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Roberto Gotta

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Go to Sevilla, and they will tell you their local derby is THE derby, and all others pale in comparison - which shouldn't be surprising if you consider (cliche alert!) the sunny climate of the Andalucian city.

Set foot in Genoa, and they will tell you Genoa v Sampdoria takes the biscuit: it's neighbours against neighbours, families split in half, workplaces divided and so on.

But wait, is there anything better - or worse - than Liverpool v Everton? That one, of course, would evoke another set of cliches, as those characteristics could apply to all derbies anywhere in the world, but it's still nice that everyone thinks they're valid for their own local clashes, and for them only.

It would therefore be unfair or delusional to say that the upcoming Milan v Inter Champions' League quarter-final tie should stand out as the biggest intra-city struggle this world has ever seen, or that the inner workings of their rivalry warrant more attention or hold more peculiarities than others.

But that won't detract from the spirit of the occasion and there's sure to be some tense moments at the San Siro - officially named now after Inter and Italy great Peppino Meazza, a star in the Thirties - anyway, judging from the history of matches between those two greats of world soccer.

Among them, a couple perhaps come to mind in recent times: their meeting at the Euro semi-finals stage two years ago, when Milan went through on the away-goals rule without winning either of the two ties, a fact that is still being brought up by many in discussions about those events, not to mention the fact that technically speaking the distinction between 'home' and 'away' when you play at the same stadium as your rivals lies perhaps only in the ticket allocation.

And by the way in 2003 Milan, the critics add with a speck of grumpy Inter-ness, did not properly win the final against Juventus, either, unless you count penalties (or 'the lottery of penalties' as it's often referred to, as if taking one was a matter of luck).

For those interested in a bit of social history, Inter and Milan sprouted upwards from different environments in the city of Milano, and those with a knowledge of world football - or Biblical evidence - will recognize a frequent pattern in Inter's birth from a rib of their future rivals. Milan came first, in December 1899, and as the name itself gives away, were founded by British expatriates, just as Genoa had some time before.

Evidence from those times is mostly anecdotal, but a famous picture shows one of the founders and first players, Herbert Kilpin, chasing a ball during a game, wearing a red-and-black striped - tiny stripes, which were worn by Milan for their centenary year along with the red cross in white shield that represents the city - although curiously enough Mr. Kilpin seems to be closing in on the photographer, who must have taken that picture while standing with his tripod inside the pitch, another suggestion that those were, truly, different times.

Milan Cricket and Football Club, as it had been named by main founder, Alfred Edwards, only needed two years and a scarcity of opposition to win their first scudetto, by beating Genoa 1-0 (some report the score as 3-0) at the end of an extremely short season: only five teams were part of the League, and Genoa only had to play one game, the final, against the survivor of two quarterfinal and semifinal-like matches.

Milan won again in 1906 and 1907, their second title coming a few months after they changed their name to Milan Football Club, dropping the by then useless Cricket part, but the 1907 scudetto - not in that form, as the green, white and red shield denoting a title win had not been introduced yet - would be their last in 48 years, a span of time which would not be imaginable now and serves as a reminder of how times have changed and the early 20th century's variety in the names of the winners has now gone the way of the rattle and flat cap.

That Milan endured such a title drought was only owed in part to the appearance of their local rivals, who were founded in 1908 by some Milan directors who were not happy with the way things were done on the Rossoneri side, not the first time in football that a rivalry is born from within the ranks of one existing club. Consistent to some of its later history, Inter were formally created in a Milano restaurant named Orologio, known as a watering hole for intellectuals and artists, and a painter named Giorgio Muggiani was among their founders and would become its first secretary.

It was Muggiani who drew up what is still Inter's crest nearly one hundred years later, the admittedly difficult to distinguish letters FCIM (Football Club Internazionale Milano) in gold, woven together inside a blue and black circle. The new club won their first title in 1910 in a hotly contested playoff against provincial side Pro Vercelli, one of the great names in Italian soccer history who've disappeared from the limelights, and the fact that Pro Vercelli fielded a team comprised mostly of teenage players in protest for a perceived injustice simply shows that even in those times of no action replays - mainly because no one was filming the games - and referee scrutiny there was room for controversy.

Inter's rivalry with Milan was ingrained in the very same circumstances of its birth.

And despite the fact the Inter's founders came from the Milan ranks and had apparently questioned the rossoneri management, which they felt was too strict on a variey of matters, Inter immediately felt a distinction to their crosstown rivals, a social characterization which (in part) held true for most of last century, although - go back to what I wrote at the beginning of this story - the blurring of social lines now mean you're as likely to become a Milan fan as you are an Inter fan, regardless of your social origins or status.

But at that time a couple of local words were employed to identify the two sets of supporters: Milan's were the casciavitt (screwdriver) because most of their following used to come from the humble, proletarian sectors of town and the cacciavite was seen as their most common everyday tool.

Inter supporters were the bascia, those who talked and boasted a lot, whether it was their about their wealth, social status or both. In the Fifties, Milan won four scudetto, Inter answered the challenge with two and this sowed the seeds for the unforgettable Sixties.

Then, as perhaps now, the lines of power in European football passed through the core of Milano. Milan went one up on their rivals by winning Italy's first European Cup in the 1963 final at Wembley, Inter followed the next year and in 1965, all the while winning three Scudettos in a decade which was marked by their flamboyant manager Helenio Herrera and owner Angelo Moratti, the father of current supremo Massimo.

A few years later, the late, famed journalist Gianni Brera noted in one of his books - he also wrote one about the Milano derby, with a collection of the match reports he'd written over the decades - that 'Moratti was not afraid of spending more than anybody else, for the sake of winning' which by the way is what could be said of his son today, except that the nerazzurri have little to show for a decade of overspending.

Herrera's counterpart at Milano was Nereo Rocco, a pragmatist who steered the Rossoneri to two titles in the Sixties and another European Cup in 1969. Those were probably the best times to be a soccer fan in Milan and take in an atmosphere that had yet to become poisoned by excesses of the ultra movement, but it has to be said that there haven't been major clashes between the opposite sets of fans for a while, a kind of silent pact - not so silent, as it turns out - that manages to bring out the best part of the rivalry, the huge banners and the heavy sarcasm.

Inter especially like to remind Milan that they have never gone down to Serie B, while the rossoneri were relegated by the Federation once after a gambling scandal and went down another time by way of a disastrous season - without dangerous effects.

The social characterizations have now almost completely evaporated, although there are some who say Milan sum up the diversity of Milano better, as their fan base is more spread across the whole of the social spectrum, but we should always steer clear of generalizations and admit that the time when you could tell whether one was a Milan or Inter fan just by knowing his origins has now gone, if there ever was one.

One last vestige of that mentality was perhaps Giuseppe 'Peppino' Prisco, a longtime Inter vice-president and a prominent lawyer in Milano. He became a figure known throughout Italy for his raspy voice and dry humour but Milan fans, contrary to a popularly held view, did not ALWAYS share his penchant for ridiculing everything that to him smelt like rossonero.

Prisco died a few years ago and no one picked up his legacy, which would have been needed by Inter in those times of glorious failures while Milan were building up steam.

Milan, who lead the all time series 100 wins to 87 since their first meeting in 1908, have not lost to Inter in nine games, and the manner of their latest derby triumph, a 1-0 reversal on February 27 which saw Kaka deflect in a shot which he barely saw coming, rubbed the nerazzurri the wrong way, obviously.

Which should also make for an interesting couple of ties at the San Siro, to say the least.

3,384 Posts
brilliant article. :thumbsup: now i know a lot more about inters history.
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