Adios Chinaglia

Giorgio Chinaglia with his New York Cosmos team-mate Pele.-AP

Giorgio Chinaglia's career was an extraordinary one. Coming from Varrare, famed for its marble quarries and the hard men who worked there, he was brought to Cardiff in Wales as a boy by his explosive father. His early promise, helped by a powerful physique, saw him signed by another Welsh club in Swansea Town, writes Brian Glanville.

It was sad indeed to hear of the death, at 65, of Giorgio Chinaglia; once an iconic figure with fans of Rome's, Lazio club, later for a time become their club President. Just as he was what you might describe as player-president of the New York Cosmos team. I knew Giorgio well, he even condescended once to play a game at Chelsea Royal Hospital for my little Sunday team, the Chelsea Casuals. He came to my house in London, I dined at his home outside New York. He played 14 times for Italy, scoring four goals, and after his many goals had enabled Lazio to win the Italian Campionato for the first time in their history. He disgraced himself in the ensuing World Cup in West Germany.

That was when the Italian manager, Ferruccio Valcareggi, pulled him off the field in Munich when the team was struggling against little Haiti and Giorgio, after insulting Valcareggi as he stalked off the field, proceeded to smash a number of bottles of water in the dressing room. Full ones it was reported, empty ones, he insisted.

There was every possibility that he would be sent straight home, but in the event, both the President and the manager of Lazio flew urgently to Munich and persuaded the Federation's hierarchy to let him remain. A few days later, I met him waiting outside the stadium before a match in Stuttgart. “Always in trouble!” I said, at which he smiled and rejoined, “Maybe I'm like you!” It was the time of a major scandal over the Italian clubs' bribery of European referees, which I and an American colleague had exposed in the ‘ Sunday Times'.

Giorgio's career was an extraordinary one. Coming from Varrare, famed for its marble quarries and the hard men who worked there, he was brought to Cardiff in Wales as a boy by his explosive father. His early promise, helped by a powerful physique, saw him signed by another Welsh club in Swansea Town where, constantly at odds with the manager and constantly fined, he had so little money that he stole milk bottles from people's doorsteps for his breakfast. His furious father once invaded the manager's office and threatened him with an axe.

Things radically changed when his father took him back to Italy where he at first played for the Serie A clubs, Inter and Napoli, with such success that Lazio brought him to Rome. There, he became an instant favourite of the fans, scoring goals galore, chiefly with his potent right foot. A certain spinal defect limited his prowess in the air, but he was fast, strong and prolific in his opportunism.

Eventually he would find his way to New York where the Cosmos, financed by multimillionaires, the Erteguns of Atlantic Records and Steve Ross of Time-Warner were setting a pace which no other club of the NASL League could match. At various stages, the Cosmos deployed such major stars as Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Neeskens and Carlos Alberto. But it was Giorgio, though never a player that renown, who became the protégé of Ross who so surprisingly elevated him to the club's Presidency. Giorgio brooked no dissension on the pitch. An infamous, much published, photograph showed him punching Futcher, a young English centre-forward in the face, seemingly because he hadn't given Giorgio the ball when he wanted it.

On his eventual return to Rome, he became President and owner of the Lazio club, the money behind him evidently supplied by wealthy Italian-American fans, who clearly hoped to be given special privileges at the Roman club. To their dismay and resentment, they didn't get them. Giorgio went on not to take over Lazio, but to find a splendid apartment in the Piazza di Spagna, probably the most coveted and expensive location in the whole of Rome.

It proved a little too good to last. In due course the bubble burst and Giorgio made his way back to the States where he was fated to remain for the rest of his life, threatened with criminal prosecution by the Italian authorities. Loyal to the last was a former teacher of classical studies, his fellow Italian, Peppe Pinton, usually a dominated, self effacing figure, who was once so possessed with fellow fury that he tried to run on to the pitch at Cosmos, New Jersey stadium, when Giorgio was involved in a confrontation.

You might, I suppose, describe Giorgio as a likeably rogue, but for Lazio fans, he would ever remain a salient hero, his goals never forgotten by them. I myself will always remember how, when, over in London to concentrate on a World Cup eliminator between England-Italy, he suddenly demanded, at a lunch given by a London comprehensive school, Pimlico, hearing Chelsea Casuals would play that Sunday, “Is there a game for me?” “It will cost you 20 pence,” I said, the amount paid by every player. He'd play in midfield with admirable commitment.

Later, in his Cosmos Presidential office, drinking Chivas whisky (I'm anxious” he said) he told me, “I'm going over, I'll play for you again, I'll bring a set of shirts, but I won't pay the twenty pee!”