Book Review: Calcio

Calcio: A History of Italian Football

John Foot

Fourth Estate
ISBN: 0007175744


Paperback, 592 pp

Tackling the Mount Everest that is Italian football has been a peak too high for English authors in the past. If there is one country where football is more than life and death it is surely Italy. This is the country where the best-selling newspapers are football ones, where Abramovich-style industrialists were buying up clubs as far back as the 1920's and where the Prime Minister not only owns the nation's top team but named his political party after a football chant.

But with "Calcio – A History of Italian Football", John Foot has finally scaled the mountain and 592 pages later planted a flag of academic authority at the summit.

Highly readable, the book is part chronicle of the game in Italy and part probe into the issues that make Italian football so particular. The early years of football have been meticulously researched and throw up alternatively charming or eye-opening anecdotes, such as Reading trouncing Milan 5-0 or a game between Lucca and Viareggio that ended with an armed uprising the Italian army took two days to put down.

Further chapters explore the famous teams, players and managers as well as the media, political and commercial interference and the myriad scandals that have given calcio a shady reputation overseas. The running theme is that football in Italy resembles a gigantic bonfire, fuelled by an addicted population, bewitching everyone while growing ever more grotesque and dangerous by the day. While our word fan is the shortened form of fanatic, the Italian one, tifo, is short for typhoid-sufferer.

If Foot has any axe to grind it is rightly with the ultras and their unacceptable grip on Italian clubs, who are still running scared of them in 2006. One can only hope books like this will help open Italian eyes to the outrageous way these semi-hooligans carry on with impunity, and free tickets, while attendances across the board in Serie A are falling.

At the end, Foot admirably confesses he has almost fallen out of love with his subject matter, but like Italy itself, calcio goes on, ugly and beautiful in equal measure.

There are several memorable photos throughout the book and an accompanying glossary of Italian football terminology. "Calcio" is not just the first English-language survey of Italian football but has set an impressive benchmark for football histories in general.

Sean O'Conor

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