Before ‘calcio’ came to Italy, there was ‘football’. The early days of the sport were heavily influenced by the English players and teams, and Englishness ran through it.
Indeed, when Genoa Cricket and Foot-ball Club met a combined side of two Turin clubs, Internazionale Torino and FBC (Foot-ball Club) Torino on January 6, 1898, there were a number of English players on each side. That first friendly game represented a turning point for Italian football – while it was still under the watchful eyes of the English, the natives had begun to put their stamp on it.
It was not too long before that Genoa had switched the focus of their club from cricket and athletics to cricket and football, and the man who had instigated that change, James Richardson Spensley was in the team for the game at the Carrega motorcycling circuit.
Contemporary Genoese newspaper Il Cafforo announced the game, though was sure to note the English terminology was used because ‘we Latin people have nothing to teach and everything to learn’ about the game.
Certainly, the look of the two teams must have given that impression. Turning out in the white shirts and dark shorts of Spensley’s native England, Genoa lined up with just three Italians in their side; Ernesto Di Galleani, whose mother was English, Edoardo Pasteur, related to the more celebrated Scientific Pasteur, and Giorgio Venturini, loaned from Pro Liguria for the occasion.
Meanwhile, despite being an amalgam of two Turin sides both of whom played in yellow and black stripes, the visitors wore black and white – colours that were to become synonymous with another Turin-based club, though at this stage Juventus were wearing pink.
While Spensley is revered for his work in ensuring football’s development from a purely English game, it shouldn’t be overlooked that, playing in the Turin side that afternoon, Edoardo Bosio had a massive influence on the game in Piedmont, and had even established teams before Spensley’s arrival.
Bosio had worked in England in the 1880s, and brought back some brown leather footballs and an enthusiasm for the game when he returned home in 1887. The club he founded on his return practiced rowing in the summer and football in the winter. Turin, a short time later, was home to another football club, Nobili Torino, captained by Marquis Alfonso Ferrero de Gubernatis Ventimiglia.
The Marquis went on to help found FIAT a few years later, and was for a time president of the FIGC, but in 1898 he was still of playing age, and was the captain of the victorious team in that first match.
With football still yet to find its feet in Italy, the crowd for this historic occasion was a seemingly paltry 208, with tickets selling at a 1 lire per person. Having entered the stadium, 84 spectators then paid the extra 50 cents for the hire of a chair for the duration.
Exactly what they would have seen is a matter of conjecture, though the teams, their likely formations, and the result are all known, there is little by way of match reporting that has survived the 111 years since.
Genoa lost 1-0, with the goal coming from one of the Englishmen in the Turin side’s number, John Savage. As if scoring the only goal in the first ever football match played on Italian soil wasn’t enough, Savage later found himself playing for Juventus, at that stage wanting to change their pink shirts.
Being from Nottingham, he pulled a few strings and was able to get the team he supported, Notts County, to send across their black and white striped kit for his team to wear.
While the game itself was not hugely financially successful (turning a profit of around 20 lire) football had made its mark and within months, Italy had its own championship, with three of the member clubs being those that played that January day.
Five months to the day later, Genoa lifted the first ever FIGC approved Italian football championship title, and could count themselves as the first ever champions of Italy.
The match itself may have only been a first line drawn in the sand for Italian football, but it came to be much more than that – the people involved, and the teams, and the things that they went to achieve were to prove pivotal to the development of the game and its spread, particularly in the north of Italy in the early part of the 20th Century.
Furthermore, quite apart from those who were competing that day and shaped the very early days of Italian football, a young Vittorio Pozzo was amongst that crowd of 208; having sold some Latin books, the eleven-year-old FC Torinese fan was able to make his way to Genoa. His position in the game was to take a little longer to come to fruition and, arguably, can still be felt today.