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We played soccer in the street.

The beautiful series of articles from Rick Zitelli, about the way soccer was enjoyed in America, “Then and Now”, inevitably brought me back to when I was a kid in Milano.

Such a different reality from America, in particular 50 years ago!

Those who are over fifty here, when they go back 50 years, they go back to the last century. Who goes back 50 years in Italy, goes back to the last millennium!

Being 57, I remember that when I was a kid, we played soccer in the street, 3v3 or 5v5 without keepers, across the street, using 2 big building doors as the goals! One of the 2 was in metal so, you can imagine the noise, like a thunder, every time that we scored. I don’t know how many times the owner of the company with the metal door, cut up our soccer balls. Almost everyday! We hated him, almost as much as he hated us. The joy on is face when he managed to capture the ball, cut it and throw it back to us, is printed in my mind forever. He always wore a black apron. Imagine a kind of Professor Snape!

Anyway, we played on the street, because during the day, there were never more than a few cars every hour. It seems unbelievable but, on that street, the transportation company MERLI, that today is leader in Italy for moving the most gigantic objects, at that time had horses and carts! For this reason I said, last millennium. I played soccer in the street, in the last millennium!

Not too much. Just 4 to 5 hours a day, everyday! One pair of shoes every 2 weeks. My parents accepted that, just because my father played professionally, otherwise, if it was for my mother, and in particular for my grandmother, I could played bare foot! We weren’t poor, on the contrary, but one pair of shoes every two weeks was a little too much.

One of our favorite games, aside from playing soccer, was to simulate soccer games using coca-cola caps to make teams, and using a cherry pit as a ball. The field was drawn on the ground with chalk.
Obviously, all the boys had their favorite team jersey drawn inside the caps, with the names and numbers of the players. That was possible because, on the contrary of how it is today, almost all the players spent their whole carriers on the same team and played in the same position. Even the numbers were fixed. Today they go to a level of absurdity like, 00 or 57 but in my time, numbers where fixed and indicated what position you were playing on the field. So, they became legendary. Here are the most famous.

The keeper, was number 1, of course! To the point that he was call, Number One. The center-forward (my position) the number 9, the guy who scores. The play-maker was the legendary number 10! The greatest players ever, always had this number. Pele, Maradona, Platini, Baggio, Mazzola, Rivera, and on and on. The wings wore 7 and 11 like Gigi Riva, ”Rombo di tuono” (Thunder). The rock behind the defenders, the famous ‘Libero‘, was the number 5. One name that represents them all is: FRANCO BARESI. The legend.

So fixed numbers, no name, no sponsors, same colors for a century. Only white in case the colors of the guest team was too similar. The jersey was a flag. Even today, but just in our hearts! To see Inter Milan’s jersey, with HORIZONTALS stripes!!!!, navy blue and light blue, instead of black and blue, VERTICAL, just broke my heart even if they are the ‘enemy‘. Considering that their nickname is “Nerazzurri”, that means “Blackblues”, this is deeply wrong. Fortunately, the team in my heart is A.C.Milan. The “Rossoneri“. The Readblacks and the stripes are still vertical like in the last century. Can you imagine the American flag with vertical stripes, just because Nike asked for it to be that way?

I understand that there are enormous economic interests, and for the soccer gear companies, it is important to sell new items every year, but is it possible that the people in charge don’t understand that the ‘heart’ is not for sale?

Barcelona’s jersey, is like that. Navy blue and red strips, without a sponsor in front, and will always be like that! They have 140 thousand supporters that ‘own’ shares of the team and if someone came out with the crazy idea to touch the jersey, it would be better for them to leave the country by night!

Just in these days, I read that the new sponsor of Juventus, talked about changing the traditional Black/White stripes. This Marketing Director, really doesn’t care about his life! In Italy it could start a revolution, considering that Juventus has more than 22 millions fans, in 54 million inhabitants! When Fiorentina’s sponsor, a long time ago, just suggested, not to change the color, but only modify the little white flower with three points that is on the chest, by giving it the shape of a little ’F’, the city of Florence was totally blocked by tens of thousand of supporters for one week!

Going back to the street, I remember that no one was bad at controlling the ball. A few were outstanding, but in general, by playing so many hours everyday, you become skilled automatically. This is really missing today, here. An enormous percent of kids, often step on top of the ball and fall on the ground, just in trying to handle it! What a shame.

I’ll go back to this topic in the future, to underline that, if kids don’t go back to street games, not necessarily literally on the streets, America will NEVER produce outstanding soccer players.

And you guys, can afford two pairs of shoes a week, without blinking an eye, instead of one every two weeks.

If in China, Buddhist Monks can leave their orange robes and play soccer in rubber shoes, or in Iran the women are back in the stadiums after more than 20 years, I think that everything could be possible.

If these two situations were possible, America, too, can have a phenomenon like Ronaldinho or Beckham. We have Tiger in golf and James or Carmelo in basketball. Why not in soccer?

So, go back on the streets.

Coach Gianni
Posted on 15 Aug 2006 by coachgianni
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