No mean achievement considering the level of competition they had to contend with.
‘Milan versus Inter’ sometimes had a subplot in the form of international rivalries. In the 1980s, while Milan was dominated by the Dutch trio of Van Basten, Rijkaard and Gullit, Inter had their German trio of Brehme, Matthaus and Klinsmann. It only added to an age-old rivalry; this new Netherlands-versus-Germany angle serving to heat things up further.
Derby d’Italia: The bitter rivalry in Calcio
While Milan fans always point to Inter as their bitter rivals, they’d be disappointed to learn the feeling isn’t mutual. For Inter, the position of arch-rivals is reserved for the team from Turin, in black and white stripes. In the 1960s, the celebrated Italian journalist Gianni Brera coined the term Derby d’Italia (or the Italian Derby) to describe the game between two of the most successful and most followed teams in Italy.
The rivalry has a subtle political undercurrent with the two teams drawing most of their support from outside their own cities. Juventus lags behind Torino in Turin in terms of fanbase while AC Milan has more fans in the city of Milan than Inter. However, both Juventus and Inter have a huge support base outside their own cities.
The rivalry between Inter and Juventus, turned bitter after Juventus president Giovanni Agnelli took over the FIGC presidency. Inter fans believed Juventus received undue favors from the FIGC. Matters boiled over in the 1960-61 season, when Juventus and Inter were challenging for the title. In the league game at Turin, with Inter leading 0-1, there was a pitch invasion by Juventus fans, leading to the unfortunate cancellation of the game. The game was awarded to Inter. But there was more to come.
Five months later FIGC went back on their decision and demanded the game be replayed. This meant that Inter, who were at the top of table by just a point, lost the first position. Angelo Moratti protested and sent out his youth team as a sign of protest. The team was thrashed 9-1 and the rivalry between fans soon graduated to hatred.
The belief among Inter fans that there was something sinister about the relationship between Juventus and the referees was only bolstered during the 1998 Turin edition of the Derby d’Italia. Within a decade, they would be proven right. Proven right to an extent beyond their wildest dreams.