As news broke of Diego Maradona’s passing, the streets of Naples filled with mourners. All corners of society gathered at the stadium, the murals and in the neighbourhoods to remember their hero. Floral tributes, candles, shirts, banners and song; Naples was a city united in grief. The spontaneous renaming of Stadio San Paolo in El Diego’s honour was a fitting tribute to a player who had single-handedly elevated an entire city.
It was also the continuation of a well-practiced custom on the peninsula. Maradona’s name is a contemporary addition to a roll of honour that stretches as far back as calcio itself. The names of Renato Dall’Ara, Ennio Tardini and Artemio Franchi are ingrained in the consciousness of Italian football disciples. Yet, paradoxically, many of these figures are strangers to us. Who are they and what were their stories?
In the second part of our journey around the peninsula, we discover the long-since departed figures from the boardroom and wider sporting world who lend their names to the temples of calcio.
Celebrated club officials
In many provincial towns and cities, the stadium gates bear the name not of a former player, but of the unsung administrators, visionary leaders and benefactors who delivered success without donning the shirt. Renato Dall’Ara presided over four Scudetti during his thirty-year Bologna presidency, tragically passing away on the eve of another in 1964. On a more modest scale, President Renzo Barbera led Palermo to two Coppa Italia finals in the 1970s. And more recently, Pisa remember their own Presidentissimo, Romeo Anconetani, whose esteemed leadership allowed a club of modest means to dine at Italy’s top table during the 1980s.
In Ferrara, Paolo Mazza was a former coach of SPAL who graduated into the boardroom and, eventually, the role of club president. During his time at the helm in the 1950s and 1960s, he was responsible for spotting the talent, such as Fabio Cappello, that propelled the club to Serie A. The club renamed the stadium in his honour in 1982, two months after his death aged 80.
Businessman, publisher and film producer Cino Del Duco was a colourful character born in Ascoli Piceno, before emigrating to France. In 1955 he returned home, using some of his amassed fortune to rescue his hometown football club from bankruptcy. In 1962 he persuaded the municipality to build a new stadium which was subsequently named after him and his brother (and business partner); Stadio Cino e Lillo Del Duca.
Leonardo Garilli distinguished himself from many other club presidents of his era by presiding over a period of great stability and progress at his hometown club, Piacenza. Between 1983 and 1996, he changed the coach just once, as the club climbed from Serie C2 to Serie A. Flanked by trusted lieutenants from his industrial empire, he translated his business acumen into results on the pitch.
In both Alessandria (Giuseppe Moccagatta) and Pagani (Marcello Torre), the stadia are named after venerable individuals who combined the roles of civic mayor and football club president. In particular, Torre was a highly-principled figure who used his position in office to tackle the scourge of mafia infiltration in the award of public contracts. It was a calling which would ultimately cost him his life, falling victim to a Camorra assassination in 1980.
Ennio Tardini was a local politician in Parma in the early part of the 20th century, who had made it his business to ensure the city had adequate sporting facilities. When Tardini took on the presidency of Parma’s football club in 1921 he set about bringing an end to the club’s nomadic existence. He was pivotal in convening local entrepreneurs and politicians to raise funds and support for the construction of a bespoke stadium. Sadly, Tardini passed away before his project could be completed, but it was inaugurated in his honour.
Deviating from the theme of club presidents, two Tuscan stadiums take the name of footballing administrator Artemio Franchi. Having trained as a lawyer and began his career in the chemicals industry, he moved into the world of football as Fiorentina’s sporting director. Under his reign, Fiorentina won the scudetto in 1956 and a Cup Winners Cup in 1961, before he took up the presidency, first, of the FIGC and, later, of UEFA. Franchi died in a car accident in 1983, resulting in the stadia of Fiorentina (his place of birth) and Siena (his place of death) being renamed in his memory.
The local authorities in Teramo took the less conventional, but nonetheless touching approach of naming their stadium after the football club doctor, Gaetano Bonolis. He had served the club for four decades before passing away in 2013.
Local sporting heroes
The municipal ownership of many sporting facilities in Italy can result in some unusual dedications to local icons who have excelled in other fields. For example, there is not one, but two, Serie C stadia named after local motorcycling champions. In the early 20th century, the Benelli family became famous in the Adriatic city of Pesaro for manufacturing motorcycles. They raced them too, and Vis Pesaro’s stadium bears the name of the youngest of six brothers, Tonino Benelli, a four-time national champion from the 1920s and 1930s. However, Ternana’s fabulously-named Stadio Libero Liberati takes some beating. Liberati was a Terni-native, an Italian national champion at the age of 22 who went on to become World Champion (500cc class) in 1957. He lost his life in 1962, aged 35, and the new municipal stadium was named in his honour in 1969.
Several towns and cities use the provincial stadium as a way to remember Olympic representatives who hailed from the region. The most worthy of these is surely Alberto Braglia, after whom Modena’s home is named. Braglia was a gymnast who won gold in London (1908). He then overcome the premature death of his son to return to Stockholm (1912), winning another two gold medals. After that, he retired from competition to become an acrobat in a circus.
The stadia of Pescara and Pro Patria are both named after three-time Olympians, who could only aspire to Braglia’s success. Giovanni Cornacchia was a national champion in the 110m hurdles, representing Italy in the 1960, 1964 and 1968 Games, peaking with a 7th place in Tokyo. Runner Carlo Speroni was at the Stockholm Olympics with Braglia, running in the marathon. After an enforced wartime hiatus he returned in Antwerp (1920) and Paris (1924) in distance events on the track, but was unable to add an Olympic medal to his numerous national titles.
Italy’s triumphant football team from the 1936 Olympics featured four players from Carrara and its surrounding areas. Coach Vittorio Pozzo had already steered Italy’s senior team to World Cup glory on home soil in 1934 when he was tasked with leading his country at the Berlin Olympics. Italy dispatched the USA, Japan, Norway and Austria on their way to the gold medal. The full name of Carrerese’s home is Stadio Comunale dei Marmi Libero Marchini, Achille Piccini, Paolo Vannucci e Bruno Venturini…or Quattro Olimpionici Azzurri (“Four Olympians”), for short.
Perhaps the most picturesque stadium in Italy lies on the southern tip of Lake Como. Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia is named after a champion rower born on those shores. The twice European-champion was a versatile oarsman, gathering eight medals across singles, doubles, fours and eights. In 1914, he won the coveted Diamond Challenge Sculls race at Henley-upon-Thames under the gaze of King George V. “Sina” never, however, appeared at the Olympics; the Italian Committee chose not to send a full rowing team to London (1908) due to the difficulty and expense of transporting equipment, while in 1912 a dispute between two rowers led to the abandonment of the whole Italian rowing team. He would not live to see another Games as lost his life serving his country in the Great War.
At the end of the Second World War, many localities took the opportunity to erase Fascist-era monikers from their stadia in favour of recognising true local heroes (though exceptions exist; Vibonese still play in a stadium dedicated to Luigi Razza, a Minister for Public Works in Mussolini’s government). Pino Zaccheria was a prodigious basketball player and a pioneer who helped to establish the game in Foggia in the early part of the 20th century. Zaccheria lost his life during the Second World War in modern-day Albania and, as peacetime returned, was honoured in the Apulian city.
As we near the end of our journey around the peninsula, it is striking that in almost every instance stadia are named after the patriarchy. From sporting icons and war heroes, through to politicians and the Pope (Stadio Giovanni Paolo II, home of Virtus Francavilla), all of them are men. But there is one emblematic exception located in the Campania region, nestled between Napoli and Salerno.
The municipal stadium of Cava de’ Tirreni, home of Serie C Cavese, is named after Simonetta Lamberti. In 1982, the eleven-year-old girl was murdered in a Camorra attack. The intended target had been her father Alfonso Lamberti, a local magistrate who had been trying to bring mafia figures to justice. She was gunned down whilst returning from the beach one day. Her death was symbolic of the senseless devastation caused by mafia activity.
Words by: Tom Griffiths. @CalcioEngland