How did images and words that describe football change? How did we go from posed portraits of players in the 1910s to those, similarly posed, but more casual of tattooed star players in the new Millennium? And what about the journalistic texts which in the early years were presenting the sportsmen in almost lyrical terms, while now the language has become much faster and more technical as, in an article on Cannavaro,”he showed his talent early, in closing, and his ability to revive the action with elegance”.
In 1910, the news on the beginnings of the National team (not called “Azzurri” yet) found little space on the sports magazines: a column or a little more among pages dedicated to the latest accomplishments of famous aviators and champions of the pedal. Only rarely football gained the first page and even in those cases it was the team that won, because there were not yet celebrities able to catalyze, with their name and their face, the interest of the readers. In the 1920s, the star players of the “Azzurri” team began to be featured in more deep articles, until the apotheosis of 1934 and 1938, when back to back World Cup victories of the National team led by the trainer Pozzo made “Azzurri” the living testimonials and symbols of Fascist Italy. After the war, football emerged as the most popular sport in Italy and its stars had almost no rivals in terms of popularity.
By reading the early articles and comparing them with those of today, it is easy to notice that today the words have been emptied of their function of visually describing the athletic action, which was required when the reporter had to convey in words what only his eyes had seen. Bruno Roghi in February 1931, after a 5-0 victory against France, described Meazza’s goals with these words:
“After the first goal of the “Azzurri”, they were soaring gloriously. […]. But at this point Meazza’s second goal came, dry and peremptory. It was the K.O. goal: Orsi to Ferrari, Ferrari to Meazza, he is sideways to the French goal. With a light touch of the foot he moderates the force of the ball and he dampens it comfortably. He makes a half turn on himself and tock, the revolver shot all of a sudden. The ball – caught so right that the trajectory does not turn and you can count its ribs and its wedges – squeezes into the top corner of the net. […] The second goal by Meazza is […] the goal that reaches the tip of the chin and puts you down”.
In an effort to provide readers with unique impressions, in recent years more and more often the direct quotations of the players’ words are reported. It is curious to notice how, in the early decades, the players’ voice could be found very rarely in interviews, while you could read articles written directly by the athletes who testified with first person accounts their impressions or, in some cases, expressed their controversies, like De Simoni in 1914 in an article entitled “Why I was not included in the National Team”:
“By grace, could they explain, even those who were dissatisfied with my behaviour in the Austria-Italy match, what have I done wrong that day? I went into the field perfectly conscious of the serious task assigned. I knew that a mistake of mine – excusable to anybody – would not have been forgiven by my … friends”.
From the book 100 Azzurri. Un secolo di Nazionale in 100 ritratti dei suoi Campioni by Paolo Battaglia.