This evening I watched Inter humble AC 2-0 in the Milan derby, the nerazzurri playing most of the match a man down, yet often looking like they were the side with eleven. Yesterday, I saw ‘The Old Lady’, Juventus, surrender a goal lead to lose 2-1 at home to Roma, a result which puts further pressure on boss Ciro Ferrara, formerly one of the club’s longest-serving players (a right-back, if memory serves).
This feast of Football Italia brought back fond memories of Saturday mornings at my parents’ house in the early Nineties. At 10am, my dad and I would sit in front of the telly, munching our cereal and toast, glued to the wonderful magazine show Gazzetta Football Italia, hosted by the incomparable James Richardson. Every week, you’d get a round-up of highlights from Serie A interspersed with interviews, profiles, and the occasional amusing skit – most memorably, a sequence where Sampdoria’s Attilio Lombardo was somehow convinced to perform the lambada.
Another regular feature was a section where the host would translate the key stories from the Italian newspapers (La Gazetta dello Sport was my favourite, partly because it looked so resplendent in unusual pink, partly because I thought the name was really cool) sitting at a small table at an Italian café, often besides a cappuccino and a huge ice-cream. This was often one of the highlights of the show, not only because the papers were always full of intriguing transfer talk or match-fixing scandals, but because Richardson’s patter always made us chuckle. He had a real way with a pun – upon hearing that one Italian club’s turf was to be raised, he suggested it was a case of ‘jack my pitch up’ – while numerous references to obscure Eighties pop acts (Dollar always seemed to get a mention) helped give him a personality lacking in 90% of modern sports anchors. That Ned Boulting and Mark Chapman are in gainful employ on ITV and ESPN while James’ most prominent role is as host on the Guardian’s terrific Football Weekly podcast is a tragedy of our times.
Alessandro del Piero’s majestic volley – albeit meaningless in the context of the result – was a timely reminder of a player I always enjoyed watching when Channel 4 first started showing Italian football, but while players like he, Zola, Maldini and Mancini ensured I regularly tuned in to the live games on Sundays, it was Gazzetta that gave me my education in calcio. That I can remember such terms without pause – not to mention the show’s theme tune – says something about the impact this wonderful show had on me.
It’s long gone now, of course, having left us when the rights were picked up by Eurosport in 2002. Football Italia itself lasted a little longer, moving on to Bravo and Setanta until 2007, but it never quite recaptured the magic of its Channel 4 heyday. Now ESPN has the rights to Italian football, surely it’s time someone got on the phone to a Mr. J. Richardson esq. and talked to him about a Gazzetta revival – the ice-cream industry in Italy would certainly be thankful.