Between the appearance of football in Italy and the start of the First World War, « at least 150 Swiss players or players of Swiss origin played in Italian teams », estimates the Italo-Swiss Massimo Prati, teacher, writer and passionate of history, which has just devoted a very documented book on “The Swiss pioneers of Italian football”, to Editions Mimésis. “From 1903 to 1907 or 1908, the Swiss are better players, because they have an older practice. Montriond Lausanne beats Juventus four times in a row.
A global role
The genesis of football in Italy is associated in the collective memory with England: the oldest club in the Boot is the Genoa Cricket and Football Club, we say « Milan » in English and not « Milano », Juventus borrowed his stripes bianconeri in Notts County. We have forgotten that the first heroes of these clubs were called Pasteur, Bugnion, Dick, Walti, Bollinger, Aebi, Comte, Bachmann, Salvadé. The Swiss have also played an important role in the diffusion of football because where the English were happy to keep to themselves, they advocated integration and mixing, founding new clubs open to all, Inter Milan as well as the FC Barcelona.
Everyone knows the story of Zurich’s Hans Gamper, former captain of FC Basel, whose colors and initials he gave to Barça in 1899. Renamed Joan Gamper, he is the object of a real cult in Catalonia. “The role of the Swiss in the dissemination of football in Italy is an aspect ignored by the general public, regrets Massimo Prati. Specialists and historians are obviously aware of this contribution but the existing works deal with one club or another. If my book has a merit, it is to present an overall image, in order to account for a phenomenon as a whole.
Massimo Prati does not try to explain. He digs, he compiles, he checks, he says when he’s not sure or when the sources diverge. It gives an understanding of the commercial, historical or cultural circuits which explain the massive presence of Swiss families in Liguria or Piedmont, the Huguenot network woven throughout Europe by the Protestant diaspora after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. , the influence of private schools, in Switzerland where English students import football, in Italy where Swiss teachers propagate it.
Legends and reality
The first Italian club was Genoa, founded in 1893. Genoa was then a merchant city with a particularly dynamic port. The Swiss have been established there for a long time. The team won its first title in 1898 and five of the next six. “Genoa was already playing football, whereas in the rest of our country, we realized that we only had feet when our toes hurt,” said the legendary Italian journalist Gianni Brera.
When Genoa won its sixth title in 1904, the Rossoblù had a Swiss president, a Swiss coach, two Swiss technical committee members and six Swiss players. The captain is the Lausanne resident Etienne Bugnion, founder of Montriond Lausanne (the ancestor of Lausanne-Sport). It is he who appears on the cover photo of Massimo Prati’s book. In the background, a teenager poses hands on hips: Luigi Ferraris, future captain of the team, killed in action in 1915, who will give his name to the stadium where Genoa and Sampdoria play.
The history of the Swiss Calcio pioneers has its share of legends. Does Torino wear the same garnet as Servette, because that’s the club Alfred Dick was a supporter of? Was Andrea Doria’s jersey inspired by Grasshopper’s? What is the influence of Karl Rappan’s « lock » on the catenaccio of Nereo Rocco? Did the three Hintermann brothers really promise that « AC Milan would no longer win a [leur] alive » (which was indeed the case, until the death of the third brother in 1951) when they left to found Inter in 1908?
Vonlanthen, the heir
The historical facts are sufficiently numerous and eloquent to demonstrate the influence of the Swiss in Calcio. Football was introduced to Turin in 1887 by Eduardo Bosio, born in 1864 in Zuoz (GR), who brought back a football from a trip to England. Andrea Doria, which merged with Sampierdarenese in 1946 to become Sampdoria, was founded in 1895 in the Swiss School of Genoa. Former Servettian Ettore Negretti is capocanoniere AC Milan champion of Italy in 1901.
The most successful team in Italy today, Juventus won their first title in 1905 under the presidency of Alfred Dick, born in Yverdon-les-Bains, who made his fortune in the manufacture of shoes and spent part of his money to bring good Swiss players to Turin, including Aargau Paul Walty who had already spent two seasons at AC Milan.
From 1896 to 1915, about thirty Swiss played in Genoa, 19 between 1907 and 1915 in Torino. Massimo Prati lists eight Swiss players in the first team of Inter Milan in 1908. Ermanno Aebi, who played 12 seasons at Inter, was the first naturalized in the Italian team (he also played in March 1920 against the Switzerland in Bern) and first player to more than 100 goals in Serie A.
Everything changes after the war, when the fascists take power. Football becomes Calcio, Inter Ambrosiana, the championship closes in 1926 to foreigners. It will open again after the end of World War II, without the Swiss. But when the Genevan Roger Vonlanthen was recruited by Inter Milan in 1955, his transfer did not come out of nowhere as we believe today. The pioneer was an heir.
To read. Massimo Prati. “The Swiss pioneers of Italian football”, Editions Mimétis, 2022, 128 pages.