Sunday, 24 November 2013

Alberto Ascari

The 2013 Formula 1 season draws to close this weekend, with the final race being held at Interlagos, Brazil.  The World title was decided an age ago it seems, with Sebastian Vettel clinching a fourth world title in a row.  Vettel has also won eight races in a row, to hold the record for the most consecutive wins in a season.

One record remains though.  This record has stood for over 60 years and is currently held by an Italian driver, Alberto Ascari.  Ascari is one of only two Italian World Champions in the history of the sport (the other was Giuseppe Farina in 1950), and the only one to win his two championships in a Ferrari. 

Ascari in a Ferrari.  Image courtesy of

Ascari won nine consecutive races across two seasons during 1952 and 1953 securing two World Championships in the process.

He won his first drivers' championship for Ferrari in 1952, after making his debut in 1950.
He won the remaining six rounds of the season to clinch his first title and recorded the fastest lap in each race.  Three more consecutive race wins at the start of the 1953 season gave him nine straight championship wins before this run was ended when he finished fourth in France.   Two more wins later in the year clinched a second consecutive World Championship.

A switch to Lancia in 1954, after leaving Ferrari due to a pay dispute, was not a success.  Numerous problems with the car meant it was not ready for racing until the end of the season.  But when the Lancia D50 was ready, Ascari showed it's potential by taking pole position in the Spanish Grand Prix and leading the race until clutch failure saw him retire from the race.  

At the start of the 1955 season excitement was building as the battle between Ascari in the Lancia D50 and Juan Manuel Fangio, widely regarded as one of the best drivers in the history of Motor Racing, in a Mercedes looked set to dominant the sport.

A positive start to the season came to a halt in the Monaco GP, as Ascari crashed into the harbour, escaping with a broken nose.   Four days later, on 26 May, he went to Monza to watch his friend Eugenio Castellotti test a Ferrari 750 Monza sports car.  

Ascari, being the fiercely competitive person he was, decided to test the car out over a few laps.   Ascari was very superstitious, he always insisted on using his distinctive pale blue crash helmet.  On this occasion his usual helmet was being repaired after the accident at Monaco and he stepped into the car wearing shirt sleeves, ordinary trousers and Castellotti's white helmet.  On the third lap the car suddenly skidded, turned on its nose and somersaulted twice.  Ascari was thrown from the car and suffered multiple injuries and died a few minutes later.  The crash occurred on the Curva del Vialone, one of the circuits high-speed corners. The corner has been renamed in his honour.  It is now know as Variante Ascari.

Alberto Ascari.  Image courtesy of

Ascari was laid to rest next to the grave of his father in Milan.  This tragedy is compounded by some eerie similarities between the deaths of Ascari and his father.  Ascari died on 26 May 1955, aged 36.  His father was also 36 when he died on 26 July 1925.  Both were killed four days after surviving serious crashes, both on the 26th of the month. The final similarity is they both crashed at the exit of left hand corners and both left behind a wife and two children.

Italian fans nicknamed Ascari 'Ciccio' (chubby).  Enzo Ferrari described Alberto Ascari as being 'virtually impossible to overtake' when leading.  He added "Ascari had a precise and distinctive driving style".

This was a man who, for a period, dominated grand prix racing.  Parallels in this respect with Vettel are easy to make.  Like Schumacher before him, Vettel is consistantly performing to a high level, and the rest of the field are left in his wake.

Ascari established records for the highest percentage of wins in a season and for the most consecutive wins from races started, both of which remain unbroken almost sixty years later.

From a career cut short by his death in 1955, and which covered only a total of about three seasons in five years, he started 32 races and won 13 of them - a win ratio of more than 40%. That is second only to Juan Manuel Fangio.

Championship rival, Mike Hawthorn, was quoted as describing the Italian's talent by saying: "Ascari was the fastest driver I ever saw.  And when I say that, I include Fangio."

"I have lost my greatest opponent," Fangio said after Ascari's death in 1955.  "Ascari was a driver of supreme skill and I felt my title last year lost some of its value because he was not there to fight me for it.  A great man." 

Ascari will forever remembered as one of the greatest racers of all time.

His record in Formula 1 racing was - 

World Championships  -   2
Grand Prix Starts          -  32
Grand Prix Wins             - 13
Pole Positions                - 14

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Halloween - Italian traditions.

October 31st.  That means it is Halloween (or Hallowe'en).   The name is derived from "All Hallows' Eve", the eve or vigil before the Western Christian feast of All Hallows (or All Saints), which is observed on November 1.

Halloween, as we know it today, has slowly evolved from the United States of America and has been adopted in Europe, especially Italy.  Italians still carve pumpkins, children still dress up in costumes (“Dolcetto o scherzetto?” (Trick or treat?)  and, in some cities, you will find Halloween tours of medieval towers, castles and other 'spooky' sites.  But tradition goes a long way in Italy, and many people still prefer to think of the next few days for different reasons.

'Ognissanti'.  Image courtesy of

Halloween falls just before two important religious holidays in Italy at the beginning of November.  The first day of the month (November 1) is Ognissanti or Tutti i Santi (All Saints’ Day) and is a day dedicated to honouring all the saints and martyrs who have died for the Catholic faith.  Ognissanti is a national holiday in Italy, and most businesses close for the day.   

In the Roman Catholic Church, All Saints' Day is a Holy Day of Obligation in many countries, meaning going to Mass on this day is required.  Traditionally Italians, across the country, attend Mass and celebrate the day together with family.

Then, on the following day (November 2), is the celebration of All Soul’s Day (“Il Giorno dei Morti”).   The commemoration of all the faithful departed is celebrated by the Church on November 2, or, if this falls on a Sunday or a solemnity, the feast is celebrated on November 3.  On All Souls’ Day Italians visit the cemeteries and bring flowers for their departed loved ones.  Chrysanthemums flowers are traditionally laid at the gravesides, as this symbolises death in Italian culture.  

All Souls Day in Italy.  Image courtesy of

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are celebrated with the family and Italians make a point of getting together for a special family lunch where they celebrate the feast and eat traditional ,and regional, food.

For example, in Romagna, a region famous for its cuisine, the “piada dei morti”, a round flatbread filled with nuts, almonds, raisins and red wine from Romagna, Sangiovese, is prepared.  Another sweet prepared during this time is the “fava dei morti”, a little biscuit made of almonds.   The Fave dei Morti recipe goes back to pre-Christian time when fava beans were used as a ritual offering to the dead and the gods.  These cookies are shaped like fava beans and are baked in the Marche region.

Fave dei Morti biscuits.  Image courtesy of

Sicilians traditionally eat “pupi ‘i zuccuru”, a sweet bread shaped like little dolls.  In Lombardia, the locals will eat Pan Dei Morti (or Bread of the Dead), these are cookies made to remind everyone of dead men’s bones. In Trentino, bells ring to call the dead and the table is left set with the fireplace lit for the whole night and in Abruzzo lamps are left lit and the table is left set while children go to bed with a bag of broad beans and sweets to symbolise the link between the past and present generations.

Together, All Saints Day (Tutti i Santi) and All Souls Day (Il Giorno dei Mortiare still important dates on the calendar for Catholics and Italians alike.

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Rugby League World Cup 2013 - Italy

Azzuri badge. 

The World Cup is just round the corner.  No, it really is.  Forget about the football World Cup in Brazil next summer, you can experience the Rugby League World Cup ( which begins this weekend (26 October) in the United Kingdom.

14 teams do battle to see who will be crowned World Champions, and one of those teams is Italy.  Yes, the Azzuri has a rugby league team and they play in the opening game in Cardiff against Wales.

Rugby League isn't a hugely popular sport in Italy, especially having to compete with calcio and Rugby Union but it has been played, sporadically, in Italy since the 1950's.  Initally struggling to gain popularity, it virtually disappeared during the 1970's.  The game was revived in the mid 1990's and Italy began to compete internationally with varying degrees of success, culminating in the Azzuri qualifying for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

Italy sealed their place in the tournament after topping their qualification group by beating Russia, in front of 2,500 in Padova.  Another victory against Serbia and a draw with Lebanon saw the Azzuri safely through.

In 2010, the Italian Rugby League championship was launched as a semi professional competition. It is made up of three conferences, with a total of ten teams.   The teams that competed in this year's Italian Championship were: North West Roosters, XIII del Duomo, XIII del Ducato, XIII del Bresà, Arieti Este, Padova RL, Grifons Padova, XIII della Ghirlandina, Firenze RL and Sharks Tirreno.  The championship went to XIII del Ducato, who beat North West Roosters in the final.  Italy is still an emerging nation in Rugby League terms and, as a result,the current World Cup squad is made up of Australians of Italian descent.

Anthony Minichello.  Image courtesy of

Italy, currently ranked 13th in the world, are coached by Carlo Napolitano and are captained by the Australian full-back (of Italian descent), Anthony Minichello.  Minichello is a legend of the game in Australia, and is widely regarded as one of the best full-backs of his generation.  He plays for the Sydney Roosters, who play in the National Rugby League (NRL) competition in Australia and has scored 122 tries in 275 games for his club side.

Alongside Minichello is another vastly experienced player in Anthony Laffranchi, who plays for St Helens in the English Super League competition.  Laffranchi will add much needed experience to the forwards in the tournament, having played over 230 first team games in his career.  Other players to look out for as the tournament starts are winger Josh Mantellato and hooker Ray Nasso, both scorers in the famous 15-14 friendly victory over tournament hosts England on Saturday 19 October 2013.  Veteran halfback Craig Gower, with 14 caps, has been ruled out of the tournament through injury.

Italy begin their campaign against Wales in Cardiff, then face Scotland and finish with a tough game against Tonga.  It will be very tough for the Azzuri to progress, and the task is made even more difficult as only the group winners progress to the Quarter finals.  If Italy do make it through they are likely to face the current world cup holders, New Zealand,  in Leeds.

Odds of around 500/1 to win the tournament speak volumes, but this will be a huge learning curve for them, and can only help to enhance the game in Italy for many years to come.  Hopefully when the next tournament comes around in 2017, the Azzuri will have some born and bred Italians representing their country.

Alessandro Del Piero and Minichello.  Image courtesy of

Follow the fortunes of the Azzuri here  and on Twitter @ITALIA_RLXIII

Forza Azzuri...

Follow me on Twitter @insearchofluca

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Rio bound...

Italy have qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with two games to spare.  It was, on paper, a tough group with Czech Republic, Denmark and Bulgaria all in with a chance of qualification. The Azzuri are unbeaten after eight group games and will be expected to win their final games to head to the World Cup in bouyant mood.

On the way to qualification Italy have won six games and drawn two (against Bulgaria away in the opening game and in Prague against the Czech Republic).

The six wins have seen the Azzuri score 15 goals, conceding only five.  Forward Mario Balotelli is the top scorer in this qualifying campaign with four goals, taking his total tally for the national team to 11 goals.

As with every World Cup Italy will be amongst the favourites to win the cup next year, and will be aiming to win the famous trophy for a fifth time, 80 years since they won their first World Cup in 1934 on home soil.

Italy have played more World Cup football than any other team .   In the pre-war era, the Azzurri were almost untouchable as they won the 1934 trophy on their debut appearance and retained the title in 1938.  Post-war the Superga air tragedy which claimed the lives of the famous Il Grande Torino side of 1949 and provided the majority of the Italian national side at that time, had a knock on affect for decades as Italy lost their way on the international stage and were repeatedly knocked out in the first round of the World Cup.

In 1978, a new generation, including legendary striker Paolo Rossi, emerged and, after reaching the semi-finals in Argentina, won the World Cup in Spain in 1982. 

Marco Tardelli celebrates after scoring in the 1982 World Cup final.  Image courtesy of

Recent success in the tournament has been mixed to say the least.  Italy failed to get out of the group stages in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  Emerging from the disgrace of the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal the Azzuri managed to restore the honour of Italian football by winning the 2006 World Cup in Germany, defeating France on penalities in Berlin.

It was a different story again in the 2002 World Cup.  The team were progressing nicely through the tournament and came up against co hosts South Korea in the last 16.  But they hadn't banked on a hugely controversial referee in Byron Moreno

In that infamous match Moreno chalked off a perfectly valid Italian goal, as well as disallowing Damiano Tommasi's golden goal which would have seen them through the the Quarter Final.  Francesco Totti was sent off for diving, replays showed he slipped.  The Koreans, however, were awarded a controversial penalty when Moreno adjudged that Christian Panucci had tugged his opponents shirt.  Italy eventually lost to a golden goal from Ahn Jung-Hwan in the 117th minute. The game finished  2-1 to the Koreans and the Azzuri were on their way home.

Then, in 2010, to further compound the Italians insistance of corrupt refereeing, Moreno was arrested at JFK Airport in New York with over 6lbs of heroin strapped to his body, worth approximately 535,000 euros.  He was sentenced to two years in prison, and was released in 2012.

And what of the 'Class of 2014'?  Can the current squad mount a serious challenge to win the World Cup?

Azzuri - 2013.  Image courtesy of

Manager Cesare Prandelli has a richly talented squad at his disposal with a wealth of experience in key positions.  The main man for the Azzuri for many years now has been Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.  A veteran with 136 caps, and a World Cup winner in 2006, Buffon will be hoping to end his international career on a high.  

The heartbeat of the team is controlled by the mercurial Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo, still going strong for both club and country at the age of 34.  He is suitably supported by Roma's Daniele De Rossi.  Add to that the quality of players like Riccardo Montolivo (Milan), Thiago Motta (Paris St Germain) and Emanuele Giaccherini (Sunderland) and the midfield is a very strong area for the Azzuri.

The defence is also vastly experienced with Juventus duo Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Christian Maggio (Napoli) leading the line giving confidence and experience to Andrea Ranocchia (Inter) and Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus) to name but a few.

Goals win matches though and, in attack, the Azzuri can boast a formidable front line.  Star man is, of course, Milan's Mario Balotelli.  His goals in the latter end of the qualifying campaign secured Italy's passage to Brazil.  Prandelli can also look to Alberto Gilardino (Genoa) and Pablo Osvaldo (Southampton) for goals.  

Italy are currently ranked as sixth favourites to lift their fifth World Cup, with odds of 20/1 with some bookmakers.  If I was a betting man, I would stick a couple of quid on that...

Forza Azzuri!

Follow me on Twitter @insearchofluca

Friday, 23 August 2013

Serie A season preview 2013/14

Image courtesy of

The start of the new Serie A season is upon us once more.   Batteries are recharged, new signings are ready to go and fans are moments away from getting a glimpse of the players who they put all their hopes on.  Will it be a familiar tale at the top or will we have a surprise package challenging for the title?

Early indications show that Juventus will once again be the team to beat.  The nucleus of last season's title winning side have stayed and along with summer signings Carlos Tevez from Man City, for a bargain £8m (€11m) and Bilbao's Fernando Llorente, who joined on a Bosman (free transfer), La Vecchia Signora will be confident of adding another Scudetto to an already full trophy cabinet.

Carlos Tevez.  Image courtesy of

So where will the challenge come from?  One of the challengers will be AC MilanMilan have made only modest additions so far this summer but have a wealth of talent in a squad which only sparked into life at the end of the season, when they secured Champions League football on the very last day.  Any side which boasts Mario Balotelli, Stephen El Shaarawy and Kevin Prince-Boateng will be a threat and they will be hoping to hit the ground running this time around.

Napoli finished second last season but will look very different this time around following the departure of star striker Edinson Cavani and manager Walter Mazzari.  Rafael Benítez is the man in the hotseat and he has been very busy in the transfer market this summer.  With Cavani leaving for PSG for £55m (
€63m) , Benitez has splashed the cash.  In came Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid, for £34.5m (€40m) along with Pepe Reina, Raul Albiol, Jose Calleron and Dries Mertens among others.  They may not last the pace in the league, but I think they will be worthy contenders in the Champions League.  Benitez is a master at seeing his sides progress in Europe, don't be surprised to see the Azzuri reach the final this time around.

New start for Benitez.  Image courtesy of

Expect a strong challenge, also, from Fiorentina this season after another busy summer in the transfer market.  Il Viola just missed out on Champions League football last year, and despite the sale of Stevan Jovetic to Manchester City, the expectation is that they will be well equipped to aim for the top three again.  The marquee signings include Mario Gómez, Josip Ilicic, Joaquin, Massimo Ambrosini alongside a fit again Giuseppe Rossi.
It is a big season for underachievers Roma this yearThey have appointed a new manager in Rudi Garcia and continue to boast a richly talented squad, despite the departure of Daniel Osvaldo to Southampton and the rumoured departure of Erik LamelaKevin Strootman has arrived for £14m (17m) from PSV and , if he can settle in quickly, could well be the signing of the summer.  A European finish is on the cards this time around for I Giallorossi, who were jeered at a pre season squad presentation earlier in the week by the fans.
Inter, Lazio and Udinese will be hoping to secure Europa League football again this season at best, although Inter could have the best chance of springing a surprise with a host of new signings to accompany new manager Walter Mazzari into the San Siro cauldron.

The battle to stay in Serie A will, once again, be fiercely contested.  It is no surprise to see the three newly promoted clubs heavy favourites to make a swift return to Serie B.  Sassuolo, Hellas Verona and Livorno will have a tough task in front of them.
Hellas Verona look like they will be the best equipped to make a good fight of it after making some very astute signings.  Veteran forward Luca Toni has arrived to add much needed experience along with quality players like Bosko Jankovic and Massimo Donati.

Hellas Verona.  Image courtesy of
Sassuolo are playing in the top-flight for the very first time To add to the difficulties of their maiden season in the big league they will be using someone else’s stadium to play their home games.  Last season they called Modena’s Stadio Alberto Braga home but have now relocated to the Stadio Città del Tricolore in Reggio Emilia.
Livorno have been in and out of Serie A over recent seasons and they will be hoping that another club will get dragged into the fight to stay in the league.  Recent form suggests that Genoa could be the side to drop out this time.  Rossoblu have a first-time manager at the helm in Fabio Liverani, and have not really added to last seasons squad yet.  Last seasons top scorer, Marco Borriello, was on loan from Roma and it doesn't look like he will be returning to help them try to climb the table.
As I mentioned earlier, I can't see past Juve winning a record 30th title.  The race for the two other remaining Champions League places will, in my opinion, go to Napoli and Fiorentina.  This could be the year Genoa drop down to Serie B, and I think they will be joined by Livorno and Sassuolo.

And so, the wait is almost over, this weekend sees the first matches of the 2013/14 season. 


Sampdoria v Juventus

Hellas Verona v AC Milan


Cagliari v Atalanta

Inter v Genoa
Lazio v Udinese
Livorno v Roma
Napoli v Bologna
Parma v  Chievo
Torino v Sassuolo


Fiorentina v Catania

I will be posting regular updates throughout the season.  I hope you will follow this exciting season of Calcio right here with me.

Ciao for now!

Follow me on Twitter @insearchofluca

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Romanzo Criminale

British TV was once the envy of the world.  Now it is a mix of reality shows, ageing celebrity comebacks and repeats from yesteryear.  That doesn’t leave you, the viewer, with a lot to get excited about does it?   In recent years, however, people have turned to subtitled European faire for their fix of fresh, gritty shows.  The Scandanavians have given us The Killing and The Bridge, the French have delivered The Returned and Braquo. Italy gave us Inspector Montalbano, but they also exported this little gem, undoubtably the best of the lot.  The European version of The Wire…step forward Romanzo Criminale.

Image courtesy of
Romanzo Criminale ("Crime Novel") is an Italian television series based on a novel by judge Giancarlo De Cataldo, and adapted from the 2005 film of the same name.  The first series quickly achieved cult status in Italy, with the second series also proving popular.  It quickly achieved the same status in the United Kingdom with the programme being aired on Sky Arts.
The series is set from 1977-89 and follows the rise of a criminal gang in Rome to a near monopoly of the city's heroin trade.  The gang is led by three old friends, Lebanese (Francesco Montanari), Freddo (Vinicio Marchioni) and Dandi (Alessandro Roja).
The plotline is based on the real crime group of the era, Banda della Magliana.  The story focuses on Lebanese (also known as Libano), who we first meet during a bungled lorry robbery.  Running his gang from a clapped-out caravan and frustrated by his high-risk, low-reward criminality, he dreams of becoming a big player like Terrible, the city's major crime warlord.
Libano and Dandi link their gang with another local small time crook Freddo, and they hatch a plan to abduct Baron Rosellini, a wealthy aristocrat whom Libano's parents worked for.  The kidnapping offers huge rewards for the gang.  The plot ends tragically, but they get their ransom money.

Lebanese.  Image courtesy of

Despite tensions between the rival outfits, Libano convinces the gang not to blow the money on hookers and fast cars, but to reinvest in further criminal enterprises - namely drugs.  Commissioner Scialoja (Marco Bocci) goes after the gang, becoming obsessed along the way by a beautiful call girl, Patrizia (Daniela Virgilio) (the girlfriend of Dandi).
The gang has to deal with the Camorra and Sicilian Mafia (who supply heroin to the gang), the police, led by Commissioner Scialoja and the Italian secret services.

Commissioner Scialoja.  Image courtesy of

Their progress and changes in leadership (Libano is followed by his cohorts Freddo and Dandi) are inseparably intertwined with the dark history of modern Italy: terrorism, kidnappings and corruption at the highest levels of government.
Through political murders, spectacular bombings and high-profile kidnappings Libano proves himself through a series of brutal crimes.  He makes valuable connections among corrupt cops and politicians, and in the Secret Service, which seeks to enlist the gang to destabilize the government and provoke a right-wing coup.

Scialoja is seemingly the one man not in the pay or pocket of the Mafia or the corrupt State, and is determined to bring the ferocious gang to justice, whatever the cost to himself or to the rules of the law.
The first season reaches it’s climax with Libano seeing himself as the undisputed ‘King of Rome’.  But while he increasingly distrusts everyone and becomes more paranoid, his thirst for power is never truly satisfied and his demonic look intensifies.  Flashbacks and dream sequences superbly portray a character that is spurred on by vengeance and fear, while the ongoing story shows how he came to dominate in a time of disorganisation, terror and corruption.
A dramatic end to the first season, which stayed faithful to the film, paved the way for Season 2.  This takes up the action directly after the game-changing events of that first season finale.  As the major players regroup and rethink their strategies the scene shifts to the early 80s.  The cars and fashions may have changed, but the drug game stays the same....making more money means more bloodshed.

The show serves as both entertainment and a history lesson.  As a viewer you go through their journey with them, the emotional heart of the show remains with Libano, Freddo and Dandi with their crazy plan to take over the capital and it is hard not to side with the guys with the impossible dream.

The real Banda della Magliana were a vicious gang that set out to rule the criminal underworld of 1970s Rome.  While Naples and Sicily were the stomping grounds of the Camorra and the Mafia, Rome's criminal network was a patchwork of small gangs, and the Banda set out to be top gang in the capital.
While De Cataldo's novel is inspired by the real Banda della Magliana, names and details have been changed.  One of the factors that makes the TV series so compelling is that this classic story of the gang's rise is little known outside of Italy.
During the 1970s the country was a frightening place, one of police brutality, political murders, bombings, kidnappings and secret service plots against the government.  The story of how the gang became involved in these disturbing affairs, filmed on the Roman streets with a soundtrack of classic 70s pop, prompted the leading daily newspaper La Stampa to call the show "the best series ever produced in Italy".
The recent influx of subtitled programmes on British TV has shown that a lot of fantastic shows are out there, and people’s perceptions of watching a subtitled programme have changed, for the better, along the way.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Palio di Siena

The Palio di Siena, known locally as Il Palio, is one of the most important folkloric events in Italy.  It is a horse race held twice a year in the Piazza del Campo, Siena.  Ten horses and riders represent ten of the seventeen contrade (or city wards).

The Distinguished Collegiate Church of Santa Maria in Provenzano, Siena, is dedicated to the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Elizabeth.  On July 2, formerly the feast of The Visitation, the Sienese celebrate the first PalioPalio di Provenzano in her honour.

The second event, held on August 16, coincides with the feast of The Assumption.  This second Palio is named Palio dell'Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.

With several hundred participants, a magnificent pageant (the Corteo Storico) precedes the race.  A formally choreographed march, it commemorates the ancient customs, institutions and greatness of the Republic of Siena.  Seventeen pairs of flag bearers (Alfieri) are positioned at various points in the Piazza and, in synchrony, perform a spectacular flag-waving exhibition culminating with the flowing of the flag.  Just before the pageant, the carabinieri (national military police of Italy) on horseback, wielding swords, demonstrate a mounted charge around the track.  They take one lap at a walk, in formation, and a second at a gallop before exiting out of Piazza del Campo.

Flag bearers prior to the race - Image courtesy of

The Pageant - image courtesy of

The race itself circles the Piazza del Campo three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds.  Jockeys, who ride the horses bareback, are frequently thrown off while making the treacherous turns in the piazza, and it is not unusual to see unmounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys.  As it is the horse that represents the contrade and not the jockey, an unmounted horse may win the race!

Palio in full flow - Image courtesy of
The Palio takes place over four days, with the race taking place on the fourth day.  The first day is for the "Tratta", or the drawing of the lots and assignment of the horses to each of the Contrade.

Before the official race there are six trial runs or heats, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  The fifth trial, the one run the evening prior to the official Palio, is called the "prova generale" (or general trial) while the last takes place the morning of the race.  This is called "provaccia" (or bad trial) due to the little effort the jockeys put into it in order to avoid tiring the horses too much.

The emblems and colours of each Contrade are grouped into either "Terzi" or "Terzieri" (many centuries again the town was divided into three sections.  These were known as "Terziere di Città", "Terziere di San Martino" and "Terziere di Camollia").  Flags and emblems displayed along the street easily identify each ward.  Much like street signs, corners often designate the entrance into a different contrada.

The Contrada

The seventeen Contrada are -

Terziere di Città

AQUILA (Eagle) a double-headed eagle with imperial symbols. Yellow with black and blue bands.
CHIOCCIOLA (Snail) a snail. Yellow and red with blue bands.
ONDA (Wave) a swimming dolphin wearing a crown. White and blue.
PANTERA (Panther) a rampant panther. Red and blue with white bands.
SELVA (Forest) a rhinoceros bearing a huge tree hung with hunting implements. Green and orange-yellow with white bands.
TARTUCA (Tortoise) a tortoise. Yellow and blue.
Terziere di San Martino
CIVETTA (Owl) an owl. Black and red with white bands.
LEOCORNO (Unicorn) a unicorn. White and orange-yellow with blue bands.
NICCHIO (Shell) a seashell. Blue with yellow and red bands.
TORRE (Tower) an elephant with a tower on its back. Dark bordeaux red with white and blue bands.
VALDIMONTONE or MONTONE (Ram) a rampant ram. White and yellow with red bands.
Terziere di Camollia
BRUCO (Caterpillar) a caterpillar. Yellow and green with blue bands.
DRAGO (Dragon) a flying dragon. Red and green with yellow bands.
GIRAFFA (Giraffe) a giraffe. White and red.
ISTRICE (Porcupine) a porcupine. White, red, black and blue bands.
LUPA (She-Wolf) the Roman She-Wolf suckling the twins. Black and white with orange-yellow bands.
OCA (Goose) a crowned goose with the cross of Savoia round its neck. White and green with red bands.

The race starts off in the "Mossa", an area set up on the piazza defined by two long pieces of thick rope. The "Mossiere" (starter) then calls the Contrade forward in the order in which they were drawn and checks that the assigned positions are respected.  The first nine Contrade take up their assigned positions in the area between the two ropes, while the last one, the tenth, enters this area at a running gallop, which signals the start of the race.

Before the start - Image courtesy of

In the event of a 'false start' (this is the case if the jockeys are not in their assigned spots), a shot goes out to signal the jockeys to get back into their positions.  This starting phase within the "Mossa" is more complicated than it seems, as the space is small and the horses are right next to each other.  Rivalries run deep within the Contrade and competition is high and the worst result is to see the "enemy" Contrada win the race.

The horses must overcome dangerous points in the race, such as the very narrow curve of San Martino, where collisions between the wall and between horses have led to many falls in the past (the reason why many animal activists oppose the Palio).

The winning Contrada receives the Drappellone, (or large drape, a large painted canvas each year designed and created by a different artist and which the winning contrada displays in their own museum).  Then the victorious Contrada members head towards the Church of Provenza (after the July race) or towards the Duomo (after the August race) for the Te Deum (or prayer of thanks).

Victory usually coincides with a months-long celebration for the winning ward.  The 'loser' in the race is considered to be the contrada whose horse came second, not last.

The Palio differs from "normal" horse races in that part of the game is for the wards to prevent rival contrade from winning.  Few things are forbidden to the jockeys during the race; for instance, they can pull or shove their opponents, hit the horses and each other, or try to hamper other horses at the start.

The winner - Image courtesy of

The Palio di Siena is more than a simple horse race.  It is the culmination of ongoing rivalry and competition between the contrade.  The lead-up and the day of the race are invested with passion and pride.  Formal and informal rituals take place as the day proceeds, with each contrada navigating a strategy of horsemanship, alliances, and animosities.  

The Palio, along with the plumes, remains the property of the contrada.  The plate is returned to the city of Siena before the two Palii of the following year, after the date and the name of the victorious contrada are inscribed on its back.  There is one silver platter for the Palio in July and another for the August Palio.  The plates are replaced approximately every ten years.

The value of the banner is unique, because it represents a particular historical period of the city of Siena.  The palii often reflect the symbols of the various governments that have presided at various times, including the crest of the grand duchy of Lorraine, the crest of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, the crest of the Kingdom of Savoy of Italy, symbols from Fascist Italy, and most recently, imagery of the Republic.

The Palio is much more than a simple event for the Sienese, it is a significant part of their lives since the time of their birth.  Each person belongs to a Contrada, participates in the life of the Contrada and the organization of the Palio throughout the entire year. The Sienese live the Palio with great passion and this is evident during the races.

The winner of the July 2013 race was Oca (Goose).   This was their third victory this century and their 65th overall,  Oca is the most successful Contrada by far.  The winner of the August 2013 race was Onda (Wave), their second win this century.

2014 promises to be another chaotic and exciting race. 

2014 winners - Drago and Civetta
2015 winners - Torre and Selva
2016 winners - Lupa won both Palio.
2017 winners - Giraffe 

Follow me on Twitter @insearchofluca


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Superga - A National Tragedy.

Wednesday May 4 1949.  A date unfamiliar to many football fans outside of Italy.  A day that changed the course of Italian football forever and had a monumental effect on one team in particular.  A team who, over 60 years on, have never really recovered.

On that fateful day, the Superga Air Disaster occurred.   A plane, carrying the all-conquering Torino team of the 1940’s (famously known as Il Grande Torino) crashed into Superga Hill near Turin, killing 31 people on board, including all 18 players.  The squad were returning home following a friendly match in Lisbon.

Wreckage of the plane.  Image courtesy of

The Fiat G-212CP plane was heading into a thunderstorm in Turin, and encountered low cloud and poor visibility.  In the area around Superga Hill, visibility was down to just 40m.  The pilot was then forced to descend to be able to fly ‘visually’.  It was during that descent that the aircraft crashed against the base of the rear wall of the Basilica, which stands at the top of Superga.  The causes of the crash were recorded as low clouds, poor radio aids and an error in navigation by a vastly experienced pilot, Pierluigi Meroni.

The task of identfiying the victims fell to ex-national team manager, Vittorio Pozzo.  Many of the bodies had been burnt beyond recognition.  Some could only be identified from documents found in their pockets or by rings on their fingers.  Pozzo was now a journalist for La Stampa, the Turin based daily newspaper.  That evening he wrote "The Torino team is no more.  It has disappeared, it is burnt, it has exploded..."  He ended by saying "...the team died in action, like a group of shock troops in the war, who left their trenches and never came back".

The emotional impact of the crash on Italian sports fans was profound.  The team was the vision of club President Ferruccio Novo.  The side he had created were the darlings of Italy.  With the majority of the team aged just 30 or under, this was a team set to dominate.  Il Grande Torino had won four consecutive league titles (1946-1949) and had virtually clinched a fifth title when the disaster occurred.  Torino played out their four remaining fixtures, shortly after the disaster, consisting mainly of youth team players.  As a mark of respect, their opponents did the same.  Torino were awarded the championship title.

The team holds the record of most consecutive league titles jointly with Juventus at five.  Torino scored 483 goals in five seasons between 1945 and 1949, conceding only 165.  Their captain was Valentino Mazzola, simply known as Captain Valentino.  He captained the team to all five championships and was an inspirational leader.  The oldest player to perish in the disaster was centre-forward Giuseppe Gabetto (33), the youngest was midfielder, Rubens Fadini, aged just 21.  There was some initial confusion after the crash as it was reported that Mazzola did not make the trip.  It was thought that he had remained at home, due to a fever.  Sadly, these reports turned out to be false.

Two days after the crash 500,000 people attended the funeral procession in Turin.  The streets were packed with mourners and the event was transmitted live on national radio.  Coffins were transported through the streets on huge lorries, each bearing the name of the deceased.  That same day over 30,000 people climbed Superga Hill to pay their respects and leave flowers.  On the front wall of the Basilica a plaque commemorates those who died.  Superga remains to this day a site of annual pilgrimage.

Funeral procession in Turin.  Image courtesy of

 This team was truly remarkable.  With the advent of the European Cup in 1955, Torino would have had the chance to become the most successful club side in the world.  They never got that chance and it was Real Madrid who took up their mantle and dominated Europe.

The disaster left the Italian national team (known as the Azzuri) in tatters.  Torino provided 10 players for the Azzuri, who at that time were the current World Cup holders after winning the 1938 World Cup (their second title in a row).  In the five World Cup tournaments that lay ahead, they could only manage the first round in four, they didn't even qualify in 1958!  It wasn't until the 1970 World Cup that they made it past the first round.  Superga's effect lasted longer than many would have imagined.

And what of Torino?  Well, they slowly rebuilt the team but have since been overshadowed by city rivals Juventus.   Since Superga, Juve (backed by the wealthy FIAT empire) have won the league 22 times to Torino's one (a lone Scudetto in 1976).  The balance of power in Turin shows no sign of shifting any time soon.

Wednesday May 4 1949.  A date I will never forget having recently read John Foot’s brilliant book Calcio, a history of Italian football.  Read it.

The plaque at Superga.  Image courtesy of

I Campioni d'Italia: 'The Champions of Italy'

Valerio Bacigalupo (25)  Goalkeeper
Aldo Ballarin (27)  Full-back
Dino Ballarin (23)  Goalkeeper
Emile Bongiorni (27)  Wing-back
Eusebio Castigliano (27) Midfield
Rubens Fadini (21)  Midfield
Gugliemo Gabetto (33)  Centre-forward
Ruggero Grava (27)  Centre-forward
Giuseppe Grezar (30)  Midfield
Ezio Loik (29)  Wing-back
Virgilio Maroso (23)  Full-back
Danilo Martelli (25)  Midfield
Valentino Mazzola (30) Wing-back
Romeo Menti (30)  Winger
Pierino Operto (22)  Full-back
Franco Ossola (27)  Winger
Mario Rigamonti (26)  Defender
Julius Schubert (26)  Wing-half


Torino Football Club
In Memory
of its comrades
- the glory of Italian sport -
and those who died with them
in a tragic air disaster

4 May 1949