The turn at Inter

Why should we not raise a glass to Inter Milan owner Massimo Moratti for keeping his club clean in the current MATCH FIXING scandal? His father Angelo Moratti, after all, believed that when it came to the European Cup, referees were there to be bribed.

Gira e rigura is an old Italian saying, meaning it turns and turns again. Almost vertiginously in the case of Moratti, father and son. Angelo Moratti, for some successful years the President and patron of Internazionale and known as `Il Granpetrolifero' (the Great Oil Man), had a ruthless approach to football. When it came especially to the European Cup, referees were there to be bribed and this he and his acolytes did with some success, not least when it came to return European Cup semi-finals, played at San Siro.

Moratti used the serpentine Italo Allodi, conniving Secretary of the club and a compulsive liar, who in turn deployed the Hungarian fixer, Deso Solti. Sometimes, Moratti intervened himself — fruitlessly, as we shall see in the case of Hungary's Gyorgy Vadas — and he saw to it that Inter bought and bribed their way to European Cups.

In 1964, a Yugoslav referee called Tesanic failed to expel the Inter playmaker, Spain's Luis Suarez, after he had ruthlessly kicked the Borussia Dortmund right-half out of the game. The following year, it was Liverpool who suffered. Ortis de Mendibil, the Spanish referee, allowed one Inter goal to be scored directly from an indirect free kick. Another Inter goal was scored when Peiro, also a Spaniard, was permitted to kick the ball out of the hands of the Liverpool 'keeper, Tommy Lawrence. So Liverpool, who had won 3-1 at Anfield in the first leg only three days after winning the FA Cup at Wembley, went down and out 3-0. A disgusted Tommy Smith, Liverpool's tough guy in midfield, confirmed to me that at the end, he kicked de Mendibil all the way back to the dressing room.

But Vadas in 1966, before the return semi-final versus Real Madrid, was made of sterner stuff. Even when Solti brought him to Moratti's villa, where he and his linesman were offered huge bribes and electronic equipment then unknown in Hungary, he wouldn't succumb. At half time in the game, which was eventually drawn thus enabling Real to qualify, Solti invaded Vadas' dressing room, spitting fury. In the small hours, in bed at his hotel, Vadas was phoned and abused by the then Secretary of the Hungarian Federation, who was in on the fix.

It was unfortunate that Vadas, unlike Francisco Marques Lobo when approached on behalf of Juventus in 1973, did not report what had occurred. Much good did it do either of them, for neither got another international game. Indeed, even as late as the mid-1970s, getting information out of Vadas was like getting blood out of stone. My polyglot investigative colleague Keith Botsford and I eventually pinned down Vadas in Budapest, at the Budapest Radio building; but it took the persistence of Peter Borenich, a talented young local journalist, to persuade Vadas at long last to talk and tell the sorry tale of his honesty and decency being trampled underfoot. If only he had spoken up at the time.

So Inter, in fact, had a far more tarnished record than ever did Juventus. Yet in the present repugnant tale of corruption among the big Italian clubs, Inter do not figure at all. Even after the plenitude of taped conversations that embroiled Juve, above all, with the appalling Luciano Moggi as villain-in-chief, Lazio, Fiorentina and to some extent, Milan. All of which, I submit, redounds powerfully to the credit of the much-maligned current owner of Inter, Massimo Moratti, son of the amoral Angelo.

It has been all too easy to label Massimo as mere `figlio di papa', daddy's boy, as Inter under his aegis has slumped from one unsuccessful reason to another, unable to win the scudetto for over a decade and a half. Consistently the butt of the fans, the hapless Massimo eventually sought refuge behind the towering figure of Giacinto Facchetti, once the adventurous goal scoring left-back of the Inter team which had all that dubious success in the 1960s. But it is Moratti, like his father, who supplies the money, and it is Moratti who is inevitably the real power behind the somewhat ersatz throne. And why should we not raise a glass to him, for keeping Inter clean, for having nothing to do with the slimy finagling which went on under the allegedly `Nice Pinocchio of Italian football', Luciano Moggi? Surely the temptation must have been there and surely it must have been resisted.

By an odd coincidence, the very day before the Italian tribunal emitted its draconian sentences, I was visited by Keith Botsford, whom I had not seen for years. Needless to say we discussed those turbulent years when we crossed and re-crossed Europe in search of evidence in the Lobo-Solti affair.

The irony being that we were both long-term fans of Italian football and deep lovers of Italy. Keith, in fact, reminded that Gianni Agnelli, the power behind Juventus, was on his mother's side a cousin! Visiting from Boston, where he has been working at a university, he was imminently on his way to retire to Costa Rica. Plainly we were pleased that justice had caught up with Juventus at last; though it never did catch up with Angelo Moratti's Inter.

I was reminded of 1980 and the Toto Nero scandal when two small time Roman crooks, Trinca and Crociano, had easy access to any ritiro, or training hotel, of any of the top clubs; where scores of leading players took bribes to bend matches. I was reminded of the morning I went in all good faith down to a sports hall by the Tiber where the miscreants were to be tried. Only to find, like Burt Lancaster in the last scene of `The Swimmer', that every gate was locked. At the last moment it was found that sporting fraud didn't constitute a criminal offence! Not now, though.