Luigi Peronace’s ring-choked fingers were in all the right pies, and the Anglo-Italian Cup was his most demented. Gigi, born in 1925 in Calabria and considered the first real football agent, was the spoiled kid with a Subbuteo pitch permanently ironed to his nanny’s dining room table: surrounded by battery-powered floodlights, curva nord stands, and plastic advertising boards for his dad’s company. He brokered the Jimmy Greaves transfer from Chelsea to AC Milan, worked as a translator for Juventus and, after his death in 1981, the Anglo-Italian Cup rendered itself as his frenzied apparition. He had all the bits, did Gigi. All the gear and some mad, mad ideas.
When QPR of the old Third Division beat West Bromwich Albion to win the League Cup in 1967, they should’ve automatically qualified for the UEFA Cup (then the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup). But, because of their lowly status, weren’t allowed—and when Swindon met the same buffer two years later, Peronace saw an opportunity to provide sexy European nights out to lower league, island-bound teams.
Peronace’s first incarnation of the Anglo-Italian Cup proper was in 1970. A hot, hot fling between Salvador Dali’s subconscious and the vein from Vinnie Jones’ temple, the cup involved three groups made up of two sides from each country. Swindon, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Sunderland, and Wolves from England, with Serie A’s Napoli, Juventus, Roma, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Lanerossi Vicenza in the Italian group. Although each side would be in a ‘group’ with others from its own nation, they would only play against clubs from the other one.
A new offside rule was trialled: you could only be off in the opposition’s penalty area, and an extra bonus point was awarded for each goal scored. It was very loosely organised chaos. It was a 12-year-old creating a custom tournament on RedCard 2003. It was Etch-A-Sketch madness.
Gigi was the original wheeler-dealer, and across various forms of the competition over three decades, he provided fans with a bruising fresco deranged enough to go up on any wall. Faces were broken, games were abandoned, manners were left at home in a tightly sealed boot bag and replaced with a kit bag of lunacy. The idea was nuts, the execution was nuts, the behaviour was nuts. Here are ten of the most violent, silly and goal-heavy games from Gigi Peronace’s distorted mind-palace of a tournament.
Napoli 0–3 Swindon Town—28th May 1970 (Match Abandoned)
Chaos. Absolute bastard chaos. When Arthur Horsfield put Swindon Town three up after 63 minutes in the inaugural final, the Neapolitans, unsurprisingly, were not very happy. The Robins had already beaten both them and Juventus away during the group stages, with their 1–0 victory over the Partenopei giving them the goal point they needed to reach the final. The 5pm kick-off time, smashing through prime aperitivo time, had already pissed off the 55,000 Napoli fans, but three goals down to a Third Division English team and the Vesuvius in their ventricles erupted. Rocks, bottles, and torn up seats were launched at both sets of players, and as the home fans got busy setting fire to the stands, the ref called time 11 minutes early and quietly awarded Swindon the cup. More than 100 fans and players were injured during the aftermath, and, while the Swindon players cowered in the changing rooms, Gigi was already planning next year. This is good, he thought, really good.
Lazio 0–0 Manchester United—21st March 1973
“It started with flowers and hugs between the captains Wilson and Charlton. And it ended in a brawl”, wrote the Italian daily L’Unità after a spanking night in Rome. Brian Kidd and Bobby Charlton missed chances to put United ahead in the first half before things got wavey after the break. First, Kidd lashed Lazio midfielder Mario Facco so hard that he went off with a broken jaw, and then Lou Macari, in the first year of a career spanning 400 games for United, was punched by both Pierpaolo Manservisi and Mario Frustalupi. This was pinball punchery. This was a colosseum of cuntery. This was brilliant. There were six injuries for Lazio and one for the referee, Gordon Hill, who’d been flown over from Leicester for the evening. The mummified Lazio squad were left ‘reconsidering their training’ for their trip to Crystal Palace the next month.
Lanerossi Vicenza 1–1 West Bromwich—2nd May 1970 (Match Abandoned)
Another one! Another one cancelled! Call it off, Gigi; call the whole bastard lot off. The Baggies had a poor end to their domestic 1970 campaign, losing seven of their final 13 games and finishing 16th in the First Division. However, they did qualify for Gigi’s playground cup, starting well with a 0–0 draw against Lanerossi Vicenza and following that up with a 4–0 pummelling of AS Roma at The Hawthorns. Centre half John Talbut scored one of those four, his only goal in 193 appearances for West Brom.
The Baggies found it more difficult on the continent, a 0–0 draw back at Roma was followed with an abandonment at LR Vicenza, the slapstick kings of the Torneo Anglo-Italiano. Asa Hartford, the Scottish international, kicked things off by vaporising Lanerossi’s captain Roberto Di Petri—and in turn instigating a brawl involving all of the players and a heap of the 12,000 strong crowd. Both teams had their draw and goals point deducted, and Hartford, the catalyst of the riot, was found to have a hole in his heart during a pre-transfer medical examination just a year later.
Lanerossi Vicenza 0–10 Blackpool—10th June 1972
TEN GOALS TO NIL GOALS. TEN GOALS IN A REAL LIFE FOOTBALL MATCH. THE LANEROSSI GOALIE, ROBERTO ANZALIN, WALKED OFF AFTER 68 MINS WITH BLACKPOOL 7–0 UP. COWARD, THEY SAID. ALAN AINSCOW WITH A HAT-TRICK. £10 GOAL BONUSES WERE REDUCED TO £5 GOAL BONUSES, BUDGIE SAID. BLACKPOOL GOT TO THE FINAL AGAINST ROMA. 75,000 AT THE STADIO OLYMPICO. LOST 3–1. ALL THE BEST. THIS IS CLASS, THEY SAID.
Cosenza 0–1 West Ham—8th December 1992
In a reformatted 1992 version of the Cup, whereby English teams had to progress from a group to earn the right to play the Italian sides, West Ham and Bristol Rovers finished joint top with the same goal difference and a draw in their own match. In the most mild-mannered of Anglo-Italian fixtures, the game was decided on a phone call coin-toss in the referee’s changing room. Alvin Martin called tails and off the Irons went. Off to the continent. Off to Italia.
Only 250 fans made the journey for their replay at Cosenza’s Stadio San Vito. As the Hammers fans arrived in the afternoon greeted by winter storms and a flooded pitch, English referee Michael Gilkes gave an inspection and postponed the game. The Irons’ fans, who had made the long journey from East London to Italy’s metatarsal, weren’t ready for home time and plagued Gilkes until he agreed to reassess. He gave the game the go-ahead, Clive Allen scored the only goal, the Italians took chunks out of their opponents, and back to East London they trotted. Cremonese went on to win the tournament, beating Derby County 3–1 in the final at Wembley
Ancona 1–2 Birmingham City—15th November 1995
The Blues travelled to Ancona in a strong position in their group on the back of a one–nil win away at Perugia. Ninety-two fans made the Thursday night trip to the Adriatic Coast, and after two early first half goals, all seemed swell for the Porn Barons’ Boys.
BUT ALL WAS NOT SWELL; ALL WAS NOT SWELL AT ALL. Just after David Tentoni knocked in an own goal to put Birmingham two up, Marco Sesia smashed into Paul Tait and chaos ensued. Tait started on Sesia, Sesia’s team-mates started on Tait, and then Ancona manager Massimo Cacciatori tag-teamed himself onto the pitch and chokeslammed Blues winger Ricky Otto. Colin Tatum, the only English journalist at the Stadio del Conero, described the Sunday League-esque free-for-all as “some of the most amazing scenes I have ever seen on a football field”. Cacciatori had been “punched and butted” so hard that he had to leave the field on a stretcher and the ref was hospitalised with broken fingers as he tried to stop more fighting in the tunnel afterwards. Italian police were looking to extradite four Birmingham City players, who fled the country that night ‘winding down mountain roads like something from The Italian Job’.
Sheffield United 1–2 Udinese—24th August 1994
Both Dave Bassett’s Blades and Adriano Fedele’s Le Zebrette sides had just faced relegation in their domestic campaign and, in front of 7,000 fans, went berserk on a hot Yorkshire evening.
With Udinese already annoyed about training arrangements and their hotel, the boys from the North East of Italy seemed intent on winding up the United players from the start. There were five red cards during the game—Nathan Blake, Charlie Hartfield and Glyn Hodges were sent off for United, with Marek Koźmiński walking for Udinese. Dave Bassett, the Sheffield United manager, got sent to the stands for pointing at the ref, clenching his fist, and waving it from side to side. Wanker. He called the ref a wanker.
Lazio 1–2 Hull City—21st February 1973
BACCA DE NETTA yelled the Hull Daily Mail as the Tigers ran out 2–1 winners against a Lazio side that would go on to win the Scudetto the following season. Ken Knighton and Roy Greenwood scored in the victory at Boothferry Park in front of a crowd of 7,235, and this start to the fourth tournament was followed up with another home victory against Verona. Brian Taylor of the Mail wrote that “A match that started so quietly it was almost tame, deteriorated into a rough and tumble that twice threatened to develop into a wholesale punch-up”. Fists were flying, legs were thrashing, and Lazio fitness coach Tommaso Maestrelli soaked an uninjured Hull City steward with his magic sponge and bucket.
Sampdoria 2–3 Huddersfield—1st June 1971
Huddersfield had already welcomed the blucerchiati to Leeds Road front of 10,000 snarling Terriers and waved them off back to Italy with a 2–0 victory. The group stage was played relentlessly—with a game at home to Bologna three days later and then a trip to Genova to play Sampdoria three days after that. Huddersfield lost 3–2 to Bologna, with Trevor Cherry and Dave Smith both scoring.
Huddersfield arrived to a fiery atmosphere at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. The home supporters had already had enough of chairman Mario Colantuoni, calling for his resignation at the start of the game. As Huddersfield ran out 3–2 victors, with Cherry scoring the winner, the atmosphere turned dirty. The home fans ramped up their protests after the final whistle, throwing anything they could find (including cushions) at the Town players. As the sides left the pitch, the Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni invaded it, running to the dressing rooms to try to kick the doors in.
Genoa 5–2 Port Vale—17th March 1996
And, as the ghost of Gigi Peronace crushed his players with fattened knuckles into the Subbuteo felt, that was that. Four incarnations of the Anglo-Italian Cup had provided nonsensically aesthetical chaos, and it ended with a whimper at Wembley. 5–2. No eruptions, no riots, bucket and sponge assault. No reds, no yellows, no coin-toss decisions. In the end, there was nothing. After the final whistle, the players exchanged shirts instead of fists, and both Finnish referee Ilkka Koho’s fingers and cards were left unblemished.
A version of this article first appeared in a lookbook called ‘Lontano’ we made for Scotts. There’s more of this kind of thing in our Quarterly magazine, which you can get sent to your door here. If you’re really into us, and fancy getting it sent to your door throughout the year, then be a subscriber. Subscribers get special treatment. Be a subscriber.