Luciano Re Cecconi was part of Lazio's historic 1974 Scudetto winning side. It was the clubs first top flight title in their history as Tommaso Maestrelli's side pipped Juventus to the post by just two points. This was a Lazio team full of flair, playing some of the best attacking football the league had seen. But Maestrelli's team was also made up of a number of interesting and volatile characters. There was never a dull moment, on or off the pitch and many enjoyed their fair share of practical jokes. For Re Cecconi however, this propensity for pranks would prove fatal.
Re Cecconi or I'Angelo Biondo (The Blond Angel) as he was known due to his distinctive hair colour, was the son of a farmer, born just outside of Milan in 1948. Following successful spells Pro Patria and Foggia, winning a Serie C title with the former and Serie B with the latter, the box to box midfielder (Mediano) joined Lazio in 1972. His move to the capital owed much to coach Maestrelli who had guided Re Cecconi during his time at Foggia and then brought the midfielder with him when he made his move to the Biancocelesti.
Re Cecconi soon became a key member of Lazio's 1974 side and driven by the disappointment of narrowly being beaten to the Serie A title by Juventus a year earlier, Re Cecconi and his team mates were determined to make amends. L’Angelo Biondo became the heartbeat of Maestrelli's side, helped by his incredible energy and ability to travel with the ball from defence to attack. He was the kind of player who covered every blade of grass and also chipped in with the odd goal. Along with players such as Giorgio Chinaglia, Re Cecconi and his Lazio teammates would go down in club folklore as they clinched the Serie A title during the 1973/74 season.
While all was well on the pitch however, this Lazio side had a notorious reputation off it. They were renowned for their japes and lust for life. They also had a dark side, with some holding extreme right-wing political sympathies and many of the players were known to have carried guns on them wherever they went. Even worse, they were also known for firing them for no apparent reason, simply just for the fun of it. This did not sit well with some members of the squad, causing a schism which even forced them to have two separate dressing rooms.
Re Cecconi was generally known as a calming influence within the squad but this didn’t stymie his own love for practical jokes.
It was the evening of January 18, 1977. Re Cecconi was with team mate Pietro Ghedin and another friend as they made their way to a jewellers in Rome ran by Bruno Tabochini. Whenever Re Cecconi and Ghedin came together it was a recipe for trouble and that evening would be no different. As they approached the jewellers, the two teammates decided to hang back as their friend entered the store. As the door was opened, the two Laziali suddenly sparked into life, entering the shop shouting “Hands in the air! This is a stick up!” while masking their faces with their jackets.
It would prove to be one practical joke too far. Just a few weeks earlier Tabochini's jewellers had been burgled. He was already paranoid and this time he was ready to defend himself and his jewels. Tabochini produced a shotgun. Re Cecconi's side kick Ghedin spotted the gun and raised his hands immediately. Re Cecconi however did not and continued with the prank. The jeweller opened fire and shot the player in the chest from close range. Despite being rushed to hospital, Re Cecconi died just 30 minutes after the incident. As he lay on the floor dying, the midfielder’s last words were… "It's a joke! It's just a joke!"
The Angelo Biondo died at just 28-years-old, leaving behind a wife and two children. Lazio and many across the peninsula mourned one of the most peculiar deaths Italian football has ever seen. Tabocchini was arrested after the incident but was never charged or convicted of the crime. It was a tragic and premature end to what had been a highly successful career and one that still promised much.
Italy lost their Blond Angel far too early, with only two Azzurri caps to his name. But Re Cecconi will always be remembered as part of that famous Lazio side that won the first Scudetto in the clubs history.
By Giovanni Dougall