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Response to Review no. 473

I should begin by thanking John Foot for reviewing my work and recognising it as a genuine attempt to take a fresh look at the regime’s cultural policies through an untouched subject. ‘Highly original’, ‘well-written’, ‘well-organised’, ‘innovative’ and above all ‘interesting’ are much appreciated compliments.

John’s synopsis of the book’s broad content is also an accurate reflection of my attempt to show just how deeply the regime attempted to penetrate daily life through football, thereby creating consent with the carrot rather than the stick. However, as he rightly points out, this was not always the case and the game often exposed irresolvable tensions and fissures in society.

The noted absence of consideration given to the ‘capitals’ of Italian football – Milan and Turin – is a fair observation and Juventus’s southern fan base would be of interest. Indeed, there might even be a stronger case for looking at the southern ‘giants’, such as Napoli, Palermo and the representatives of Rome. However, one of the book’s central themes concerns the regime’s attempt to use calcio (football) to unite the historically divided country. While the Torino, Juventus and Milan teams naturally had their respective roles on the regime’s tactics chalk board, as established clubs that could easily and justifiably have been seen as representing the northern business, political and football establishments, they were not the ideal messengers for the regime’s unification drive. Consequently, in terms of this project, comparison of the club teams of Bologna and Florence best demonstrated the regime’s diverse involvement in football and its attempt to move the game’s centre further south, in an effort to unite the nation around it.

Juventus’s championship domination from 1931–35 was an achievement for even the biggest club in Italy; however, given the size of the city and the club, Bologna’s four league titles between 1925 and 1937 were more significant in terms of the Fascist project. The win in 1925 was something of an earthquake, breaking as it did the domination of clubs north of Genoa. Thereafter, as Football and Fascism explains, Bologna FC attained legendary status in its own right, especially with international victories in the Central European Cup and the Paris Exhibition Tournament that dented notions of British supremacy. Much of this success, achieved in the club’s new stadium, was due to the financial support of Bologna’s Fascist administration and the figure of Leandro Arpinati, who was also head of the Italian Football Federation.

The internationally acclaimed stadia of the Littoriale in Bologna and the Giovanni Berta in Florence, built during an era in which the regime promised one for every commune in the country, demonstrate the nature of the regime’s takeover of the game at every level and how football reflected Fascist rule and society. So stark were the architectural differences between Bolognese tradition and Florentine modernism that these two cities inevitably became foci of attention. Furthermore, there were the contrasting natures of the local Fascist parties and their completely diverse ways of exploiting football for local needs, as the regime tried to unite the nation around the game. While they are local studies, the diverse issues raised by each city and team are intertwined with the preceding and following chapters, which place these examples within the book’s national context.

In terms of the game itself, it may indeed appear strange that narrative and anecdotal accounts of matches were deliberately kept to a minimum. However, as a study of the regime’s cultural policies, I remain unsure as to how – other than those examples used – accounts of match details and statistics would have improved this. Moreover, I was concerned about alienating those interested in the historical significance of the topic by including the type and depth of detail that might have appealed to football fans. Oral history was simply not possible, other than the interview conducted with 1938 full-back Piero Rava, irrespective of the problems involved in interpreting memory. How to decontextualise reports in a heavily censored press was considered in detail and made a significant contribution to the methodology behind the research. Such limitations would have also made biographical assessment of various players’ careers etc somewhat difficult, had I wished to go down this route. Clearly, as one of the leading goalscorers in Italian football history, it might justifiably be considered an error not to have mentioned Silvio Piola, although he was not omitted on merit. The real responsibility for this rests with his national teammate Giuseppe Meazza, who matched glamour with goals and warranted more consideration as a cultural icon of the time as much as Italy’s leading goalscorer.

Without questioning the merits of comparative history, the validity of this book as a single case study rests in the almost complete lack of any previous research in this area. Consequently, the book’s scope and objectives were limited to interrogating and demonstrating the connection between politics, culture and football in Fascist Italy. With so little research having been carried out on the first dictatorship to have seized and demonstrated the political power of football, such a single case study has its own, particular merits. However, the closing comparative comments were intended to recognise and highlight similarities and potential differences across national contexts, which I hope to explore in a future research programme.

So deeply and so quickly did football become entrenched within Italian culture that there are a myriad of different ways in which this topic could be explored, some of which John Foot enlarged upon and may do so more in his forthcoming book on Italian football. Excluding the introduction and conclusion, of the six principal chapters Florence and Bologna occupy only two. The remainder are concerned with the regime’s use of football to improve the nation’s health; it’s restructure of an atomised, local game into a single national league; the national architectural debate with specific reference to football stadia; and the performance of the national team in terms of its diplomatic and domestic impact. All are national issues, directly related to the indisputably national game of calcio.