UCL News


Review: First among fantasistas

3 June 2006

'Calcio: A History of Italian Football' by Dr John Foot [UCL Italian] Saul Steinberg famously observed that it is impossible to understand America without a thorough knowledge of baseball.

With Italy and calcio - the name for the Italian brand of football - it's the other way around. Calcio and the passion that surrounds it can be completely bewildering unless seen in the context of Italy, one of the most intriguing societies in all Europe.

John Foot's book is thus a must-read for anyone curious about the sport, for it never treats calcio as just a game. While English football stories take place largely on the pitch, in Italy the onfield action represents only the tip of a very large and very murky iceberg - what's off field is often the real story. Foot (Professor of Modern Italian History at UCL) paints the complete picture of the forces behind the game, from the Ultras burning scooters on the tiers of the San Siro, to Silvio Berlusconi, propelled to power on a blueprint borrowed from the beautiful game, to the players themselves. …

In fact, there's pretty much everything you could wish to know about the Italian game within 'Calcio's 500-plus pages. …

His chapters on the sport's relationship with the media and the long history of scandals are nigh pitch-perfect. It's a shame the book was finished before this summer's match-fixing scandal broke: not only is it the biggest such storm that calcio has ever witnessed but, with many untouchable figures already fallen, it threatens to change the entire look of Italy's top division. Foot's take on that would have been fascinating, but his histories of the previous century's-worth of off-field mischief still makes ideal reading for anyone wishing to understand how things were ever allowed to get this far.

All in all, 'Calcio' does a stand-up job of taking a complex foreign phenomenon and making it both simple and entertaining. It's an ideal companion for anyone interested in either the Italian game or Italians in general.

James Richardson, 'The Guardian'