Book Review: Palla Calcio – Campanilismo – Cultura 

In a crowded marketplace of coffee table books and up-market periodicals, Palla offers something distinctly different to the Calcio connoisseur. 

It is a curated collection of eleven short stories, looking at Italian football through the lens of its tangential actors. Think Chevanton, not Totti and CS Lebowski, not AC Milan. Palla explores the character and connotation of Italian football through the medium of cult players, the curva and art. 

The stories are told by a collection of different authors, including recognisable names such as James Montague (1312; Among The Ultras). Palla isn’t merely desk-based research, but tales told through first-hand experiences and interviews with the key protagonists. Each author is paired with a visual artist, be that an illustrator or photographer, to bring a distinct aesthetic to each segment. 

Many words have previously been written about the Ultra movement, but Palla successfully captures both the diversity and nuance of the phenomenon. On one hand, it recounts a meeting with the late Fabrizio Pisticelli (“Diabolik”), the feared leader of Lazio’s right-wing Irriducibili group. Elsewhere, it gets under the skin of Cosenza and CS Lebowski ultras, no less a part of the fabled movement, but whose ideology and focus comes from an entirely different part of the political and moral spectrum. The exploration of Claudio Galimberti (“Il Bocia”), head of Atalanta’s Curva Nord, illustrates complexity by telling the story of a man capable of great compassion, but also capable of inciting great disorder. Loved by his disciples, but hounded by the authorities. 

An interview with Rose Reilly lifts the curtain on the life of the world’s best female footballer. Hailing from Scotland, but adopted by Italy, her journey was one of bravery and determination in overcoming the many barriers faced by female footballers in the 1970s and 1980s. Her feat of simultaneously winning both French and Italian titles in the same season (playing matches on Friday and Sunday) is a story for the ages. 

Palla coolly positions itself at the intersection of Calcio and art. We learn about Milan-based club AS Velasca, which places creativity and progressive principles at the heart of the club. They use football – whether that’s their bespoke shirts or even their ticket stubs – as a canvass for artistic expression. The Goldsmith introduces us to Dante Mortet, the incumbent of a centuries-old creative dynasty in Rome. He has diversified the family business from ecclesiastical objects into the world of calcio, where he now works on behalf of the world’s greatest footballers. His speciality? Creating golden sculptures of footballers’ feet. 

The feature on Venezia FC is cleverly concocted, contrasting two separate days in 2015 and 2021. It begins with a diminished mob of ultras watching their team in Serie D, lamenting the demise of the traditional city of Venezia and its values. The uplifting counterpoint comes six years later, when the club seal their return to Serie A, with a thriving ultra group present and the city seemingly returned to its people. The narrative is beautifully accompanied by the work of Venezia FC photographer-in-residence and former professional footballer Ethan White

Leaving the best until last, my favourite article explores the origins of Tuscany’s footballing rivalries. Drawing on historical feuds, the words of Dante and the theories of Freud we come to understand the complex hostilities that exist between Pisa and Livorno, Tuscan attitudes towards Florence and the little-known rivalry between Prato and Pistoia. 

Palla has been published in a limited run of 300 copies and is available to order from pallamag.com for £35. 

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