Italy: still in denial

ITALIAN football, alas, remains in denial. And hurling crude criticism at myself, the equivalent of killing the messenger, is no solution.


Massimo Moratti, Inter's President, is much maligned by the fans, but he's surely an honest man when compared to his father Angelo Moratti. — Pic. GRAZIA NERI/GETTY IMAGES-

ITALIAN football, alas, remains in denial. And hurling crude criticism at myself, the equivalent of killing the messenger, is no solution. Recently, in a newspaper column, I resurrected the sordid story of Inter, the brave Hungarian referee Gyorgy Vadas, and the European Cup semi-final, which the Milanese club couldn't buy. Having succeeded in corrupting the referees of the preceding home leg semis, against Borussia Munnhengladbach in 1964, Liverpool in 1965.

The whole can of worms, in fact, was opened in 1974 when, at the Sunday Times, I was told — originally from Budapest — of how Juventus had tried the previous year to bribe the Portuguese referee Fancisco Marques Lobo of the second leg semi-final between Derby County and Juve in England. He, like Vadas, had been brave enough to refuse where in 1964 and 1965 the Yugoslav official Tesanic and the Spaniard, Ortiz de Mendibil, had succumbed. Like Vadas, Lobo's reward for his courage was that he would never get another international game of any kind.

My fellow investigator, the polyglot American writer Keith Botsford, and I already knew about Inter's conniving in the 1960s. Knew that in 1964, Tesanic had taken no action at San Siro against Luis Suarez, Inter's famous Spanish playmaker, when he kicked a Borussia Dortmund player on the knee and put him out of the game. Not long after that, a Yugoslav tourist reported he had met Tesanic at an Adriatic holiday resort, and been told that Inter were paying for his holiday. Nothing was done by UEFA; any more than after what happened in 1965.

Then Ortiz de Mendibil gave two farcical goals for Inter against Liverpool, which enabled them to qualify after losing 8-1 at Anfield. Tommy Smith the tough Liverpool midfielder admits that he kicked De Mendibil all the way to the dressing rooms. There was no sequel to the scandal.

Botsford and I had long known about Vadas' experience, but when we flew to Budapest and met him in the refectory of Radio Budapest, where every football character imaginable, good or bad, seemed to work, he wouldn't talk, but said if we paid for him to come to England, then he might. It didn't happen. And it was left to the excellently young Hungarian journalist Peter Borenich, who also worked at Radio Budapest, to persuade him to tell the whole sordid story. How Solti, Inter's Hungarian fixer had offered him vast sums of money to bend the game against Real, five times the initial offer if he were to make Inter win on a penalty in extra time.

Then Solti took Vadas and his linesmen up to the villa of the Inter President, the late Angelo Moratti, alias The Great Oil Man, who gave each of them a gold watch and offered them expensive electrical products. But Vadas wouldn't be bribed. At half time in the game a furious Dezso Solti invaded his dressing room and accused him of failing to award three penalties to Inter. The game was drawn. Inter were out.

So alas was Vadas. All of which was set down in Boranich's book, Only The Ball Has A Skin. All of this, and the story of how, working for Juventus, Solti failed to bribe Lobo in Lisbon — Botsford interviewed Lobo in Portuguese — was published with great emphasis is the Sunday Times. In Italy the reaction was one of outrage. I was especially shocked by the turpitude of the late Gianni Brera, supposedly the very Pope of Italian football journalism. Far from reacting with horror, as I had hoped and expected, he wrote not a word about it, except to insult me in a weekly football paper, clearly hoping I'd never see it. But thanks to an honest Italian sports writer, I did and the feathers flew.

Subsequently, I published the whole story of The Years of the Golden Fix in my book Champions of Europe, at great length. Some years later it was republished in my anthology, Footballers Don't Cry and I referred to it at length in my autobiography, Football Memories, so generously reviewed in The Sportstar. So there was no excuse for Italian journalists to express horror and surprise about what I more recently wrote. Nor for famous Inter players of the time, such as left back Giacinto Facchetti, and forward Sandro Mazzola, both of whom I'd known and liked for years, to declare their outrage as they reportedly did. People might sue, I was told. A joke. No one has ever dared to. I don't believe for a moment that the players knew anything about the machinations of Solti, used by the serpentine Italo Allodi when Secretary of Inter and then general manager of Juventus, but how could they have avoided being aware of the furore when our investigation was published in the Sunday Times, flagged on the front page, in the summer of 1974?

Yes, there had been a farce of an investigation by UEFA, we discovered, the previous year, after Lobo had officially complained which Vadas never did. At the Atlantis Hotel in Zurich, both Lobo and Solti were interrogated by the ludicrous disciplinary sub committee. But neither was confronted with the other! After which fiasco, Hans Bangeter, then the UEFA Secretary, sent Juventus a letter thanking Juve for their cooperation and exonerating them!

The moral, if that be the word, was that you couldn't beat Gianni Agnelli, then the boss of Fiat Motors, owner of Juve and one of the most powerful men in Europe. Solti was the only one to receive any kind of punishment, being banned from any activity in football, but Juve went unharmed, Allodi escaped scot free; and continue to be treated with deference by the Italian football Press.

As a wheeler and dealer in the transfer market he was a pivotal figure. He was also — he too is dead now, his last 12 years leaving him a victim of paralysis — a shameless liar. He once told a Milanese newspaper he was sorry I kept pursuing him, since when I was ill in Florence he'd sent money to enable me to stay in Italy. Actually that was in 1954 when I had to leave Italy for operations in London and I didn't meet Allodi till 1973 in the Hotel Yugoslavia in Belgrade. Two years later in the Hotel Excelsior in Rome he approached me saying, "We've never met but I'm Italo Allodi." I was surprised that when, inexplicably, he was given the Coverciano training centre near Florence to run, he met old Florentine friends of mine who told him of my friendship with a youth coach, Mauro Franceschini — by then alas presumed murdered — heard how I'd been taken ill in Florence, and concocted his story from there.

After all these years, you might have thought that Italian football would at last have come to terms with The Years of the Golden Fix. Massimo Moratti, Angelo's son, is now Inter's President, much maligned by the fans, but surely an honest man.