Many visitors to The Gentleman Ultra have a fascination with Italy. In my case this interest came about long before James Richardson appeared on our TV screens on Gazzetta Football Italia. Looking back it might have been the exploits of Paulo Rossi at Spain ‘82 that were a starting point for a lifelong obsession with Serie A.
But the links between Scots and Italians go further back than memories of Gazzetta. While the legacy of Scots in Serie A is seldom discussed outside of Denis Law and Joe Jordan, many other notable figures should be mentioned.
Scottish footballers in Italy
William McPherson, who had spells with Livorno, Genoa and Spezia, seems to have been one of the first Scots to play in Italy. Peter Farmer had managed the French national side, Marseille and Celtic but had also been the first Scottish manager of Torino, taking charge between 1924 and 1926, just two years after Vittorio Pozzo. In the same era Falkirk-born Giovanni ‘Johnny’ Moscardini made nine appearances for the Italian national team, scoring seven times. He won the first of his caps while playing for Lucchese, with his last coming during a spell with Pisa.
Law said that his time at Torino was a struggle, the reason being the brutal Catenaccio tactics of the period which proved tough for the once free-scoring frontman. Despite being taken under the wing of teammate Enzo Bearzot, Law was sent off in an early game in Serie A – a reaction to jersey pulling. Yet, by the time of his departure for Manchester United, both Juventus and Inter Milan had wanted him, with the Scot being voted the number one foreign player in Italian football.
With Scottish football reaching great heights domestically and internationally in the 1970s it was not until the early ‘80s that another notable Scot ventured to Italy. Joe Jordan spent time at AC Milan and a less successful period with Hellas Verona.
Last to arrive was Graeme Souness. The former Liverpool skipper arrived in Genoa having won just about everything there was to win on Merseyside. At Sampdoria he was noted for his role in the 1985 Coppa Italia win over AC Milan, with his first leg goal at the San Siro proving pivotal for a side that also included Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli.
Italian footballers in Scotland
The aforementioned Moscardini had family roots in the town of Barga, which is a place now known as the most Scottish town in Italy. But Scotland and its links with Italy go back some time – the name ‘David Rizzio’ being pivotal to the story of Mary Queen of Scots.
Near the current border between Scotland and England stands Hadrians Wall, evidence of a one-time Scottish frontier with the Roman empire. The first legions from Rome had entered what is now Scotland in 79AD. It is known that Roman soldiers ventured as far north as the Moray Firth.
It was not until the 19th century that larger movements of people started to occur. Poverty in rural Italy at the end of the century gave rise to a wave of Italian immigration, and a significant amount headed for British ports including the then prospering central belt region of Scotland. Today some 70,000 people in Scotland are said to be Italian or of direct Italian descent.
Reminders of the Italian legacy are everywhere. Even a recent Dr. Who was a Scotman of Italian decent in Peter Capaldi. And while the name Jack Vettriano might be just be an artistic pseudonym (it sounds much better than Jack Hoggan) the names are endless if you look closely enough. Armando Iannucci's father came from Naples; Paolo Nutini's great-grandfather opened a fish and chip shop in Paisley, Sharleen Spiteri the lead singer of Texas is amongst the most famous Scottish singers and Dario Franchetti is a famous racing driver.
Less commonly spoken about is the story of the many Italian footballers who have come to play in Scotland. While the focus has always been on the illustrious names from Serie A who have ventured to the English game, many Italians have come to play football in Scotland since the mid-1990s.
Prior to the Bosman ruling of 1995 it is very hard to find any links of Italian football players or players of Italian cultural heritage in Scotland. Luigi ‘Lou’ Macari at Celtic, Joe Tortolano at Hibs, Dominic Matteo and Peter Marinello of Hibernian are perhaps a starting point. However, it wasn’t until the significant impacts of the Bosman era that a wave of Italian born players started to arrive in the Scottish leagues.
With transfer tribunals gone and freedom of movement in place, the ruling meant that players could move to a new club at the end of their contract without their old club receiving a fee.
One of the first to arrive, in July 1996, was Paulo Di Canio, who joined Celtic. The controversial front-man enjoyed a successful season in Glasgow, scoring 15 goals in 37 matches. But his time was tainted by negative incidents. He regularly found himself sent-off, engaging in acrimonious arguments with rival players and referees.
The robust Enrico Annoni also enjoyed time at Celtic after a career in Serie A with Torino and Roma, while another to arrive was a young Gennaro ‘Rino’ Gattuso, who enjoyed some success playing in the other half of Glasgow with Rangers.
At Hearts both Pasquale Bruno and Stefano Salvatori played with great success. If Bruno was known for continuing his tradition of robust defending at Hearts it was Salvatori who enjoyed more success in the Scottish capital being a member of the team that would win the 1998 Scottish FA Cup.
Perhaps the club with the greatest tradition of Italian footballers is Dundee.
A club which has in its history a European Cup semi final against AC Milan the most famous of its Italians was Fabrizio Ravanelli. His ill-fated spell at Dens Park is fondly remembered but his huge wages played a role in the club’s descent into administration.
Ravanelli had been part of a player revolution that occurred on Tayside, one that led to the club going into financial meltdown thanks to the overly inflated salaries on offer. His meagre appearances on Tayside went almost unnoticed by many, although a hat-trick against Clyde in the Scottish League Cup in 2003 is remembered by those who support the blue half of Dundee.
Other players who found a home at Dens included Massimo Beghetto, Patrizio Billio, Ivano Bonetti (who was also manager of the club alongside brother Dario), Marco De Marchi, Davide Grassi, Marcello Marrocco, Marco Roccati, Alessandro Romano and Marco Russo.
Both Grassi and Billio would also enjoy short spells playing for Aberdeen.
The story of Italian players may not have a left a huge legacy on the face of Scottish football but for every Raffaele De Vita at Ross County or Massimiliano Caputo at Livingston there have been the more illustrious names. Rangers extravagent wage structure meant the likes of Lorenzo Amoruso captained the side to a number of trophies. He was joined at Ibrox by the free-scoring Marco Negri, one time Juventus defender Sergio Porrini and also Paolo Vanoli.
One wonders if Gattuso or Di Canio would have enjoyed the later successes they enjoyed at West Ham, Lazio and Milan had these surprise spells in Scotland not materialised.
While the names of Italians players don’t come as thick and fast into Scotland as they once did, still some Italians come to play football. Recent seasons have seen the experienced Massimo Donati return to the SPFL, where he lends his experience to a young Hamilton Accies side. Tied to Hamilton until 2019, he has played a pivotal central role in both midfield and defence after a number of years back in Italy with Verona and Bari. Likewise, Manuel Pascali enjoyed almost legendary status at Kilmarnock thanks to seven seasons where he captained the Ayrshire side.
From the little-known tale of Johnny Moscardini to the more famous face of Fabrizio Ravanelli, the links between Italy and Scotland are plentiful. But for every famous name like Di Canio there was a lesser known name like Pascali; players who quickly disappeared back to the obscurity of Serie C or D once their spell in the Scottish Premiership came to an end.
Gattuso in recent years has been linked with a return to Lanarkshire by way of the manager’s role at Hamilton Academical and, while that name rings true in terms of footballing esteem, it is unlikely that the great names of Serie A will return to playing duties in the Scottish Premiership any time soon, such are the cultural shifts on Scottish football map.
Words by Damon Main: @TheAwaySection
Founder of www.theawaysection.com, Damon is currently based in Scotland. From his first football match in 1978 to more recent times, Damon somehow still manages to combine his sense of wanderlust with a camera and laptop.