Songs from the peninsula: A musical journey through calcio

Music and football have had a tempestuous relationship over the years. The two seem so compatible yet their union is often an inharmonious one. These marital issues are less prevalent in the comfort zone of the football stadium where the action on the field is regularly accompanied by joyful song from the incumbent terrace choirs.

But even then, there can be some awkward moments, especially when musical instruments are involved. Take the England brass band for example (please, just take them), the novelty wore off after about five minutes but somehow football fans have had to endure their rendition of ‘The Great Escape’ for years. But even they are preferable to the dreaded vuvuzelas which plagued the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and could still be heard ringing in the ears of football fans in Brazil four years later.

Away from the stadium, things can get much worse, especially when professional footballers are granted access to the recording studio. Then, truly terrible things can happen – a fact to which those of us who are still haunted by the memory of ‘Diamond Lights’ by Hoddle and Waddle (or was it Waddle and Hoddle?) can attest. And when entire teams enter the sound booth, the results can be devastating. A case in point being Liverpool’s 1988 ‘Anfield Rap,’ the fallout from which threatened to throw the entire genre into the musical equivalent of a nuclear winter until New Order provided the antidote in the form of ‘World in Motion’ a year later.

But despite some shameful public fallouts, football and music have had their moments in the sun. Over the years, many musicians have chosen to honour the beautiful game through the medium of song, often with incredible results.

In Italy, where football is a national obsession, it is no surprise to discover that the country’s singers and songwriters have often been inspired to serenade the object of their passion through song. To honour some of these more palatable alliances between music and soccer in Italy, we have put together a compilation of compositions all of which have links to calcio.

Rita Pavone – ‘La partita di pallone’ (1962)

Way back in 1962, a young Rita Pavone released this tune in which she laments the betrayal of her husband. She describes how he leaves her alone every Sunday, not to meet another woman, but to go and watch the game – or so he says. She is not sure because he never takes her, and the doubt is keeping her awake at night. She pledges to follow him one day so the truth can finally be revealed.

Adriano Celentano – ‘Eravamo in centomila’ (1967)

Fans of English new wave punk rock band, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, may recognise the name Adriano Celentano. In 1979, the Italian singer, composer, producer, actor and film director was cited in the band’s No. 3 hit single ‘Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3.’

Earlier, in 1967, Celentano chose to celebrate the Derby della Madonnina by penning this love song in which he tells the tale of an unrequited romance born across the terraces. He (an Inter fan) describes how a pretty brunette (a Milan fan) “scores through the goal of his heart” before leaving on a tram with another.

Gianna Nannini and Edoardo Bennato – ‘Un’estate italiana’ (1990)

It is no surprise that this tune has become the unofficial anthem of The Gentleman Ultra. After all, it was the theme song to Italia ’90 (the tournament that sparked Richard Hall’s interest in calcio) where it was performed at the opening ceremony. There were English and Spanish versions of the song but we prefer the Italian version composed by the legendary producer Giorgio Moroder and performed by Gianna Nannini and Edoardo Bennato.

Antonello Venditti – ‘La coscienza di Zeman’ (1999)

Roman singer/songwriter Antonello Venditti first appeared on the Italian music scene in the early 1970s. His songs often touched on social and political issues and his use of religious language once saw him denounced for blasphemy. During the years of strategia della tensione, he steered away from political themes for fears of repercussions.

In 1983, he was invited to take part in AS Roma’s Scudetto celebration show. The song he composed and performed, ‘Grazie Roma’ (Thank you Roma) was a big hit and one of many he wrote in honour of his favourite team. These songs contrast greatly with the sociopolitical focus of his other work.

In 1999, after enjoying mainstream success, he felt compelled to pen a tune dedicated to Zdenek Zeman. ‘La coscienza di Zeman’ (Zeman’s conscience) explores the psychological dilemma of a coach who prefers to attack and play well than seek results through defensive play.

Gianni Morandi – ‘L’allenatore’ (2004)

Gianni Morandi has been active since the early ‘60s when he first sang at a Communist Party event organised by his father in Emilia-Romagna. In 1962, he was signed by RCA records and shot to national fame with the release of ’Fatti mandare dalla mamma.’ He has remained a popular figure on the Italian music scene ever since. In 2010, he was named honorary President of Bologna Football Club 1909.

In 2004, he released ‘L’allenatore,’ a song that unashamedly pays tribute to the football coaches of the world, and the trials and tribulations they face at the mercy of their critics.

The song describes “a world devoid of values where those who count are the winners, and losers’ names are erased.”

Stadio – ‘Gaetano and Giacinto’ (2011)

Formed in the 1970s, Italian pop giants Stadio released their first album in 1982 and shot to stardom with the song ‘Acqua e sapone’ (Soap and water) which was used on the soundtrack to Carlo Verdone’s film of the same name. In 2016, they released their 15th album ‘Miss nostalgia.’

The band have written more than one song dedicated to calcio including 2000’s ‘Doma il mare, il mare doma’ which retraces the career of Diego Maradona. However, we prefer their 2011 release Gaetano and Giacinto’ which pays tribute to the softly spoken, and now departed, leaders of the game, Giacinto Facchetti and Gaetano Scirea.

“Gaetano and Giacinto are two guys who talk quietly, even now, now that they are far away, but in this noise, has remained an idea, an echo in the wind, Facchetti and Scirea”

Dutch Nazari – ‘Volpi e Poggi’ (2016)

As hinted at in Dan Cancian’s article and discussed in our podcast, the names of Sergio Volpi and Paolo Poggi were inadvertently linked with a football sticker album scandal in the late 1990s. The albums, made by the chewing gum company Dolber, became notorious because nobody could complete them. And it was always the same two players who were missing – Volpi and Poggi. Children were desperate, chewing gum was bought in bulk, but these things were rarer than Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.

In the south of Italy it was rumoured than kids in the north had the stickers, prompting political and class-based conspiracy theories. The integrity of the suppliers was brought into question and the matter even found its way into Italian Parliament. But the mystery was never solved and as time faded, the Volpi and Poggi stickers became the stuff of legend. In 2016, Italian rap artist Dutch Nazari recorded a musical tribute to the episode in which he claims to have been a recipient of the fabled stickers.

Canova – ‘Maradona’ (2016)

Despite hailing from Milan, indie pop band Canova felt bound to honour Naples’ golden son on their 2016 album ‘Avete Ragione Tutti‘ (an album that also contains the track ‘Brexit’, an anthem to the lost ambition of youth).  The song ‘Maradona’ is catchy, sincere and ever so slightly ironic in the way it pays tribute to the controversial Argentinean.

Words by Neil Morris: @nmorris01

Neil was seduced by Italian and Spanish football at a young age thanks to the likes of “La Quinta del Buitre”, Sacchi’s Milan, Cruyff’s dream team and Batigol. His football obsession has taken him all over Europe but he currently lives in Spain where he works as a freelance writer/editor. A first novel is also in the pipeline. When he is not writing, he heads for the sierras to indulge his passion for mountain biking.

(Image credit: Gorupdebesanez)