Among those gasping in the heat of the city was a journalist who came from the capital. His name was Renato Ferminelli and he worked as a columnist for the sport newspaper, Paese Sportivo. Ferminelli also occasionally wrote for other journals like the Roman weekly publication Il tifone, for whom he published the most important article of his career, titled “Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark”. Citing William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he was uncovering the first scandal in the history of Italian football.
The story was unexpectedly delivered to Ferminelli’s ears whilst he sat comfortably on his sofa. The reporter happened to live in a small hotel situated in Madonna degli Angeli Square, and his room was adjacent to that of Luigi Allemandi, the Juventus and Italian national team full-back, who could have never imagined his revelatory argument with Polytechnic University student Francesco Gaudioso would be heard by a journalist.
But what is the role of a common student in a football story like this? The issue is thorny and complicated, and a leap back to this story’s beginning is a necessity.
1926 was a special year for Italian football. The season started on 3 October and it was the first that included the whole nation. It was called Divisione Nazionale and was an idea of the fascist regime. The regime wanted to promote the idea of a cohesive country, something that had previously clearly been at odds with the nature of the league, divided as it was between north and south.
The Divisione Nazionale’s structure wasn’t like that of the future Serie A. It was based on two groups of ten teams – the best teams playing a final group for the Scudetto. That year, the form book wasn’t betrayed, as the six strongest teams were indeed the ones that made it to the final group: Juventus, Internazionale, Genoa, Torino, Bologna, and AC Milan.
After a couple of matches, the plot of the movie was crystal clear: the title was a shootout between Torino and Bologna. Torino were a top team and their forward line was made up of Adolfo Baloncieri, Julio Libonatti and Gino Rossetti. Their talent as a trident earned them the nickname ‘the three wonders’, and they scored a combined total of 44 goals in the first phase of the competition. Bologna were the Granata’s greatest challengers, boasting stars like Angelo Schiavio, Eraldo Monzeglio and Giuseppe Muzzioli.
On 15 May 1927, the clash between the two teams took place and was won by Torino 1-0, after the referee disallowed a Bologna goal that many spectators claimed was perfectly legitimate. But the biggest scandal was yet to happen, and was reserved for the Derby della Mole, scheduled for 5 June.
The first leg of the derby was won by Juventus. But the Torino chairman Enrico Marone Cinzano wanted to win the second leg at all costs. He wagered a dinner with Juve chairman Edoardo Agnelli on the outcome of the game. Meanwhile, Cinzano’s executive (Nani) thought the match represented an opportunity to gain favour in the eyes of his success-hungry chairman.
It is at this point that the story of Luigi Allemandi begins.
He was an unchained force of nature. He had a curly mop of hair and looked like the devil. His fast running was as impressive as his acrobatic jumps, and he always reached the ball before his opponents.
These were the words used by the legendary Italian sport journalist Gianni Brera to describe Allemandi. He was Juve’s most powerful full-back and, together with Virginio Rosetta and the goalkeeper Giampiero Combi, he formed part of the impenetrable rearguard of the reigning champions.
When the Sicilian student Francesco Gaudioso told Nani that he lived in the same building as Allemandi, the Torino executive couldn’t believe his ears. He had finally been given the possibility to put his plan into practice. With Gaudioso as mediator, he reached an agreement with Allemandi for a sum of 50000 liras, a crazy sum for a footballer at that time. All the full-back had to do was give Torino a helping hand, one that would ensure his opponents would win the derby. He received the first half of the sum immediately, and Nani promised to pay the remaining 25000 liras after the match.
It finally came to the big day. Torino were first in the table with 12 points, Juve were third with seven, Bologna were between them. It was the last chance for the Bianconeri to halt Torino’s march toward the Scudetto. The match started as expected, with Torino attacking energetically and Juve’s men stubbornly defending Combi’s goalposts. Allemandi was one of the best players on the pitch, pouncing on every ball the Granata’s trio of wonders touched. At the end of the first half, the game took an unexpected turn with Antonio Vojak’s goal putting Juventus in the lead.
The second half was similar to the first, and on 55 minutes, Granata defender Mihály Balacics turned a free-kick into an equaliser, after the ball passed through Rosetta’s suspiciously open legs.
Torino’s siege went on until Bianconeri centre-forward Pietro Pastore was sent off by the referee. Playing with ten men, Juventus’ resistance was slowly crushed by Toro’s attacks, and Libonatti scored the winning goal on 74 minutes, launching his team toward the title, which was eventually won in July.
Even on a day as disappointing as this for Juventus, Allemandi had an outstanding match, giving every inch of effort until the final whistle. But what about the 50000 liras agreement? Due to Juve’s loss, Allemandi demanded for the remaining part of that money. However, Nani refused to fulfil his promise, claiming that the full-back had done absolutely nothing to prevent his team from winning the match. The (non)payment of this bribe triggered a heated discussion between Allemandi and Nani’s intermediary, Gaudioso. This was the discussion Ferminelli eavesdropped on, attentively listening through the thin walls of the hotel. And here starts the murkier part of the story.
After Ferminelli’s article was published on Il tifone, an inquiry was immediately launched by Federation secretary Giuseppe Zanetti. After some interrogation, the truth finally emerged as Nani confessed everything. On 4 November 1927, Federcalcio issued a notice declaring that Torino were to be stripped of their 1926-27 championship. At the end of the month, another decision shook the world of calcio, as Allemandi was banned from football. Two other Juventus players, Federico Munerati and Pietro Pastore, were officially reprimanded for ‘having overlooked their duties as footballers’, but nothing specifically was said about them, and no punitive measures were taken.
Today, 90 years after the scandal, there are many issues that remain unresolved. Munerati and Pastore came out of the investigations clean, and nobody suspected Juve’s defender Rosetta, who was somewhat dubiously at fault for Torino’s first goal. The feeling is that Allemandi was made to pay for everybody, the scapegoat used to avoid a bigger scandal that probably involved more than just one player.
Moreover, this resolution allowed Juve to save their most important player (Rosetta) from disciplinary actions and, at the same time, prevented their rivals Bologna from concluding the already established purchase of Allemandi, who would have formed an indomitable couple with Monzeglio.
But what about Allemandi himself? His ban was withdrawn after one year and he played at Inter, Roma, Venezia and Lazio before retirement. He never said a word about the scandal until 1976 when, two years before his death, he timidly declared that “Yes, there was something unclear that day, but the fault was not on me…” This ensured the obscurity of this controversy surfaced once again.
Even after things were supposedly clarified, the 1926-27 Scudetto wasn’t awarded to second-placed Bologna. This was probably because Federcalcio president Leandro Arpinati, a fascist who had already moved the Federation’s headquarters to Bologna, didn’t want to give the impression of favouring the team of his city, something that would have been harmful for the image of the Mussolini regime.
As a consequence, when looking at the list of Italian football champions, next to the year ‘1926-27’, one can find the caption ‘No winner’. That is correct, there was no winner that year, because the title remained unassigned.
Today, the vestiges of the Allemandi scandal are still felt by Torino. Their current president, Urbano Cairo, has even pushed to have the 1926-27 Scudetto reassigned to the club, claiming that it was “unjustly taken” from Toro in the first place.
But the Scudetto remains unassigned and those two words – ‘No winner’ – so concise and so jarring, stand as an indelible reminder of what a murky world football can be. They remind us that political and private interests can intersect and intervene in a sport which, as we know, is far from ‘just a game’.
The Allemandi Scandal took place in 1927; before World War II and before the world as we know it today. It unraveled before the age of calcio moderno; before the broadcasting rights and sponsorship contracts, before millionaire football agents and billionaire owners, before all those things that, as is often speculated, corrupt the beautiful game.
It was 1927, and there were already people who managed to engineer a plan that went down in history as the first football scandal on the peninsula. A scandal that still bears the name of Luigi Allemandi, a player perhaps no more guilty than many others.
Words by Franco Ficetola: @Franco92C14
Franco is a son of Rome who grew up admiring Totti’s assists and chasing a ball through the streets of the capital’s suburbs. Now he spends most of his time watching football matches, regardless of the league, the country or the level. He also writes for @JustFootball.