What would you rather watch ai??i?? a fast-paced game full of goals or a tactical battle consisting of subtlety and technicality? For the world ai???blessedai??i?? with the ai???vastnessai??i?? of English media, anyone will pick the first. After all, who doesnai??i??t like to see goals being scored? But then a second type of fans is there to whom the tactical battle is the most important part of football. And it is not a coincidence that those fans think that Italian football is the best and the toughest league in the world.

Throughout this series, we will take a look at the pages of history, unraveling anecdotes of how the game developed in Italy, tales of amazing managers and clubs who came from nowhere to reach the pinnacle of success only to subside in the darkness in the later stages. This is the story of football in Italy, a story entangled with facts, fiction, rumors and scandals, of trials and tribulations, of loss and sacrifices. This is the story of Calcio.

The Origin of Football in Italy

Football spread in Italy mostly due to English travelers or sailors who used to pass by Italy on their way to India. Although no historical records exist of the very first football match played in Italy, but it can be assumed that those contained mostly English sailors with a couple of locals thrown into the mix. It was an Italian-born, more specific Turin-born sailor who is credited for bringing the game of football in Italy. Edoardo Bosio got a job in the British Textile industry and spent a long time in England. On his return to his native place, he brought alongwith him few leather balls ai??i?? the earliest exponents of the modern super-light footballs from England and also his memories of the lush-green fields.

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Genoa Soccer Team

 

Lured by those memories, Bosio set about popularizing the game in his country and set up the Torino Football and Cricket Club, the first ever club to be dedicated only to football. But it was dissolved in 1900 and the action soon moved to Genoa. The port city was a popular place for ships to dock and it goes without saying that it turned out to be a place where they indulged in football activities, thereby captivating the attention of the locals. The earliest games in Italy were of an unruly nature ai??i?? as there were no rules, no federations and definitely no concept of referees whatsoever.

When the club from Genoa was formed, it had a rule that no Italians could be members and hence the game suffered. This was one of the reasons why cricket was more popular among Italians at that time. Along came James Richardson Spensley who first insisted that Italians should be a part of Genoa Football club. And from then onwards the game grew by leaps and bounds in the country shaped like a footballerai??i??s boot.

The earlier clubs all belonged to the North, with Turin having three and Genoa one. The first ever tournament comprised these four teams and the winner was Genoa, who beat Internazionale di Torino by a solitary goal. Internazionale di Torino continued for one more year after which it was disbanded and hence Genoa, an English founded club became the oldest in Italy.

Spensley took Genoa to five more Championship victories, as Genoa was to dominate the early years of the 19th century. Also it is said that he was the first football manager, although no records remains of his managerial career. Most of his time, he spent under the bars, which did not even have nets behind them.

Calcio Fiorentino

The game was to take a political turn soon afterwards, as the First World War set in which also caused many riots within Italy. But how did the name Calcio come into the foray? The Italians were unenthused about using an English name as nationalist ideals ran through the nation and they were downright hostile to foreign players. Calcio Fiorentino was a game which originated as early as the 16th century and it was played in Florence. Calcio Fiorentino means ai???Florentine kick gameai??? and it was played on a large field having 27 players in each team. The players usually lined up in a 9-9-9 formation with as many as three goalkeepers and the objective of the game was to score goals using either hands or feet. A ai???goalai??i?? was ai???scoredai??i?? when the ball passed over a designated spot on either ends of the field.

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Present day Calcio Fiorentina

 

An unbelievably violent game, anything and everything was allowed in Calcio Fiorentino including head-butting, punching and kicking the opponent on the head. Needless to say, football resembles little with Calcio Fiorentino, yet the Italian federation chose to pick the name Calcio as the name for football in Italy. The urge to italicize anything and everything was predominant at those times and it reached its peak during the fascist regime of Mussolini.

William Garbutt

The early years of Calcio was mainly due to the efforts of an Englishmen in Italy and the next person is widely regarded and respected as the first-ever manager of Calcio. William Thomas Garbutt, an Englishman born in Stockport spent most of his playing days at Woolwich Arsenal, a club which later became what we now know as Arsenal FC. His playing days were not the ones which caught the worldai??i??s attention, but his managerial days sure did. As injuries cut his playing days short, he retired from playing the game at a relatively young age of 29.

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Garbutt during his heydays

 

Garbuttai??i??s first tryst with Calcio came with Genoa Cricket and Football Club, which offered him a coaching position in the year 1912, as Genoa looked to build on their success on the domestic front. The first thing that Garbutt did with Genoa was to introduce the importance of physical development in football. He introduced dribbling practice and jumping exercises as Genoa went on to build possibly the fittest set of players on the ground. It was often said that Garbuttai??i??s players had the stamina to take the game to the opponents at the latter parts of a match due to their physical superiority. All these had an immediate impact on Genoa as the club finished second in 1913, following it up with a first-place finish next year. Even though the 1914-15 Championship was suspended due to War, Genoa was declared champions.

Garbutt returned home to serve time in the military and as soon as the War subsided, made his return to Genoa. Two Scudettos followed in 1923 and 1924 as Garbutt continued from where he left off. However, in search of new challenges, he left for a newly formed club from the capital ai??i?? AS Roma. He guided Roma to the Coppa Coni and stayed with the side for one more year before moving to the southern city of Napoli. In the next six years which he spent there, he took the little known club to dizzying heights, as they finished 3rd on two consecutive occasions in the 1932 and 1933 seasons. During his time at Naples, he adopted an orphan, Maria which further endeared him to the Italians.

A fresh challenge beckoned him and this time he chose to move to the Basque club of Athletic Bilbao. Even at Bilbao, success followed him as he won the Spanish Football Championship in his first season fighting off a determined Real Madrid side. A civil war brought his Spanish sojourn to a premature end. This time he took up the job at Milan and guided them to a 4th place finish. The next year he chose to return to his beloved Genoa once more. World War Two came soon after and it affected Garbutt immensely. At first, he was forced to go into hiding, but was later captured when a warrant was issued in his name. However, keeping in mind his contribution to Italy, Mussolini allowed him to stay.

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Garbutt during his last stint with Genoa

 

Moving from one place to another within Italy, the Garbutts suffered a lot. But the worst hit William in 1944, when his wife was killed by the bombing of Allies. A broken man now, Genoa took him under their wings and offered him the position of a scout, chiefly due to the financial pay that went with it. A grateful club stood by him as Garbutt recovered slowly. Finally Garbutt returned to England after an all-conquering spree which saw him conquer Italy and Spain. Sadly, his achievements did not even get a mention in the English Press other than a cursory column in an obscure newspaper.

At the height of his powers, Garbutt shaped Calcio and was indeed the first-ever coach in the truest meaning of the term. It was even said that Vittorio Pozzo, the double World Cup winning coach, asked him to help the Italian national team in the 1924 World Cup ai??i?? a gesture reserved only for a special few. His death at Leamington barely generated any news but back at Italy, almost a national mourning was in place. Elaborate anecdotes of him filled every newspaper that day as players fondly recalled the words and action of the man whom they called ai??i?? Il Mister.

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  • Amlan Majumdar

    Wonderful :) Great Work :)

  • Amlan

    Thanks Amlan! :)

  • Great article mate, it’s fascinating to find out that one of the great names in my beloved Calcio was born just 10 miles from where I live :)

  • shaan

    Really interesting. Great article! Thanks for giving other leagues some attention too.

  • Didn’t disappoint in the part two as promised. Taking us through the almost forgotten era of early calcio. Great article.

    • Amlan

      Thanks mate! :)