Saturday, 5 November 2022



       1.     Out of Your Narrow Mind – Graham Day
       2.     Wade in the Water – Ramsey Lewis
       3.     The Day Dawned on Me – The Windmills
       4.     Spectrum is Green – Solid Space
       5.     Here Comes That Beat Again – Escape-ism
       6.     Mahawara (The Fugue) – Ahmed Abdul-Malik
       7.     Primitive – The Groupies
       8.     Tropical Hot Dog Night  – Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
       9.     Sisters – Cate Le Bon
     10.     I’m Only Asking – 28th Day
     11.     Once Twice Melody – Beach House
     12.    The Human Abstract – David Axelrod
     13.    Julia – Ramsey Lewis
     14.    Tulum – Zafer Dilek
     15.    Johnny – Jim Sullivan
     16.    Absolute Loser – Fruit Bats
     17.    Sylvie – Sylvie
     18.    Die Todten Reyten Schnell – The Prats
     19.    Rich – Yard Act
     20.    Failure Not Success – The William Loveday Intention
     21.    Cerulean – Seablite
     22.    #1 Lucky Kitty – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
     23.    How He Entered 
It was once reckoned that musicians, like athletes, were past their best by the time they hit 40, maybe even 30 depending on the sport or musical genre. Not just musicians but artists in general, but especially musicians. It was probably to do with a shorter life expectancy, born out of necessity rather than youthful exuberance. Once the 20th Century got going this no longer applied, and you could put off until tomorrow what you might otherwise do today. Then, after the Second World War, the notion of ‘living fast and dying young’ became a thing, as an expression of teenage angst.
The public lapped it up, and music journalists too, and the idea became entrenched that rock and roll was a young person’s game, which in many ways it was. If you earned your stripes, paid your dues and got in a few scrapes along the way, then maybe you’d be forgiven the crime of getting old, especially if you continued to behave as if you hadn’t. Otherwise – unless you were really talented – the surest way to ensure mythic status was to pop your clogs prematurely.
These days, age doesn’t seem to be an issue. Sleaford Mods are in their 50s, but nobody cares. Jarvis Cocker will be 60 next year, yet we still expect him to make records. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are almost 80, but if the Stones go on another tour, people won’t think anything of it. Such behaviour used to invite derision at worst, suspicion at best. It’s the same with beards.
Graham Day is no spring chicken – he used to be in a garage rock band called The Prisoners back in the 1980s – although you wouldn't know it from ‘Out of Your Narrow Mind’. He recorded it on his own during lockdown, which was a challenge (the recording, not the lockdown). He’s described the difficulties faced in not being able to record live and having to overdub the various parts using a proprietary software package called Logic Pro X. He did the drums last, otherwise there’d be nothing to play along to, but because Logic Pro works in perfect time Graham couldn’t be as loose with rhythm as he ordinarily would have liked. (It's why some musicians hate click tracks.)
I found ‘Out of Your Narrow Mind’ on a playlist somebody posted on Twitter in May (@contra_flow). I had already started my annual compilation by then and provisionally earmarked ‘Wade in the Water’ by Ramsey Lewis as the opening track. I did so because it serves as the introductory music to Nairn Across Britain, which I’d been watching on YouTube. This was in February, around the time my Cornish friend and I went on a Nairn’s London inspired pub crawl (commencing at The Victoria in Bayswater, moving on to The Barley Mow in Marylebone, The Grenadier in Belgravia, The Red Lion in Mayfair, and ending in disappointment at The Salisbury off Covent Garden). Ian Nairn was an architectural critic, writer, presenter, and an odd character. I doubt he chose ‘Wade in the Water’ to usher in his architectural ramblings, although I could be selling him short.

Sam Knee – aka ‘sceneinbetween’ – continues to be a source of inspiration. He regularly uploads videos onto Instagram of whatever’s on his stereo, and on the 7th of February that was ‘The Day Dawned on Me’ by The Windmills. From Southend, this was their debut single, and it’s a shame it’s not on Spotify. In fact, I couldn’t find it anywhere – it's since shown up on YouTube – and ended up buying the original 7-inch from Crazy Beat Records in Upminster (or rather my lady friend did on the way to see her mother, who lives close by).
Meanwhile, Ian Svenonius was promoting last year’s album, Rated Z, through the same medium. I wasn’t sure about Escape-ism, but then in late January Ian posted the entirety of ‘Rocker’s Delight’ – all 10 mins and 47 seconds of it – accompanied by a video shot by Douglas Hart (formerly of The Jesus and Mary Chain) and was convinced. It’s certainly the best Escape-ism record thus far, and it may even be the one of the finest things Ian’s ever been involved with: up there with the final Make Up album, the Scene Creamers, If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em by Weird War, and the last Chain & the Gang LP.
In March, The Quietus published an excellent piece on Ahmed Abdul-Malik, written by a chap called Daniel Spicer. On the 28th of March I placed an order with Jazzman Records for what appeared to be the only vinyl copy of East Meets West left in the country. Ahmed Abdul-Malik started out playing bass for the likes of Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Earl Hines. Claiming his father was from the Sudan (he wasn’t) Ahmed put together his own ensemble to play a fusion of jazz and Middle Eastern folk. He’s not the only person to do this – Yusef Lateef springs to mind – but he does seem to be the only jazz musician to have developed the theme so entirely.

I was pleased with how my compilation was panning out, but I wasn’t making huge progress with it so decided to listen to the expanded edition of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968 on Spotify. I didn’t bother with Disc 1, because that covers the original anthology, which I already possess. It wasn’t until I got halfway through Disc 3 that I found something that grabbed me. A lot of this music can sound much the same, but what sets ‘Primitive’ by The Groupies slightly apart is the slower tempo, pounding drums and the reverb.
In early April, I stopped by Shak’s Stax of Wax in Kingston, who happened to have on Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) by Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. Captain Beefheart is an artist I thought I couldn’t get on with, like The Sex Pistols, Primal Scream, The Ramones or Nirvana. This turns out not to be the case. ‘Candle Mambo’ was the tune that caught my attention. On listening to the whole album that very evening, I deemed ‘Tropical Hot Dog Night’ to be the choice track.
On the same day, driving either to or from Kingston, I heard ‘Sisters’ by Cate Le Bon on the radio. She had a new record out, which induced the DJ to play something from her 2013 album, Mug Museum. ‘Sisters’ is one of my favourite tunes on this playlist, and I believe it to be a very strong playlist. I also like how it follows on from Beefheart. Le Bon’s vocal isn’t as manic as Van Vliet’s, but it’s just as eccentric in its own way.
Later in April, my lady friend and I took off to Eastbourne for a few days. I hoped that maybe I’d encounter new music, but didn’t. At around the same time, Spotify made some adventurous suggestions of songs I might care to add to my compendium, such as ‘Spectrum is Green’ by Solid Space. I’m surprised it’s even on there because Solid Space wasn’t ever much of a band, releasing just a single record entitled Space Museum in 1980. ‘Spectrum Is Green’ is a reference to Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, which really is what the song is about: ‘Immediate launch, Angels two and three, standby Symphony and Rhapsody. I’ll contact Scarlet immediately, and tell him to follow in the S.P.V.’ The music itself is an example of what’s been termed ‘minimal wave’, and that might also apply to Escape-ism – hence the backdated position in the running order.
Barbara Manning used to be in a group called 28th Day who were active in the early-to-mid 1980s. In June, Sam Knee uploaded a song of theirs called ‘Pages Turn’. Very good it was too, but my subsequent investigations revealed an even better one – ‘I’m Only Asking’. 28th Day only produced one record but Barbara Manning has gone on to record plenty of other stuff since.
About two weeks earlier I’d been in Kingston again and to Banquet Records on Eden Street. They had on the new double album by the musical duo Beach House, specifically its opening title track, ‘Once Twice Melody’. Songs don’t always live up to your first memory of them but this one did, and its cinematic arrangement is a precursor to what comes next.

Beachy Head, Eastbourne

After the social austerity of the previous two years – the lockdowns and related prohibitions – I suddenly had stuff to do. Yet, counter to reason, time appeared to have slowed down. Seeing Dry Cleaning at the Kentish Town Forum in March, for example, felt by September to have occurred the previous year; the aforementioned jaunt to Eastbourne, and the walk up to Beachy Head, not far off. It could have had something to do with working at home from February through to July, tagging online archives in between projects. As interesting as it often was, it could be a bit of a drag.
‘Holy Are You’ by The Electric Prunes is surely one of the highlights of my 2000 compilation, The Ladies of Varades. Why then did it take me 22 years to delve into the works of David Axelrod, the man who wrote it? ‘The Human Abstract’ is from his second studio album, Songs of Experience, released in 1969 – a kind of symphony, inspired by the poems of William Blake. It’s not as grandiose as ‘Holy Are You’ but still possesses the same quasi-religious aura that typifies Axelrod’s oeuvre.
The segue between the last song and the next could be my finest moment. ‘The Human Abstract’ winds down gradually, leaving you guessing as to whether or not it’s actually finished. A pause, and then the strings that initiate Ramsey Lewis’s cover of ‘Julia’ by The Beatles drift in out of nowhere, proceeded by the flourish of a harp. Ramsey comes in on piano, Maurice White (of Earth, Wind and Fire) with drums, Cleveland Eaton on bass. Things get really interesting at 1 minute and 10 seconds, whereupon Maurice White moves up a gear. This is the segment The UMC’s sampled on ‘It’s Gonna Last’, testifying to anyone who doubts it that sampling is a genuine artform.
Ahmed Abdul-Malik prompted me to give Zafer Dilek another listen, a Turkish guitarist, arranger and composer known for combining elements of contemporary Western music with classical Turkish ones. I knew about him by way of The Gaslamp Killer, who uses the riff from ‘Yetke’ as the basis for ‘Nissim’, which kicks off my 2016-17 anthology. ‘Tulum’ is taken from the album Oyun Havalari which Dilek put out in 1979. Notice the unusual time signature and the sudden chord changes.
‘Johnny’ by Jim Sullivan was another Spotify recommendation. Again, the drums are integral – Earl Palmer doing the job – as are the strings, but it’s folk rock as much as anything else. Jim Sullivan made two albums but neither sold very well, which perhaps explains why he went missing in 1975, somewhere in New Mexico. His presumed death at the age of 34 has ensured a cult following. Only Sullivan could have told you whether it was worth the sacrifice.
In October, I returned to Fontainebleau with my bouldering fraternity and was introduced to Fruit Bats by The Florist, who played them in the van he drove us around in, on shuffle. Due to the random nature of the delivery, I didn’t know what I was listening to but have since been informed that it was Absolute Loser, which dates back to 2016. There are several tunes from this album that I considered for inclusion, but I settled for the title track. Its pensive mood feels indicative of the environment in which I initially heard it and begins with the line, ‘Your long distance van driving in the waning day.’

For all my talk of Spotify, a lot of what it throws up is wide of the mark. ‘Sylvie’ by Sylvie wasn’t. It’s a cover of a song by Matthews Southern Comfort but was also performed by Ben Schwab’s father, with his group Mad Anthony. Ben Schwab is Sylvie’s notional leader and he put the band together as a sort of homage to his old man’s unreleased endeavours and to the Laurel Canyon milieu in which they were recorded.
‘Die Todten Reyten Schnell’ by The Prats. Certain members of this Edinburgh based (post) punk outfit were as young as 15 when it was written, voices not yet broken, which gives it an edge. As with Solid Space, The Prats didn't last long, issuing one EP and two singles before packing it in towards the end of 1981. You can imagine The Prats being fans of The Fall and that the feeling could have been mutual. Mark E Smith would surely have approved of the references to Germany, neglected graveyards, demons, and the hunting of ‘venison or rabbit for a meal’ (echoes of ‘Jawbone and the Air-Rifle’).
I came upon these last two tunes in July either side of a record-breaking heatwave. Meteorologically, 2021 had been a disappointment, but 2022 was shaping up to be a formidable year. March was all right, April and May were decent if not spectacular, while June topped out at an impressive 31 degrees. The first week of July was about average, and then the heat began to build, culminating in an unprecedented high of 40 degrees on Tuesday the 19th. Thereafter, the temperatures fell back to the mid-to-low 20s and rose again towards the end of the month and into August. By Wednesday the 10th we were back into the 30s, at which point I was in Northern Italy where it was hot but not unpleasantly so. Conditions remained above average for the rest of the month, holding out long enough for a second Nairn-themed pub crawl on the 28th (starting off at The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping and ending at The Windmill on The Cut in Waterloo, via Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, Shad Thames and London Bridge).
So it’s a shame that on the 28th of May – the day a crew of us attended the Wide Awake festival in Brockwell Park – the maximum temperature was a meagre 18 degrees. The Florist had the idea after it was announced that Primal Scream would be headlining, to play Screamadelica in its entirety. I deliberately used Primal Scream as an example of a band I think are overrated, which I stand by. I do, however, like Screamadelica. Anyway, the tickets weren’t particularly expensive and Sweeping Promises were supposed to be playing.
A few weeks prior to the event, Sweeping Promises pulled out, dampening my enthusiasm. The day began well enough, wandering around Brixton for a bit and then stopping for a couple of pints at the Effra Social, where the sun came out. The sun stayed out long enough for us to see Yard Act in it, who were great. As were Primal Scream. I thought Bobby Gillespie might struggle in an outdoor setting like Brockwell Park, but he didn’t. Screamadelica was even better than I remembered, there had been a nice atmosphere about the place throughout, and we went home satisfied.

Shad Thames

‘Failure Not Success’ by The William Loveday Intention is another tune lifted from Contraflow’s playlist, and the second from Billy Childish I've included on one of mine (the first being ‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr. Hitler’ by Wild Billy Childish & The Blackhands in 2013). ‘Failure not Success’ is taken from the A B C D EP and recounts Billy wearing his mother's dress as a teenager, which may or may not be true.
At the end of October, my lady friend and I went to The Lexington in North London for ‘Chickfactor 30’ featuring Seablite, Birdie and The Umbrellas. Debsey Wykes from Birdie used to be in Dolly Mixture, and I’d seen in her ‘in conversation’ with Gary Crowley at The Exchange in Twickenham on a wet and windy night back in February, which seemed an age ago now. The contrast between the winter and the exceptionally hot summer, as well as the excursion to France that brought with it unseasonably warm weather, only added to the sense of imparity and displacement of time. The Umbrellas, who appeared on my compilation for 2021, were the main draw. Seablite, on the other hand, were an unknown quantity. They reminded me of Split-era Lush – my preferred vintage – but with better hair (not that Lush had bad hair). A terrific gig all round in a year that wasn’t short of them.
I’ve never seen The Brian Jonestown Massacre live but will do in 2023 (in the company of the former cohabitant from Brighton, in Brighton). ‘#1 Lucky Kitty’ is taken from Fire Doesn’t Grow on Trees, which came out in June, although ‘#1 Lucky Kitty’ has been up on YouTube since late 2020. Anton Newcombe is in his mid-50s but shows no signs of letting up: Fire Doesn’t Grow on Trees is The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s tenth album in as many years.
On the 1st of May I went to see Tindersticks at Royal Festival Hall. They didn’t play 'Nectar', 'Marbles' (regrettable), 'Talk to Me', 'Cherry Blossoms' (understandable), 'Bathtime', 'Can We Start Again?' or anything from The Hungry Saw (perplexing). We did get 'City Sickness', 'Her', 'She’s Gone', 'My Sister', 'Another Night In', 'Harmony Around My Table' and 'How He Entered'. On balance, not a bad return, although I only acquainted myself with those last two songs earlier in the year when I booked tickets for the gig in question. Truth be told, I lost track of what Tindersticks were doing after The Hungry Saw in 2008. Yet their first three records have a hold on me to this day, they’re not getting any younger, and it's reasonable to suppose that I might never see them play live again.

[Listen to here.]

Thursday, 20 October 2022



On the face of it, A.S. Roma are one of Italy’s younger football clubs. In fact, they were the result of a merger between three pre-existing associations: Foot Ball Club di Roma, formed in 1901, Società Sportiva Alba-Audace, in 1907, and Fortitudo-Pro Roma S.G.S., in 1908. The union came about in 1927 on the orders of the National Fascist Party, who were determined that the capital be suitably represented in a revamped Divisione Nazionale; both Società Sportiva Alba-Audace and Fortitudo-Pro Roma S.G.S. had been relegated from the same division in 1927, while Foot Ball Club di Roma had been plying their trade in the Prima Divisione, the de facto second tier of Italian football. Foot Ball Club di Roma would provide the infrastructure, financial muscle and the new club’s colours, while Alba and Fortitudo-Pro Roma supplied most of the players.
Foot Ball Club di Roma had worn carmine red shirts with yellow trim, matching socks and white shorts. A.S. Roma’s strip was to be the same, except with black socks. Within a year of the club’s formation, red and yellow striped jerseys were introduced. Within another two they were gone, the original configuration having been reinstated in time for Serie A’s inaugural season.
In 1938, the socks were altered to match the shirts, and it was in these colours that Roma won their first scudetto four years later. A period of decline ensued, culminating in relegation, which may or may not have prompted the move to black shorts and socks. Roma were promoted the following season as champions, but they persisted with the black shorts and socks for another couple of years before reverting to type.
The 1960s saw only minor alterations: various shades of red, plain collars, the addition of the coccarda to celebrate Roma’s victory in the Coppa Italia in 1964. Then in 1968-69 something peculiar happened. At the insistence of the coach, Helenio Herrera, Roma inverted their kit for the second half of the season. In other words, the away shirt became the home and the home became the away. This reversal remained in place until Herrera left the club in 1973.
The next significant change came about in 1978. Adidas, who had succeeded Lacoste as technical sponsor the previous year, produced a strip consisting of orange shirts paired with red shorts and socks. About midway through the season, Pouchain then took over from Adidas and brought in what's become known as the 'ice-lolly' jersey: bright red with white sleeves and yellow and orange stripes across the upper torso. Designed by Piero Gratton, it was all part of a re-branding exercise that included a contemporary club crest  the lupetto, or ‘wolf's head’. (Pouchain would do something similar for Lazio, Palermo, Udinese, Ascoli, Bari and Cesena.)
Stuff like this can rub traditionalists up the wrong way, which might explain the brevity of it. In 1980, Roma joined up with a company called Playground, who opted for a more traditional jersey, combining it with shorts of the same colour, setting a trend that would last throughout the 1980s and much of the '90s.


Contrary to the impression the 1990 World Cup may have left, Adidas weren't at the time particularly innovative when it came to designing kit for Italian football clubs (Bari between 1990 and ’92 being the exception). They also seemed to be losing business. In 1989-90, the German firm supplied gear for no less than five Serie A clubs; by 1995-96, just one. In 1991-92, they had contracts with two: AC Milan and AS Roma.
You'd have thought these shirts would have adhered to the same template, but they didn’t. Instead, Adidas appeared to take inspiration from the companies that preceded them: Kappa at Milan and Ennerre at Roma. On closer inspection, this looks to be less the case with Roma. The colour scheme remained the same, as did the sponsor, but there were a number of subtle diversions.
First off, there was the coccarda, reward for the winning the previous season’s Coppa Italia, sewn upon the left breast. This in turn necessitated a repositioning of the badge – Gratton’s lupetto. As was often the case, the solution was to move it the left shoulder. Moreover, it was now printed, in yellow, as opposed to the stitched, as Ennerre had done it.
Next up was the fabric. After doing away with acrylic-based lanetta, Ennerre had issued Roma with two shirts, both made from polyester: a micropatterned version and a plain silky one (just as they also did for Napoli). Adidas used polyester too, but with a matt finish and no pattern. The collar, meanwhile, was made of cotton – or a fabric masquerading as cotton. At Milan, they’d fashioned the V-neck in this manner, but not the actual collar, which was made from the same material as the body of the shirt.
Finally – and this may not have even been Adidas’s idea – the sponsor’s name, Barilla, was printed in yellow, as opposed to dye-sublimated in white as it had been. To top it all off, Adidas's iconic three stripes running along the shoulder.

Roma the finished the season in fifth place, qualifying for the UEFA Cup, but were knocked out of the Coppa Italia in the quarter finals. The coccarda now absent, the badge was shifted back to its regular position. Thereafter, Adidas experimented with ‘Pompeian red’ and orange as a combination, before ASICS stepped into the fold in 1994.

Friday, 16 September 2022


In The Football Grounds of Great Britain, Simon Inglis surmises that, 'Plymouth, surely, has the ground location which most clubs would die for.' If he were to ever write a similar tome regarding the football grounds of Italy then he might say something similar about the Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia in Como. But whereas the milieu at Home Park is verdant, in Como it is riparian, overlooking the lake named after the town, with pre-alpine mountains visible beyond.
The stadium itself isn’t pretty, although it once was – certainly as far as Lando Ferretti, president of the Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano, was concerned, who thought it ‘divinely beautiful’. Not that the ground had anything to do with the Olympics; it was born out the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND), a Fascist initiative aimed at encouraging recreational activities among the populace (which might explain how its architect, Giovanni Greppi, ended up co-designing the colossal ossuaries at Monte Grappa and Redipuglia).
Actually, when the OND was established in 1925, the year work started on the Singaglia, it was a politically benign organisation. By 1927, the year the work was completed, it was not. In 1932, the Opera Nazionale Balilla – OND for kids – assumed control of the ground as its regional headquarters and commissioned Gianni Mantero to add on a swimming pool, gym, fencing room and offices. As part of the deal, the original, neo-classical facade was replaced with something more in keeping with the vogue for architettura razionale, which was an offshoot of modernism.
At any rate, the stadium as a whole consisted of a 450-metre running track and a 500-metre cycling track encircling a football pitch of approximately 7,200 square metres, with room for approximately 6,000 spectators, the majority of which were located in the Tribuna Centrale, the rest in the Distinti opposite. Short on space, the Distinti was expanded sometime during the 1940s – just the two ends of it initially, with a view over the lake in between. By the 1950s, the space had been filled, with narrow apertures separating the newer portion of the terrace from the two older sections. This is pretty much how the stadium looked when Como went about rebuilding the Tribuna in 1990, soon after the club had been relegated into Serie C1.


By the turn of the century, the ground was in a mess. The concrete cycle track existed in segments, behind the goals, with temporary stands mounted in front of them. Above the Curva Azzura another bank of provisional terracing, looming precariously over the remains of the cycling track. Something had to be done, and in 2002 the Curva Azzurra was dismantled and a pair of steel-trussed terraces erected in its place, at a slight angle to each other. The Curva Monumento came down in 2003 and was rebuilt almost as it was, tracing the perimeter of the old bicycle track, which was demolished completely. This left room for more prefabricated terracing running parallel to the Distinti and the Curva Monumento, giving a total capacity of about 14,000.


The Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia presents as architectural bricolage, because it is architectural bricolage. Every augmentation has been circumscribed by that which preceded it. The Tribuna seems unusually placed, with a large empty space in front of it where the cycling and athletics tracks once stood. Either side, Gianni Mantero’s asymmetric utilities, painted terracotta red, with a curved, grid-framed bay window protruding from each, running the full height of the building, but at different points.
The Distinti looks like it does because the curvature of the stand, as prescribed by the aforementioned cycling track, prevents prefabricated seating from being installed along its whole length; the gaps aren’t deep enough at either end. The Curva Azzura (or Curva Como, as it is now known) is comprised of two separate banks of terracing – their seats a brilliant blue – because the arc allows for it, and a greater capacity is achieved as a result. The Curva Monumento maintains a low profile, maybe because planning regulations dictated that it couldn't be built any higher than the edifice it displaced.
The cumulative effect is of not being hemmed in, of a ground that feels open and connected to its environment. It is an environment worth feeling connected to. Not just the hills and the lake and the trees, but some of the other buildings too: the seaplane hangar behind the Curva Como; the rowing club (Canottieri Lario) opposite the Distinti; the war memorial (Monumenti ai Caduti) just behind the Curva Monumento; an apartment building, designed by the rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni, facing the entrance to the Tribuna; the facade of the Tribuna itself, made from Musso marble.

The Distinti

Should Como 1907 make it into Serie A – they’re presently in Serie B – the Sinigaglia will need modernising. The problem primarily is there aren’t enough seats. Officially, the capacity stands at 13,602, and I assume the upper terrace of the Distinti doesn’t contribute towards that number, for it is unseated and unoccupied. Instead, the word ‘COMO’ painted in blue, with the red and white-crossed flag of the city in its midst. That would soon go, and who knows what else, which would be a shame, but perhaps a necessary one.

Sunday, 21 August 2022


The 1986 FIFA World Cup was supposed to be held in Colombia. In late 1982, the prospective host withdrew from its commitment citing 'economic difficulties' (actually asymmetric internal armed conflict) and Mexico was awarded the privilege in their place. From the perspective of the sport, the tournament went on to be a great success – the collected images of Diego Maradona are some of the most iconic of the sport – but it’s been said that the physical infrastructure was found wanting. The fact of the matter is that Mexico wasn’t afforded the time to adequately prepare for the job – just three years. Most of the venues dated back to the 1960s; some were even older. Throw a major earthquake into the mix, eight months before the competition was due to start, and one begins to think that maybe the Mexican Football Federation pulled off quite a coup. Furthermore, despite their age some of the stadiums were actually very impressive. The Estadio Olímpico Universitario, completed in 1952, is an extraordinary building, while the mighty Estadio Azteca, opened in 1966, is one of the most imposing structures of its kind.
Such tribulations were unlikely to befall Italy’s preparations for hosting the world cup in 1990 (although it is a place vulnerable to seismic activity). Not only did the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) have the more usual six years in which to prepare for the tournament, but Serie A was the preeminent league of its day. There was the feeling that this could be the greatest World Cup ever.
The Italians elected to use the same number of stadia as the Mexicans. Of those twelve, two were new-builds (the Stadio delle Alpi in Turin and Stadio San Nicola in Bari), another two may have well been (the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris in Genoa and Rome’s Stadio Olimpico), while the remaining eight were enlarged, reconfigured and refurbished. This posed various problems, and architects came up with various solutions ranging from the ostentatious through to the subtle, by way of the ingenious, with varying degrees of success. But it was never about volume. What the FIGC was paying for was architecture.
In the end, the quality of the actual football was disappointing. The tournament saw the lowest goals-per-game average for a World Cup and what at the time was a record of 16 red cards. More to the point, it wasn’t always pretty. There was mention of the ball – the Adidas Etrusco Unico – being unfavourably light, harder to control. Such talk is de rigueur these days, but back then you felt there might be something in it. Try and find some match footage from Mexico ‘86 – Brazil v. France will do – and see how comfortable the players look in possession. Then watch Brazil v. Argentina from Italia ’90 and count how many shots fly high and wide.
But I digress.
A number have problems have since arisen. For one, the quality of the original construction work was not always of a high standard. Within just a few seasons, terracing that had been completely refinished for the world cup was crumbling underfoot and reinforced concrete supports were starting to spall. Second, Serie A is no longer Europe’s wealthiest league: it’s the fourth behind England’s Premiership, Spain’s La Liga and the German Bundesliga. Less money to spend on players means less success means dwindling attendances means less revenue to spend on the upkeep of the stadium. Finally, the oval stadium format which permeates throughout much of Italy has slowly become redundant as European clubs have embraced the rectangular ‘English style’ of stadium, which deems a running track an encumbrance. (Italian football grounds have historically been built using public funds. For this reason, local authorities have reasonably insisted that they cater for athletics.)
In 1990, the Stadio delle Alpi and Stadio San Nicola were admired for their architectural adventurousness. Today, the former has been demolished and the Juventus Stadium erected in its place, while the latter presents a sorry sight, many of its Teflon roof sections blowing in the wind or ripped from their fastenings entirely. To be fair, the grounds they replaced also had athletics tracks. However, the Stadio Comunale and Stadio Della Vittoria were smaller stadiums. At full capacity, a running track isn’t so much of a problem. The Stadio delle Alpi and Stadio San Nicola was/is never full to capacity.
It’s not so much that the Italian authorities made a mistake but missed an opportunity. It’s a moot point as far as Verona or Bologna or Napoli or Cagliari are concerned, because Verona and Bologna and Napoli and Cagliari didn’t have new grounds built for them. The only cities that really benefitted, in that they were left with stadiums that anticipated the emerging trend, were Milan and Genoa.

When Stadio Giuseppe Meazza – or plain ‘San Siro’ as it was called up until 1980, whereupon it was renamed after the former AC and Inter player who died the previous year – was built in 1925, it was unusual for not encompassing a running track. The reason why is because the San Siro was privately funded by a consortium headed by A.C. Milan’s then president Piero Pirelli – of the homonymous tyre company – enabling them to build in any style they pleased. They opted for the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’ comprising of four rectilinear stands, including a covered main stand, and space for 35,000 spectators, 20,000 on seats (the remaining 10,000 stood upon parterres situated in front of the three uncovered tribuna). Possibly because of its configuration, the ground proved very popular and, up until the inauguration of Rome’s Stadio Olimpico in 1937, was the venue of choice for the national football team. Realising its financial potential, in 1935 the local council purchased the ground and set about increasing its size still further. By 1937, the smaller goal-end terraces had been extended and all four stands connected by way of four curved corner sections, allowing for a capacity approaching 65,000. In 1947 local rivals Internazionale became tenants, ushering in a period of Milanese semi-domination with four of next available eight scudettos ending up in the city, honours even. (The 1949 Superga air disaster certainly had something to do with this, wiping out the Grande Torino who’d dominated Serie A since the end of the war, and to an extent before it).
The next phase of development happened in 1955 and would come to define the stadium. The plan initially was to raise the capacity to 150,000 by way of two additional tiers. Perhaps realising the sheer ambition of the scheme – or the cost – the plans were retrenched. Instead, a single, continuous freestanding tier was built around the existing structure, completely enveloping it, making enough room for a mere 82,000 spectators. Nothing particularly innovative going on here – Real Madrid had put together something similar eight years earlier at what was then known as the Nuevo Estadio Chamartín – except architect Armando Ronca had carefully considered the question of access, the economy of space, and aesthetics. Nineteen 200 metre long helical ramps were attached to the stadium’s exterior, each rising gradually to a height of nearly 20 metres. These parallel walkways led directly to individual vomitories providing access to the second tier at equidistant points, thus displacing the crowds that would otherwise have gathered outside. More than that, it gave the stadium a visual identify to set it apart from other football grounds; it became a thing of architectural interest in its own right. Ronca’s most recognised work is probably the Eurotel in Marano (1958-1960) which appears to have taken its inspiration from Le Corbusier’s Unité d'habitation. It should be appreciated that in Italy the difference between architetto (architect) and ingegnere edile (building engineer) is often indistinct. The San Siro is at once modernist and utilitarian, which often amounts to the same thing.
Italy’s winning bid for the 1990 world cup brought with it terms and conditions. If the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza was to host the opening game (restitution for the final being played in Rome) then it would need an all-seated capacity of at least 80,000, two thirds of which would have to be under cover. The Milan Municipal Administration decided against building something bespoke and awarded the architects Ragazzi, Hoffer and Finzi the task of surmounting these obstacles by way of refurbishment.
The issue of space was dealt with in the same way it was 30-odd years earlier: a single freestanding tier was built around the existing structure, completely enveloping it. Ostensibly, this upper gallery is a continuation of the one already in place, but it rests upon eleven cylindrical, reinforced-concrete pillars aligned to the stadium’s curved rectangular perimeter. These colossal towers have their own ramps, spiralling upwards in accord with the existing architecture. It should be noted that this third tier is incomplete: the stadium is hampered on one side due to the presence of the racecourse – hence the odd number of supporting pillars – and so the east side of the ground remains as it was. An all-seated capacity of 85,700 is achieved nonetheless.
As well as propping up the third tier, the four (larger) corner towers support four perpendicular steel girders, their ends protruding horizontally beyond the polycarbonate fabric of the roof itself, which hangs above the stadium like an open-sided pavilion. The burgundy-matt finish of the steel complements the pale grey patina of the reinforced concrete, the effect accentuated against the backdrop of a cloudless azure sky. It’s a readily attainable perspective: San Siro – the district from whence the stadium first got its name – is suburban, low-rise, remote, and to the west of the ground lies a vast expanse of concrete from which the sheer scale of the building becomes apparent.

The parallels between A.C. Milan and Genoa C.F.C. are manifold. Both clubs began life as sort of English expatriate associations with a side-line in cricket. In each instance, the English orthography would prevail: Milan rather than Milano, Genoa instead of Genova. Milan Cricket and Football Club proceeded to privately build an exclusively football orientated ground, and so too did Genoa Cricket and Football Club. These same grounds were subsequently sold to their respective local authorities and were also renamed after bygone players. And just as A.C. Milan would end up sharing grounds with their local rivals F.C. Internazionale Milano, in 1946 Genoa C.F.C. invited the newly formed U.C. Sampdoria to play at theirs.
Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris began life in 1911 as the Campo di Via del Piano (also known as Campo Marassi) and was then little more than a green surrounded by a horse racing track overlooked by a single stand with a gable in the middle. In 1928, the pitch was rotated by 90 degrees and work began on what would become the Stadio Comunale. By the time Brazil and Spain faced off in the first round of the 1934 World Cup, the ground’s capacity had risen from a notional 28,000 to a substantial 51,000 and had been entitled in honour of former player (and engineer) Luigi Ferraris, killed in action during the Great War. At this point, the stadium wasn’t too dissimilar in aspect to the San Siro – rectilinear terracing with a vaguely neo-classical façade – but whereas the stands at San Siro were being joined up to form a coherent hole, the work at Comunale Luigi Ferraris displayed no overarching strategy. Cantilevered roof extensions were later added to each end of the main stand and spiral walkways providing access to the goal-end terraces, achieving a symmetry of sorts. In 1951 an open double-decker stand was erected along the stadium’s east side, facing the covered single-tiered stand opposite. The ground as it then was could accommodate 55,773 spectators, 40,000 of them seated, which is impressive considering the physical impediments that surround the site: housing tenements, the Villa Mussi Piantelli, the Bisagno River, even a prison.

If the Luigi Ferraris had been a stadium in Mexico in 1983, it would have been left very much alone and may even have gone on to host a quarter final. Had it been located anywhere else in Italy but the undulating and beset city of Genoa, they’d have probably knocked it down and replaced it with something on the edge of town. In the event, the Luigi Ferraris was knocked down but then rebuilt where it had formerly stood, and because there was nowhere else for Genoa and Sampdoria to play in the interim, it was literally done one half at a time. At no point did it not exist, but by the time it was finished the ground was completely transformed.
But why was Luigi Ferraris rebuilt at all? It was already large enough to host international football (just) and granted no less protection from the elements than Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence or Stadio Renato Dall'Ara in Bologna. Did its piecemeal design finally catch up with it? Was the stadium just a little too ‘English’ for its own good? Whatever the reasons, the FIGC got their money’s worth. Vittorio Gregotti was given the job of sorting it out and went about imposing his trademark rectangular prisms (see the Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca) upon the limited space available.
If the Giuseppe Meazza reflects a moderately Brutalist, post-war impression of modernism, then the Luigi Ferraris is pure pre-war Bauhaus functionalism; where Giuseppe Meazza embraces curves and oblique lines, Luigi Ferraris is bound by right angles. The structure appears as rectangles as the sum of squares, and the motif is repeated throughout: four square gaps in the external wall behind each goal-end terrace; six protruding square-shaped stairwells above the stadium’s main entrance; large square apertures in the sidewalls revealing ramped walkways behind; fifteen smaller quadratic openings in the walls diagonally opposite; rectilinear lines etched into the concrete itself. Holding this diffuse geometry together are four rectangular towers, which support the roof by way of white steel trusses and allow the building to prevail upon the skyline. The roofs themselves are formed of an indistinguishable metal framework but are countersunk and not visible from street level.
Unlike the Giuseppe Meazza, which depends on distance to be appreciated, this assemblage of terracotta red boxes would look adrift upon the wastelands of San Siro. In among the compact, quadrate edifices of Marassi, the order of the Luigi Ferraris makes perfect sense. It can be viewed in sections; it is to be viewed in sections. It is not the sum of its parts but a collection of perpendicular vignettes comprised of linear planes. Under the same conditions, the Giuseppe Meazza would have an intimidating effect and might itself be confused with something like a multi-storey car park.

Over recent years, AC Milan and Inter have entertained the possibility of abandoning their home in favour of a brand new build, more than likely on the periphery of a motorway somewhere. The fashion for constructing stadia in the most insalubrious of surroundings aside, the problem with the Giuseppe Meazza is that it’s too big. Over the course 2016-17, Internazionale and AC Milan averaged an attendance of 46,620 and 40,294 respectively (although when they played each other approximately 78,000 fans turned up). There’s also an impression of neglect. Regardless, the intimation that the building could have run its course is an alarming one. Not for a moment would anybody entertain tearing down the Duomo di Milano, no matter what its condition, so why is the thinking different here?
The same goes for the Luigi Ferraris. Genoa’s terrain limits either club’s options, but I’ve read of plans to install strange viewing galleries upon the roofs, amounting to what would be an act of architectural vandalism. Such schemes are indicative of a trend that regards modern architecture as something ephemeral, to be disposed of in accordance with the vagaries of fashion. Everybody wants to build a Veltins-Arena all of a sudden, despite the fact that the Veltins-Arena could be easily mistaken for an electrical wholesalers’ superstore on an industrial estate. Armando Ronca and Vittorio Gregotti’s efforts deserve more. 

Postscript: In 2022 I visited Stadio Giuseppe Meazza expecting to find it in a bad way. I didn’t. And yet its days are apparently numbered. The decision to award the American firm Populous with a contract to build the ground's replacement is indicative of humankind's profligacy and appetite for novelty – for building anew for its own sake. To say that the Giuseppe Mezza is no longer 'fit for purpose' is defeatist, inarticulate, lazy and patently untrue. The structure is sound, the viewing angles are perfect and there's more room for manoeuvre than there is in many newer grounds (it is after all a UEFA Category 4 accredited stadium). If an architect can't find a way to put in place whatever amenities are supposedly lacking then they're not much of an architect. Moreover, if anybody makes a claim for sustainability, they're having a laugh. The environmental and economic impact of tearing down and disposing of a ground of this size will be massive, not to mention the cost of putting in place the foundations for what follows. And if you think I’m being naïve, cynical or overly romantic, then consider this. Stadio Giuseppe Meazza might be the most iconic and recognisable stadium in Europe. In an age where branding counts for so much, what sense does it make to get rid of it?

[The body of this article was originally published in February 2017.]

Tuesday, 28 June 2022



When the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) set up the Terza Divisione in 1922, the commune of Ascoli Piceno didn’t have a team in it. Nor had they in the league that preceded it – the Promozione – which excluded clubs southeast of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. Then in 1923, the FICG established regional divisions in Lazio, Puglia, Marche and Campania. Marche and Campania had enough teams to justify the inclusion of two groups – same as the northern leagues. By 1926, Marche had just one, comprising Gruppo Sportivo Vis Pesaro, Vigor Senigallia, Unione Sportiva Sambenedettese, and Circolo Sportivo Vigor, who were from Ascoli Piceno.
Circolo Sportivo Vigor actually started off as Candido Augusto Vecchi in 1898, named in honour of a local Garibaldian colonel. Typically, football was not the association’s main concern, cycling was, and only friendly games against minor local teams were played. The change of name came about in 1905, for what Ascoli Calcio’s website mysteriously describes as ‘political reasons’.
It wasn’t until 1919 that football became the primary focus, and the Unione Sportiva Ascolana was the result. Their cause was helped further when the municipality elected to build a stadium. The Comunale dei Giardini was completed in 1926, the same year the club was granted entry into the Terza Divisione (Marche Section), having reverted to their previous designation. Circolo Sportivo Vigor subsequently came top of their group and so were promoted to the Seconda Divisione (Group South), which is where they stayed for next few seasons.
In 1929, they changed their name again, to Società Sportiva Ascoli, and won promotion into the Prima Divisione off the back of it. Unfortunately, due to the restructuring of the leagues, the Prima Divisione was the first division in name only and was in effect Italian football’s third tier. Divided into six interregional groups, the top two teams in the four Northern groups were then split across another two groups with the winner of each being allowed into Serie B. The same theory was applied to the two Southern groups, but with just one spot to play for.
Ascoli never made it beyond the preliminary stages before demoting itself in 1933, despite having just finished sixth in a group of fourteen. The following year they went bankrupt, which may explain the decision to voluntarily drop down a league. If that wasn’t bad enough, the club re-registered as Fascio Giovanile di Combattimento di Ascoli, albeit just for a season. The second division then became the first, so the first could become Serie C, and by 1938 Ascoli were competing in it.
We can only assume that throughout all of this Ascoli, under whichever guise, were wearing black and white striped shirts. ‘The social colours are black and white,’ is the only thing Ascoli’s website has to say on the subject, and there are photographs taken in the 1940s to corroborate this. In any case, after the end of the war Ascoli carried on where they’d left off, but struggled. In 1948 they were relegated to the Promozione, and in 1955 to the Promozione Regionale. To stop the rot, the club merged with the Società Sportiva Lillo Del Duca to become Associazione Sportiva Del Duca Ascoli. It seemed to do the trick, and by 1959 they were playing in group B of Serie C.
It would take just over a decade for Ascoli to finally make it into Serie B, and as soon as they did they changed their name to Ascoli Calcio 1898. These were the beginnings of the club’s glory years, when they punched above their weight (Ascoli Piceno is not a big place). In 1972-73 – their first season in Serie B – Ascoli came fourth, missing out on promotion by a single point. The next year they made sure of it, coming second, equal to the champions, Varese, on points, but not goal difference.
As debut seasons in Serie A go, 1974-75 wasn’t bad one. Ascoli placed 12th in what was at that time a 16-team league, and commissioned a new badge. Whereas their previous insignia had involved some sort of shield – split down the middle with black and white vertical stripes occupying one half, a rendering of a castle the other – this iteration was circular with ‘A.S. ASCOLI 1898’ written around its periphery. In 1976 they finished 14th and were relegated.

Within a couple of years, Ascoli were back in Serie A, as winners of Serie B, wearing gear supplied by Admiral – the English firm’s naval trademark appended to the right side of the chest. The next season (still in Serie A) the club hooked up with Pouchain. What Pouchain did for Italian football is a subject in itself, revolutionising the very notion of what a football strip could be. Graphic designer Piero Gratton was the man responsible, and for Ascoli he got rid of the castle and replaced it with a cartoon woodpecker (the team’s nickname is I Picchi – 'The Woodpeckers'). Unfortunately, the partnership lasted just two years, whereupon Ascoli partnered up with the Italian jeans company POP84, who promptly ditched Gratton’s distinctive motif.
A contract with Adidas followed in 1984, and the introduction of another new badge. Set within a green, rectangular border with rounded corners, a woodpecker was depicted in profile with a modernist simplicity of which Gratton would surely have approved. On the downside, Adidas’s tenure would be marred by the presentation of the club’s commercial sponsors: first Olio San Giorgio, slapped across the chest like an afterthought, and then Norditalia, written in a jarringly Gothic script. Both versions were V-necked, neither had a collar.
After a brief sojourn in Serie B, Ascoli switched to Uhlsport. The shirt was all right, with a narrower stripe and a black collar, but was again let down by the sponsor: MICROMAX written in white on black in an indistinguishable font. Adidas returned in 1989 and used the same design as before, although the new sponsor, COCIF, was easier on the eye than the previous incumbents. Relegation ensued.

In 1991, after Walter Casagrande’s 22 goals helped secure another promotion, Ascoli Calcio signed up with Ennerre (NR). At once, industrial washing manufacturer IMESA climbed on board as commercial sponsor. Utilising the template Ennerre had provided for Napoli, Atalanta and Roma the previous season, the shirt suddenly looked the business. In IMESA, Ascoli at last had a typeface that worked: round, bold, uppercase, with a red dot where the horizontal bar of the letter 'A' would usually be. The collar was now white, as was the neckline, and stripes were of a satisfying gauge. Finally, Ennerre’s green logo complimented the green outline of Ascoli’s stylised badge, which they would soon relinquish.
Ascoli Calcio went straight back down but this time didn’t bounce straight back up. IMESA jumped ship, COCIF were reinstated, and in 1995 the club dropped down into Serie C wearing kit made by Admiral. The delineated woodpecker was wheeled out for the club's centenary in 1998, sewn onto the right sleeve, and was then gone again.