Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Football Britalia!

UK & Italy flags (via

In the latest round of internationals, we found two former Chelsea men- Fikayo Tomori, now of AC Milan, & Tammy Abraham, who's joined former Blues manager José Mourinho & former Manchester United man Chris Smalling at Roma, named in the England squad. In light of this, it’s time to evoke the spirit of the late great Football Italia in celebration of those who've made similar moves to the aptly boot-shaped country from our shores!



Aptly enough, Football Italia in itself was a canny attempt by Channel Four to capitalise on the interest generated by Paul Gascoigne's move from Spurs to Lazio in 1992, its first game seeing Le Aquile taking on Sampdoria- who had themselves signed Des Walker from Nottingham Forest & had future England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson in the dugout.


It's tempting to suggest that the mid-Eighties to the mid-Nineties was the peak period for such exports. Consider also the likes of David Platt at Bari, then Juventus & Sampdoria, Mark Hateley, Luther Blissett & Ray Wilkins on Tomori's side of the Milan divide & Liam Brady at Inter (who would later be managed by another future Three Lions gaffer, Roy Hodgson, who brought Paul Ince over to the San Siro with him) after spells with Sampdoria & Juventus. La Vecchia Signora also had Ian Rush, these were the most notable cases with varying degrees of success.


Rush's stint in what was definitely a foreign country certainly didn't find him in his peak Liverpool form, though perhaps we shouldn't be surprised as no less than Michel Platini is said to have told him “You’ve come at the wrong time to Juventus. You should have been here 2-3 years ago when we had a better team. Juventus won’t be successful because it is going through a transition.”


But what of those who came before? Perhaps the best known is another former Juve man, John Charles, blazing a trail since followed by Rush & indeed Aaron Ramsey as a Welshman in Turin. In fact, his move from Leeds in 1957 was only the second recorded transfer abroad by a British player & just to snaffle another little bit of history the fee was a then domestic record of £65,000.


Charles wasted little time in scoring winning goals in each of his first three games against Hellas Verona, Udinese & Genoa. Perhaps unsurprisingly he finished that season as Serie A's top scorer & upon the occasion of the Old Lady's centenary, was voted the club's best ever foreign player. Not a bad start for footballing relations between the two countries...


Another sizeable fee later came for a young Jimmy Greaves, sold by Chelsea to AC Milan for £80,000 in July 1961. Greavsie's stay in Italy was not a happy one though, despite managing nine goals in just 14 games, he didn't even last the season before a move to Tottenham. Not feeling able to live up to a proposed £100,000 fee for his return to London, the deal eventually went through for £99.999!


Trevor Francis, Britain's first £1 million player, would also sample Italy with first Sampdoria & then Atalanta between 1982-87; in another case for the Eighties/Nineties peak of Brits in Serie A. Graeme Souness was among his team-mates at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, after a £700,000 fee had been agreed with Manchester City- Souey arriving for £650,000 from Liverpool in 1984.


Perhaps the most bonkers of stories concerning a British player in Italy, though, is Jay Bothroyd's stint at Perugia, during which he befriended Al Saadi Gadaffi, son of the Libyan Colonel, after a 2003 move from Coventry. Nevertheless, he would later say that “I went to Italy and came back a more mature person”


Just to add another perhaps lesser-known facet into the mix, there are a handful of British born or raised players who've gone on to success with the Azzuri, the blue of Italy favoured over any of the home nations. Arguably the best known of these is Giorgio Chinaglia, who although born in Tuscany actually started his career with Swansea Town after scouts saw him bag a hat- trick for Cardiff Schools at the age of just 13. He had moved to Wales with his family in the aftermath of the Second World War, mass unemployment in their home country in a sense forcing their hand as he would later remember.


"My father was an ironworker and it was tough. I used to take the milk left on people's porches and drink it for breakfast."


It wasn't until they returned home & he joined Lazio, though, that anyone outside Wales got to see how good he was, 12 goals in his first season after a 1969 move up from Serie C, which in itself came about thanks to a lack of interest from clubs in his adopted homeland as well as then compulsory Italian military service. It can't have helped, either, that he was barred from playing in Serie A for three years after his return as he had played six times for Swansea & the Italian footballing authorities didn't look too kindly on it!


Not that the man himself minded. "Otherwise, I'd probably still be in Wales, slogging it out in the mud and drinking ale. The Italian army has a special regiment for soccer players, so all I did in the service was to train all day, and when my club had a game, get a pass."


Staying until 1976, he signed off with 98 goals in 209 Lazio appearances. A look at the teamsheet around the time he had arrived would reveal another British- raised Italian playing alongside Chinaglia, Giuseppe Wilson. The Darlington born son of an English father & Italian mother who had met when his dad was on army service abroad.


A jump forward reveals that Simone Perotta is of similar stock, the midfielder born in Ashton-under-Lyne, though like Wilson never actually playing in England. Instead, he started out with Reggina before moving on to Juventus, Bari, Chievo & Roma & making his international début in 2002- though eligible for England, he plumped for Italy.


Plenty to ponder even this long after the delayed Euro 2020 final!

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