With the Coppa Italia appearing on British screens again, I’ve become minded to write a little bit about the competition. I’m intrigued – so expect something here – in the lower level teams that have made progress, though am finding them thin on the ground. I’m just as intrigued with the Coppa’s genesis and early seasons.
Certainly, looking at the teams who have reached the semi-finals, the Coppa suggests that if teams are good in Serie A (or very occasionally Serie B) they’ll have a chance to progress. Juventus have reached 31 semi-finals; Inter 26. All well as all that, I find it quite odd that Torino have made 23 semi-final appearances, but none since 1994 – losing to an Agostini winner against Ancona, making their only such appearance, and going on to be trounced 6-1 in (admittedly, second leg of) the final with Sampdoria.
I find Genoa’s history odd in that respect, too. Firstly, for such a stately club to have only one win, one losing final and five semi-finals, the most recently in 1959. Still, that’s what it is, so I’m fine with it. I’d like to talk about a team who just missed on getting to their first final since 1922 recently. In fact, having lost a semi-final against Fiorentina this week (the Viola’s 19th), I’d like to talk about the only semi-final they won.
The 1922 Coppa Italia was a different competition to the later incarnation – although added to the canon now, and the records kept as part of the Coppa records, it was not the same as the tournament now; unusual for Italian football, which puts a lot of emphasis on continuity. The Scudetti the great Genoa and Torino sides wore mean the same, for better or worse, than those of Milan and Juventus in recent times. Anyway. It was 1922.
I won’t bore you with all the results, and (sadly) can’t bore you with the scorers, but on the 2nd April 1922, Udinese hosted Feltrese (from Feltre, about 75km west of Udine) and managed to trounce them 4-0. However, that was not quite such as big a trouncing as Lucchese handed out that same day – winning 9-0 against Cus Firenze. That same day, an injury time goal from Virgilio Levratto gave unfashionable Ligurian side Vado a 4-3 victory against Fiorente Genova. You will hear more of young Virgilio Levratto – remember his name.
Other interesting results of that first round saw Parma lose 0-1 at Virtus Bologna, Triestina beat Edera Triestina 4-2 (but later withdraw, so their opponents went through) and Rivarolese beat Sestrese 2-0 in a game that sounds like it would be lovely to listen to on the radio.
A couple of weeks on, then on 23rd April, came the second round. Udinese made the trip to face Triestina – and came back home with a 0-3 victory, while Lucchese could only score five against Rivarolese; Bonino scoring a first half hat-trick, and adding another couple after the break. Vado found Molassana considerably easier going this round, winning 5-1, with Levratto netting twice – all five goals coming in the first half.
Edera Triestina’s elimination was (peculiarly) revoked after that, in order to give an even number of teams as we progressed, and they hosted Udinese in the third round as well, and lost 0-3 just as their city rivals had in the previous round. Vado defeated Juventus Italia, Romano scoring two late goals as they squeaked through. Meanwhile, Lucchese beat Virtus Bologna 4-0, with Del Debbio getting a brace, while Novese were granted a bye along with three other teams.
Thus, the third round had four games and four byes, and the quarter finals had the same – four games. The Zebrette reached the semi-finals after Novese (who went on to be the one of the champions of Italy that season²) forfeited their game and were given a home tie against Lucchese for their trouble. Lucchese had fallen behind horribly early at Savona, but got goals just before the end of each half to complete a 1-2 victory.
With Libertas being awarded their tie with Valenzana, it meant Vado were playing against another team who were yet to feature in an actual game in the semi-final – three byes and an awarded match. Vado went to Livorno and beat Pro Livorno, whose passage through the rounds had been relatively smooth – they’d had three byes to that point.
On the other side of the draw first, though. It’s a fair old stomp from Lucca to Udine, but you get to go through Florence and Bologna en route, so its not all bad; they could always stick their fingers up at the teams they’d beaten on their way. It certainly would have been a far longer journey in 1922 that the Rossoneri undertook for the cup semi-final.
This is the game I want to talk about, taking place on the 25th June 1922. Udinese were playing their games at the partially constructed Stadio Moretti – that lovely old ground back when it was a lovely new ground. It was the visitors who took an early lead through Johnny Moscardini. He’s an interesting little story, Johnny (Giovanni) Moscardini.
A Scot who was drafted into the Italian army during World War I as a machine gunner, he was injured in the Battle of Caparetto and sent off to Sicily to recuperate. Always a keen sportsman, he started up a football club there, but was back on the mainland by 1922, and playing for Lucchese; he actually made nine appearances for Italy, too, scoring seven goals – so he was no slouch, and its nice to be able to mention one of the ‘forgotten’ early stars of the game.
Anyway, that third minute strike was cancelled out by Tosolini around halfway through the first half before Silvio Semintendi gave Udinese the lead after thirty-six minutes to give the home side a 2-1 lead into the second half. They maintained that lead until the 78th minute, when Semintendi struck again, seemingly killing off the game. A couple of minutes after that, Ernesto Bonino, one of the real stars of the era
One of the four goals was a penalty kick – not the rarest of events, even then. However, this is where the problem occurred. Perhaps as a result of the stadium being fairly new, Lucchese’s protest was that the penalty spot was in the wrong position – 10 yards out from goal instead of 11 yards. Truly, this was the wild days of the game; and protests and contestations were far from unusual. As it was, with the single goal being decisive, a decision was made rather quickly to make the teams replay the game.
And so they did, a fortnight later on the 9th July and, after another mammoth journey, Lucchese just weren’t good enough to get the better of Udinese; a second half Moretti strike putting the Zebrette into the first ever final.
There, they met Vado. Nowadays, Vado has been swallowed up by Savona. Its still out there, and there’s still a football club there, but you’d be hard-pushed to see it. Vado itself had been involved in the early days of Italian communism; which meant it was something of an outsider – a spirit that maybe the team carried forward into this, their greatest ever season.
The semi final was a tight, tight affair, with former Savona winger Roletti grabbing the only goal against PGF Libertas with only four minutes of extra-time remaining. It was the first Coppa Italia final, and it was Vado’s and Udinese’s first final. That it was to be both of their last finals (so far) is merely a footnote to what remains a tremendous achievement for both.
Udinese’s story is well told – they progressed from here and, even at the start, were the favoured outfit. It is no surprise when Friuli is so well populated that one side is able to draw on such a wide fanbase. Events like this cup final ensure it was Udinese; enjoy them, folks.
Yet the real story on July 17th 1922 was the Rossoblu (for that is Vado’s nickname), who were a proper Ligurian side. They had three Babboni brothers, goalkeeper Achille, defender Lino and forward Giovanni. They even had the (rather gloriously nicknamed) Testina d’Oro, “Golden Head”, Enrico Romano, captaining the side. He was Golden Head because he’d scored thirteen headers in a friendly game once upon a time, which impressed then Italy coach Vittorio Pozzo, though not enough to earn him a cap.
So they lined up against Udinese; A. Babboni; L. Babboni, Raimondi, Masio, Romano, Cabiati, Roletti, G. Babboni, Marchese, Esposto, Levratto. And they fought, and they battled, and they dug in. Udinese attacked and attacked, but with ‘superior technicality’ Vado were able to repel the attacks. It is towards the end of the game that comtemporary accounts begin to differ; I’m taking the version that makes more sense to me, but I accept here I may have been led up the garden path¹.
The game ended 0-0, and an extra period was played. This period saw the fresher legs of the Rossoblu players looking a little more lively against the tired Friulians but still, as the light was fading there was no score. At this point, the Zebrette players seemed to put into place a few protests to have the game called, hoping that they might be able to arrange a replay in Friuli.
The referee, however, decided that they should play a period of ‘time without limits’ or, as you might have it in England, ‘next goal wins’. And so Udinese set about Vado again, assured that their superior ability would count. After seven minutes, however, Udinese lost the ball going forward. Finding their opponents crippled with cramp, Levratto and Lino Babboni launched a rapid break. Receiving a return pass from Babboni, Levratto sprinted past two opponents and towards the penalty area. From 30 yards, he unleashed a rocket of a shot that seared past Lodolo into the Zebrette’s goal.
Some reports say that his shot ripped the net clean off, and flew into a sentry tower in the corner of the ground. It makes for a lovely story, but the real story is that Vado were champions. They won the inaugural Coppa Italia, and their name will always resound through history as a result. Photographs show the team bedecked in red and blue holding the trophy, marking the finest, undoubtedly the finest, day in Vado’s history.
The cup, sadly, was sacrificed for the benefit of the nation in 1935, to replaced by a replica only in 1992. It doesn’t matter so much that the silverware is no longer there – all a trinket does is represent a victory and, with young Virgilio Levratto’s scorching into the net to win the first ever Coppa Italia, Vado secured a victory.
Levratto went on to a glittering career, playing for Italy a number of times and winning an Olympic bronze medal in 1928.
Spare Vado a thought when you watch Fiorentina and Napoli contest this season’s final. That Udinese came so close to their first final since then shows how little football has changed in some ways; that Vado remain so far says the opposite.
¹It seems such a strange idea to play a ‘time without limits’ that I can’t think somebody would make it up in order to explain otherwise fairly regular events; other reports detail the goal as being after 118 minutes. Almost as dramatic, but not as fun.
²There were two champions; Novese and Pro Vercelli – the FIGC and the federal foundation were in dispute – it was the FIGC teams who entered the Coppa Italia – the federal teams were generally richer, and generally the names you know from today.
Lot of credit to http://www.storiedicalcio.AltaVista.org for info in this post.