Saturday, 9 October 2021

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: PIACENZA CALCIO, 1990-92

 





Piacenza Football Club was formed in 1919, the result of a merger between two Piacentino clubs – Giovine Italia and Unione Football Club Piacenza – under the stewardship of an eighteen year-old student by the name of Giovanni Dosi. After registering with the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), they were granted admittance into the 1919/20 La Promozione Emiliana, came out on top and were promoted into the Prima Categoria wearing red and white kit.
The Emilian section of the Prima Categoria was separated into two groups of five. Piacenza participated in Group A, drawn against Modena, Parma, Reggiana and Carpi, and finished third, which wasn’t enough to qualify for the next round. The following season the football federation split in two, with many of the smaller clubs remaining with the FIGC and the larger, more successful teams breaking away to form the Prima Divisione, overseen by the newly created Confederazione Calcistica Italiana (CCI). Piacenza won their three-team qualifying group, ahead of Parma and Mantovana, but came last in the regional finals behind SPAL, Virtus Bolognese and Parma.
The schism between the competing associations was resolved in 1922 by way of the Colombo Compromise, which had the effect of consigning Piacenza to a lower, second division – a sort of regional Serie B. Except there was no way out of it, although teams still faced the threat of relegation. It could be said, then, that the Charter of Viareggio in 1926 was of potential benefit for clubs stuck in the lower divisions. The idea behind the charter was to nationalise the sport (in the name of Fascism), meaning that the existing Northern and Southern leagues would be amalgamated. The restructured Divisione Nazionale comprised two leagues of ten, whereafter the top three teams in each would play against each other to determine the winner. All well and good but it had the effect of downgrading the division beneath: the Prima Divisione became the second tier and the Seconda Divisione (North and South) the third.
It’s doubtful that such machinations had any material effect on Piacenza’s fortunes. What did have an impact was the decision in 1928 to divide the Divisione Nazionale into Series A and B. In 1927/28, the club finished top of Group D of the Second Division (North) which would ordinarily would have seen them promoted into Italian football’s second tier, except the First Division – the second division in all but name – now became the third. Piacenza remained in the First Division up until 1935, at which point it was renamed Serie C.
Piacenza Calcio would have to wait a while before they could play legitimately in Serie B. I say legitimately because in the aftermath of World War II they briefly featured in a combined Serie B/C Alta Italia, a temporary solution in the face of logistical and bureaucratic restrictions on travel. By 1948/49 they were back in Serie C.
After a brief spell in Serie IV/D, Piacenza were promoted to Serie B in 1968/69, but were then relegated. I have read that in the 1960s Piacenza sometimes wore white shirts with a red sash but I can find no images to corroborate this. In any case, upon the club’s return to Serie B in 1974/75 they were wearing red shirts, white shorts and red socks.
 

1975/76

In 1983 a man by the name of Leonardo Garilli became Piacenza’s president. One of the first things this qualified mechanical engineer did, aside from implementing some sort of fiscal structure, was to commission a new badge. The graphic designer(s) responsible drew upon the province’s heraldry: a red shield encapsulating a silver square and a Roman ‘she-wolf’. The shield was discarded, the square rotated through 45 degrees, and the wolf’s head rendered with a simplicity worthy of Piero Gratton himself. It is used to this day.
The new emblem didn’t appear on Piacenza’s actual shirts until 1986, provided by a company named Dafra. The club immediately won promotion into Serie B as champions, Armando Madonna the star of the show. (A young Giuseppe Signori made 14 appearances, scored one goal.) NR then took over as technical supplier while Cassa Risparmio Piacenza continued as commercial sponsor, albeit with e Vigevano now appended to their name. Despite starting well, Piacenza ended their campaign in 13th place. The following year they were relegated, and ‘Beppe’ Signori was sold to Foggia for 1.5 billion lire.
After an indifferent season in 1989/90, Piacenza added a second Serie C (1) championship to its palmarès in 1990/91. They did this wearing clobber manufactured by Abbigliamento Sportivo (ABM) utilising the same template employed at Fiorentina, Salernitana, Palermo, Messina (but not Torino). Made from polyester and cotton, the jersey was micropatterned with ABM’s motif running in vertical lines. It had a collar, an elasticated V-neck and was loose-fitting, as most jerseys were during this period.
Piacenza bedded in. They took on loan the goalkeeper Davide Pinato from Atalanta and attacking midfielder Armando Madonna from Lazio, who had been sold to Atalanta in 1988 after his previous five-year stint with Piacenza. More significantly, the striker Antonio De Vitis signed from Udinese. They finished mid-table.
 



In 1992/93, Piacenza won promotion into Serie A. In the meantime, ABM had tinkered with the shirt, adding a pop-stud neck opening (used at Torino), a more abstract micropattern and a white collar. The club made a quick return to Serie B but an equally speedy return to Serie A, this time as champions. Moreover, Piacenza made it stick, spending five consecutive seasons in Italy’s preeminent division before again being relegated, by which time Lotto was supplying the gear.
Unfortunately, the club went bankrupt in 2012, re-established itself as Società Sportiva Dilettantistica Piacenza Calcio 1919 in 2013 (subsequently shortened to Piacenza Calcio 1919) and have only been able to make it back as far as Serie C.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: BRESCIA CALCIO, 1992-94

 





Brescia Calcio came about in 1911 after the coming together of the Società Ginnastica La Victoria Brescia and Unione Sportiva Bresciana e Gimnasium. They wore then orange and blue vertical stripes with black shorts, a fairly unusual combination in itself but not as distinctive as the white V set against a blue background that has typified the shirt since. Società Ginnastica La Victoria Brescia – who were themselves the result of a merger between Forti e Liberi and Club Sportivo Brixia – had played in blue jerseys with a white vertical line down the middle, which would suggest that Unione Sportiva Bresciana e Gimnasium may well have worn orange. (I cannot verify this.) At any rate, by 1915 Football Club Brescia, as they were now known, were playing in blue and white stripes in Group E of the Prima Categoria.
Despite the FIGC’s efforts to reinstall the single league format trialled in 1909/10, the sheer weight of numbers wanting to compete after the end of the First World War meant a return to the bloated format they’d been lumbered with before the conflict started. In the event, Brescia finished their preliminary round – Group A: Lombardy Section – in second place behind Inter, thus qualifying for the national semi-finals, finishing fifth in a pool of six. They did this wearing plain (savoy) blue.
It was in 1927 that Brescia came up with the distinguishing white V, or chevron, and did so in homage to the ‘Fathers of Peace’ (Voluntas Pace) who granted the team use their stadium (Stadio di Viale Piave) for a nominal fee. The intervening period had proved to be reasonably successful, so when the FIGC finally established Serie A as a singular league in 1929/30, the Biancazzurri were part of it. Moreover, they finished its inaugural season in ninth place, seven points clear of relegation.
 
In 1936 the club changed its name to Associazione Calcio Brescia and were subsequently relegated. After a brief stint in Serie C, Brescia made it into Serie A in 1943. The Second World War necessitated a temporary retreat to the multigroup set-up, lasting until 1946/47, whereupon the club was again demoted to Serie B. In between – 1940 to be precise – they’d reverted to wearing all blue. In 1948, Brescia inverted their colours – white shirt, blue shorts – but by the 1950s had effected an about-face.
In 1961 the chevron was reintroduced, and in 1965 Brescia were promoted into Serie A as champions. They managed three consecutive seasons in Italy’s top flight before being relegated, but bounced back the following year. For their return to Serie A, the jersey was altered once more, except this time the V was replaced with a diagonal white stripe, or sash. This configuration lasted as long as Brescia’s tenure in Serie A – just one term. Maybe sensing that this radical departure had brought the team bad luck, the chevron was hastily reinstated and would remain in place until 1974. Thereafter, the club experimented with a more diminutive V before reverting to plain blue in summer of ’76, the year they officially became Brescia Calcio.
 

1940/41

And that’s how things pretty much stayed until Uhlsport took over from Bontempi Sport in 1991/92, the season Brescia won Serie B under the guidance of Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu. In truth, Uhlsport’s first crack at the shirt wasn’t all that, the revived chevron obscured by the emblem of the club’s new sponsor, Credito Agrario Bresciano.
In 1992, no doubt under the direction of Lucescu, Brescia signed Florin Răducioiu from Verona, Ioan Sabău from Feyenoord, and the mercurial Gheorghe Hagi from real Madrid (never has the word 'mercurial' been more apt), although they also sold their top scorer, Maurizio Ganz, to Atalanta. At the same time, Uhlsport got their act together. The dark blue lozenge behind the sponsor’s initials was got rid of, revealing the chevron underneath. Where the ends of the white V had previously faded into blue towards the shoulder, they now remained constant. The club’s badge was no longer printed (dye-sublimated) but sewn on, as was the manufacturer’s own insignia. Finally, Uhlsport adopted a geometrically micropatterned fabric – also used for Verona and Cremonese – which gave the shirt a vivid sheen. The away version, in red, was equally lustrous.
Brescia lost their relegation playoff against Udinese and went straight back down, kept the same strip and went straight back up. This time around, ABM would provide the gear – not their best – but the result was the same, just more comprehensive. Brescia finished bottom of the table.
 



The club’s best years were ahead of them, courtesy of Roberto Baggio, wearing kits supplied by Garman, Umbro and Kappa, all of them hideous. Aside from the occasional foray into Serie A, Brescia have once again made Serie B their home, which isn’t a bad place to be, all things considered. Indeed, they have spent more seasons in Italian football’s second tier than any other team: 63 and counting.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

LINER NOTES: THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING WORLD OF THE FALL - VOLUME 3 [1990-94]






       1.     Sing! Harpy
       2.     I’m Frank
       3.     Black Monk Theme, Pt. 1
       4.     Arms Control Poseur
       5.     Hilary
       6.     The Littlest Rebel
       7.     Edinburgh Man
       8.     The Book of Lies
       9.     You Haven’t Found It Yet
       10.   The Mixer
       11.   Return
       12.   Time Enough at Last
       13.   Everything Hurtz
       14.   Immortality
       15.   Gentlemen’s Agreement
       16.   Ladybird (Green Grass)
       17.   Glam-Racket
       18.   Service
       19.   The League of Bald-Headed Men
       20.   15 Ways
       21.   The Reckoning
       22.   M5#1
       23.   You’re Not Up To Much
 
 
Whereas the line between the first two phases of The Fall are blurred – Perverted by Language, essentially – that which separates the second and third is more clearly demarcated, falling between I Am Kurious Oranj and Extricate. That said, Extricate is a transitional work, less repetitive than its forebears, yet not entirely indicative of the sound the group were about to embrace. It was also the first Fall album I listened to, and perhaps for this reason it’s one of my favourites.
 
It has been suggested that the reason the fiddle features as predominantly as it does on Extricate is because Smith’s now ex-wife Brix was shacked up with Brummie violinist and pseudo-boho Nigel Kennedy. Moreover, that many of the album's songs were about her, which Smith refuted. The most obvious example of this is the opening track, Sing! Harpy, which fades in to the sound of Kenny Brady's violin and contains lyrical references that point in that direction. The tune itself was written by original group member Martin Bramah, who had re-joined the group in Brix's absence. It was to be a temporary arrangement; on the Australian leg of the album’s subsequent tour, Bramah was sacked, along with keyboard player Marcia Schofield.
Sing! Harpy should have been a single, but I’m Frank wouldn’t have been a bad choice either. Said to be Craig’s Scanlon’s tribute to Frank Zappa (I’m unqualified to comment) it’s a better song than it’s often given credit for. After that there’s Bill is Dead, which is more than likely autobiographical: an account of renewal in the wake of the trauma of death (of Smith’s father) and divorce (from Brix). Again, Smith denied all of this, which doesn’t mean it isn’t so. Black Monk Theme, Part 1 follows – more violins – and then Popcorn, Double Feature, which was released as a single but shouldn’t have been. Both are covers, of The Monks and The Searchers respectively. Side 2 is a little more hit and miss; Hilary and The Littlest Rebel are the highlights.
As with previous Fall albums, the cassette and CD included a number of tunes that didn’t feature on the record. The one that really should have is Arms Control Poseur, which originally appeared on the B-side of Popcorn Double Feature. The album version is supeior, but you get both on the 2007 re-issue. Credited to Scanlon, Smith and Wolstencroft, according to Marcia Scofield it was one of the songs Bramah brought with him, as was Hilary which is attributed solely to Smith.
 



After the dismissal of Bramah and Schofield, The Fall were operating as an unprecedented four-piece, comprising Smith, Scanlon, Hanley and Wolstencroft (with Dave Bush drafted in on auxiliary ‘electronics’). The album that followed – Shift-Work – is more upbeat than its predecessor, but not necessarily better for it. Again, the first side is the stronger. Idiot Joy Showland is good, Pittsville Direkt is good, Book of Lies is very good, but best of all is Edinburgh Man, a song that may or may not recall fondly the milieu described in Bill is Dead. The most interesting tracks, though, are found on the second side – the dance-tinged You Haven’t Found it Yet and The Mixer – and give a clearer indication of where The Fall was headed.
For Code: Selfish, Bush found himself promoted from electronics to keyboards & machines. The result is a harsher, noisier record and an underrated one. Indeed, its first side, on vinyl and cassette, might be one of The Fall’s very best. The opening tracks, Birmingham School of Business School and Free Range, kick the doors down in very much the same way that Lay of the Land and 2 x 4 do on The Wonderful and Frightening World Of... . Return does a similar job to I'm Frank, but with more vigour. For Time Enough at Last, Scanlon digs out the guitar sound he employed on Wings, while Hanley’s bass borders on the sublime. Everything Hurtz has swagger, and the sequencing on Immortality round things off nicely.
The second side isn’t nearly as good. At just over six minutes, Two-Face! outstays its welcome. Gentlemen’s Agreement, on the other hand, ranks alongside Bill is Dead, Edinburgh Man and Disney’s Dream Debased as one of The Fall’s most poignant moments. The less said about Crew Filth the better.

On 19 October 1993, I attended my first ever Fall gig, a calamitous affair at the Kentish Town Forum, supported by a much heckled Ted Chippington. Set-list as follows:
 
Happy Holiday (instrumental) / M5 / Ladybird (Green Grass) / Idiot Joy Showland (take 1) / Idiot Joy Showland (take 2) / Why Are People Grudgeful? / Glam Racket / I'm Going to Spain / Free Range / Lost in Music / Big New Prinz / A Past Gone Mad / Behind the Counter / Strychnine / War / Paranoia Man in Cheap Sh*t Room / High Tension Line / Deadbeat Descendant.
 
After keeping the crowd waiting for over an hour, Smith proceeded to fiddle with his band’s monitors, launch microphones in the direction of the sound engineers to the side of the stage, abort songs before they’d got going, and behave generally is if he’d rather be somewhere else (although to be fair the sound was a bit shoddy).
The Infotainment Scanreleased earlier that year, was and still is The Fall’s highest charting album. Yet of the five albums from this period, this is the one that has dated the most. The first four tracks are exempt: Ladybird (Green Grass) and Glam Racket must rank among the best tunes The Fall have produced; Lost in Music and I’m Going to Spain are covers, so sound quite unlike anything else. Thereafter, Dave Bush is let loose to do pretty much what he likes, creating a strange sort of alternative rock-techno hybrid in the process. It actually works quite well, if you don’t mind a bit of Italian-house mixed in with your Fall.
By the time I went to see The Fall again in January 1994, at the Brixton Fridge, I’d caught up. Here’s the set-list:
 
Happy Holiday / Return / M5 / I’m Going to Spain / 15 Ways / Free Range / Big New Prinz / The Mixer / The Reckoning / I’m Frank / Paranoia Man in Cheap Shit Room / Glam Racket / Hey! Student / A Past Gone Mad.

They were on excellent form that night. I distinctly recall hearing The Reckoning and being blown away by it, even though it was completely new to me. It would materialise on the next album, Middle Class Revolt, which in many ways carried on where The Infotainment Scan left off. So too would Happy Holiday and M5, yet these tunes were familiar because they’d already appeared on the Behind the Counter EP released in December ’93. And this is the problem with Middle Class Revolt. By the time it was released in May 1994, no less than six of its tracks – 15 Ways, Behind the Counter, War, M5, Hey! Student and The $500 Bottle of Wine – had surfaced in one form or another on the singles that preceded it. Not that this diminished the quality of the album in itself, but it did lessen its impact. You’re Not up too Much, which sounds a little out of place here, softened the blow.
 



And then came Cerebral Caustic, which I didn’t like very much, and instead of moving forward I continued to look back. I don’t rule out ever compiling a fourth chapter in this series, but it is unlikely that I will. It’s not so much that The Fall ceased to produce good music from around 1995 onwards, but rather that Smith’s schtick became repetitive and chaotic – stumbling over his words, sometimes growling, his voice shot.
It does not do to equate the genius of The Fall with the genius of Mark E Smith. The Fall would have been nothing more than curious, if compelling, phenomena without a select group of musicians capable of realising the vision: Steve Hanley, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Brix Smith-Start, Karl Burns, Paul Hanley, Martin Bramah, Simon Wolstencroft, maybe ‘he of classical training’ Simon Rogers. That’s half of it, and Smith’s idiomatic way with words and his phrasing is the other. That they coalesced in one band is almost unheard of.
What I think did it for me was the realisation that there would never be another Wings, Leave the CapitolAthlete CuredDktr. Faustus; tunes with a clear narrative and enunciated diction. Whether Smith chose to abandon these methods or just no longer possessed the vocal dexterity is moot. He – no, they – left quite enough to be getting on with, and we can be grateful for that.
 

[This compilation can be listened to here.]

Friday, 21 May 2021

LINER NOTES: THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING WORLD OF THE FALL - VOLUME 2 [1984-88]




 

       1. Lay of the Land
       2. 2 x 4
       3. C.R.E.E.P.
       4.     Slang King
       5. Craigness
       6. Bombast
       7. Barmy
       8.     Gut of the Quantifier
       9. My New House
       10. Cruiser’s Creek [Peel Session]
       11.   Hot Aftershave Bop
       12. R.O.D.
       13. Dktr. Faustus
       14. Shoulder Pads #1
       15. Living Too Late
       16.   Terry Waite Sez
       17. Riddler
       18. Entitled
       19. There’s a Ghost in My House
       20. Frenz
       21. Athlete Cured
       22. Guest Informant
       23. Big New Prinz


For anyone unknowing who wishes to familiarise themselves with The Fall’s ‘second phase’, The Wonderful and Frightening World of… is a good place to start. If you decide to follow this line of enquiry then I advise you pick up the version I did in 1994, entitled Escape Route from the Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall, which includes the tunes found on the Call for Escape Route EP and the singles C.R.E.E.P. and Oh! Brother. This will be the edition you will most likely encounter anyhow: on Spotify, on CD or on the repackaged double LP that came out in 2015. Having said all that, I have included just one track on this compilation that wasn’t featured on the original C.R.E.E.P.
The reason why this album is a good place to start is not because it’s one of The Fall’s best – although I wouldn’t take you to task if you decided that it was – but because, in journalistic parlance, it might be their most accessible. This can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that Brix Smith was by now a fully paid-up member of the band. Slang King, C.R.E.E.P, Lay of the Land and 2 x 4 are all her tunes, as is the breezily tuneful Disney’s Dream Debased. It’s doubtful she had a hand in Craigness, which points the way towards the slow-tempo melancholy found Living Too Late and Frenz. In any case, it is Steve Hanley’s bass that tends to predominate on a lot of these songs regardless of who wrote it, which is not always clear anyway.
 



The Fall’s next album – 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace – is a very different proposition. The record is at once more repetitive, the sound more direct. It is as if Brix had taken the time to go over older material, or had been studying Craig Scanlon, and suddenly got that The Fall were almost a kind of funk band, and as tight a group as a simile like that demands.
There had also been another change in personnel. Paul Hanley, who as well as playing drums had contributed the bouncy keys on The Wonderful and Frightening World of… , had departed, and ‘he of classical music training’ Simon Rogers had been drafted in on bass to cover for Steve Hanley, who was on a sabbatical. When Steve returned to the fold most of This Nation’s Saving Grace had been written, though there was still time for him to contribute one of its best tracks: Bombast. (Check out the footage on YouTube of them playing it at the 1985 W.O.M.A.D. Festival.) If pushed, I’d say that This Nation’s Saving Grace is The Fall’s strongest work, or certainly their most consistent. Again, more recent iterations include the singles issued the same year, Cruiser’s Creek being the most vital. (The Peel Session is better but can only be found on The Complete Peel Sessions 1978–2004.)
 
Released in 1986, Bend Sinister was the group’s first album to be released on compact disc. Like the cassette, which I purchased from Notting Hill Record & Tape Exchange in 1993, the CD included two tracks that weren’t on the LP: Living Too Late and Auto-Tech Pilot. The former was a single in its own right whereas the latter appeared on the B-side to Mr. Pharmacist. (The cassette also appended a live recording of City Hobgoblins – renamed Town And Country Hobgoblins to distinguish it from the 1980 original.) Living Too Late is a particularly strong tune. Written from the perspective of a jaded, middle-aged man, I’d always assumed it was autobiographical, but according to Smith it wasn’t. Hot Aftershave Bop is on the other side, and it's a riot.
It became customary in interviews for Mark E Smith to be critical of Bend Sinister and of John Leckie's production in particular. Music journalists tended to agree, although nowadays you’ll struggle to find a bad word said against it. Yet Bend Sinister might be The Fall's strangest record. It is at once more convoluted and less direct than its predecessor, and Smith's vocals more nuanced and less prevalent. The tracks of greater duration bear this out – Gross Chapel - British Grenadiers, Bournemouth Runner and Riddler! – and the opening track too: the oppressive R.O.D. . On the other hand,  Dktr. Faustus is cut from the same cloth as Cruiser’s Creek, albeit with a Brechtian twist, while Shoulder Pads wouldn’t feel out of place on The Wonderful and Frightening World of… .
The Fall followed up Bend Sinister with three singles, none of which were evincive of what came before or immediately after. Hey! Luciani sounds like The Fall masquerading as a C86 band, and isn’t great, but the B-side, entitled Entitled, is a very pretty tune. A solid cover of R. Dean Taylor’s There's a Ghost in My House came next, apparently on the recommendation of someone working in A&R at Beggar’s Banquet (see Steve Hanley’s excellent book The Big Midweek). Finally, Hit the North, which sounds like an outtake from 1990's Extricate.
 



The Fall’s tenth studio album, The Frenz Experiment, in some ways feels like a step backwards. It starts promisingly enough with the solemn Frenz, wherein Smith claims to have no more than five friends. Thereafter, Carry Bag Man and Get a Hotel are Fall-by-numbers. The cover of Victoria by the Kinks is pretty good, and then Athlete Cured, which borrows, quite blatantly, from Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight by Spinal Tap (much to Simon Rogers' horror). Athlete Cured tells of a German athletic star who was continually ill. Turns out his brother, Gert, is responsible: he’s been parking his Volkswagen, at the end of the day, willy-nilly in the driveway, usually the wrong way round, so that the exhaust fumes would flow upwards right through the open windows of the athletic star's upstairs bedroom. Problem solved, Gert patriotically volunteers to be sent on a labour beautification course of the countryside north-west of Dresden. And never seen again.
Simon Rogers, who was by now producing alongside Grant Showbiz, needn't have fretted because Athlete Cured is the best track on the album. Why Guest Informant was left off the LP (it features on the CD and cassette) is mystifying. Instead, we get seven whole minutes of Bremen Nacht (The ‘alternative’ version comes in at over nine, so perhaps we get off lightly) and the dirge that is Oswald Defence Lawyer.
 
I’ve never bothered with I Am Kurious Oranj on account of the fact that it was the soundtrack to the accompanying ballet, I am Curious, Orange, first and an album by The Fall second. Potentially my loss. You don’t get away with compiling Fall compilations without including New Big Prinz, so I’ve tacked it on at the end, just to show it’s appreciated.


[This compilation can be listened to here.]

Thursday, 1 April 2021

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: VICENZA CALCIO, 1995-97






Vicenza Calcio was founded in 1902 by Professor Tito Buy and Antonio Libero Scarpa, the dean and gymnastics teacher at the Liceo Scientifico Paolo Lioy. Known then as Associazione Del Calcio In Vicenza (abbreviated as ACIVI), they played in red and white stripes from the off. The club’s coat-of-arms consisted of a (Swiss) shield encompassing a white cross on the left – in recognition of the city’s heraldry – and a pallet of red and white stripes to the right, with a white ‘chief’ bearing the script A.C. VICENZA in red. Like most teams in Italy, they were confined to playing provincially; only clubs from Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy were eligible to contend Italy’s Prima Categoria, while Vicenza competed in the Terza Categoria Veneto Championship.
In 1908, ACIVI joined up with a team called Olympia and changed their name, albeit inappreciably, to Associazione Del Calcio Di Vicenza. At around the same time the FIGC restructured the Prima Categoria to the detriment of the clubs that fielded non-Italian nationals. They did this by organising two separate competitions: an Italian Championship in which only Italian players could compete, and a secondary Federal Championship open to all (assuming Italian residency). Genoa, Torino and Milan consequently boycotted both tournaments, won by Pro Vercelli and Juventus respectively.
The following season the dissenting associations – including Pro Vercelli – chose a different tack, withdrawing from only the Italian Championship in an attempt to legitimise the Federal one. Meanwhile, the FIGC looked to fill the void. As winners of 1907/08’s Terza Categoria, Vicenza was invited to take part in the Italian championship (won by Juventus) while second placed Venezia was granted entry into the Federal event (won by Pro Vercelli). Both Venetian teams proved to be out of their depth.
In 1909 the FIGC conceded and recognised the Federal Championship as the legitimate title (meaning that Pro Vercelli was crowned Campioni d'Italia for a consecutive season). The return to a single-league format in 1909/10 meant there was no room for clubs outside of Italy’s ‘industrial triangle’. Instead, Vicenza, Venezia and Padova were allocated their own Seconda Categoria.
The pressure remained to expand Italian football beyond its traditional borders, so in 1910/11 a separate Venetian-Emilian Prima Catergoria was established, comprising Hellas Verona, Venezia, Bologna and Vicenza. The winner of this division would then face the winner of the Northwestern league to determine the overall champion. Vicenza qualified for the final, which they lost to Pro Vercelli 1-5 on aggregate.
Over the succeeding years the championship was expanded and tweaked to accommodate teams from the peninsula. Vincenza did all right, coming top of their section in 1913 and 1914, before the First World War happened, arresting their progress.
 
By 1923 Vicenza was playing in Group C of the third division. In 1928 they merged with another local team (Circolo Cotonificio Rossi) and renamed themselves Associazione Calcio Vicenza, sporting white shirts with a horizontal red band around the middle – or vice versa – paired with red shorts and socks. In 1932 they were made to change their name to Associazione Fascista Calcio Vicenza and removed the red band from the jerseys, leaving them white.
A period of recovery ensued culminating in promotion to Serie B in 1939/40 and Serie A in 1941/42. After the Second World War the club reverted to its previous name and to wearing their traditional red and white stripes. In 1948 Vicenza dropped back into Serie B, embracing mediocrity and struggling financially. Then in 1953 the textile firm Lanerossi bought the club out and rechristened it Associazione Calcio Lanerossi Vicenza. More than a mere sponsorship, the team became part of the Lanerossi business, to the extent that it even took on the company logo – a knotted letter R. The partnership got off to a flying start and within two seasons Vicenza were back in Serie A, where they would remain for the next twenty years.


[Lanerossi Vicenza, 1976/77]

Lanerossi Vicenza was relegated in 1975. After narrowly avoiding a successive relegation in 1976, new coach Giovanni Fabbri had the idea of redeploying the promising young right-winger Paulo Rossi as a centre-forward. The move reaped immediate rewards. Rossi’s 21 goals sent the club back into the Italian first division, winning Serie B in the process, with the knotted R coloured blue, enlivening what might have otherwise been an uninspiring shirt.
Vincenza’s return to top flight exceeded expectations. They finished the season in second place with Paulo Rossi scoring 24 times, but their success was to be short-lived. The next season Lanerossi was relegated and by 1981 were back playing in Serie C.
The decade that followed was a volatile one: victory in the Serie C Cup, promotion to Serie B, a revoked promotion to Serie A, relegation back into Serie C, the professional debut of Roberto Baggio, and a rotating cast of presidents. Lanerossi sold their stake in the company in 1989 and the club re-registered itself Vicenza Calcio. A new badge was commissioned, designed by Antonio Toni Vedù, incorporating a white (French) shield with a red border encapsulating a double-lined, red V with a horizontal break on one side delineating a white cross. The words VICENZA CALCIO 1902 were printed above in red.
After a few false starts, Vicenza got their act together and was promoted into Serie B in 1993 and Serie A in 1995. In 1997 they won the Coppa Italia and in ‘98 made it to the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, losing narrowly to the eventual winners, Chelsea.

From 1992 to 1995, Vicenza’s kit was made by Virma and sponsored by men’s clothing manufacturer Pal Zileri. Ahead of their return to Serie A they hooked with sports’ firm Biemme (Pal Zileri remained as commercial sponsor). The new shirt was barely discernible from the last: the collar and pop-stud neck opening were the same, as was the dye-sublimated crest, and both firms employed a thinner stripe, although not as narrow thin as in the club’s very early days. Biemme’s shirt was, however micropatterned. Vicenza finished the season in ninth place.
In 1996, Biemme made a few subtle, but significant, alterations. First, they widened the stripes, which meant that the manufacturer’s logo and the club’s badge were now set against a white background. Second, the trim around the collar and cuffs was changed from a motif based upon Biemme’s insignia to something resembling a series of comets travelling in the same direction. Finally, Vicenza’s badge was embroidered and given a yellow border. Overall, the shirt was an improvement on the last. That it was also the top in which Vicenza won the Coppa Italia is fortuitous.
 



In 1997 Lotto succeeded Biemme as supplier. The most striking disparity between the new shirt and the last was the addition of the coccarda. Other modifications included a less intricate micropattern, an elasticated collar and neckline, and more conventional trim. What really sets the two jerseys apart, though, are the emblems of the companies that made them. Biemme don’t use it anymore but back then it amounted to a stylised letter B filled in with the colours of the Italian tricolour, framed within a white square with rounded corners. Lotto’s logo was, and is, bland by comparison.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

LINER NOTES: THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING WORLD OF THE FALL - VOLUME 1 [1978-83]

 




1.     Various Times
2.     A Figure Walks
3.     Printhead
4.     Flat of Angles
5.     Fiery Jack
6.     New Face in Hell
7.     The NWRA
8.     Fit and Working Again
9.     Leave the Capitol
10.   Lie Dream of a Casino Soul
11.   Fantastic Life
12.   Jawbone and the Air-Rifle
13.   Winter (Hostel-Maxi)
14.   Just Step S’ways
15.   Who Makes the Nazis? [Peel Session]
16.   I’m Into C.B.
17.   Hard Life in Country
18.   The Man Whose Head Expanded
19.   Wings
20.   Eat Y’self Fitter
21.   Hotel Bloedel
22.   I Feel Voxish


I discovered The Fall by way of BBC Radio 1, broadcasting live from Sheffield Sound City, in April 1993. The track that caught my ear was Glam Racket, and I remember waiting for the actual singing to kick in, which it never did. I’d spent the previous five years listening exclusively to hip hop so wasn’t in awe of this, but I was intrigued.
Some months later I made an acquaintance with a guy who owned the album Extricate. I shall not discuss this revelation in any detail here, suffice to say that I soon began to amass Fall records at quite a rate. I turned my attention first to the tapes that immediately proceeded it: Shift-Work, Code: Selfish and The Infotainment Scan. I then worked backwards: The Frenz Experiment, Bend Sinister, The Wonderful and Frightening World Of... and This Nation’s Saving Grace (disregarding I Am Kurious Oranj). I purchased Middle Class Revolt on its release in May ’94 and also picked up copies of Live at the Witch Trials, Hip Priest and Kamerads and a 12” version of the single Hey! Luciani.
A small alteration of the past can turn time into space. If I hadn’t bought Live at the Witch Trials I would have doubtless continued with my excavation of The Fall’s back catalogue. As it was, the crisp production that permeates the group’s first LP did not appeal, and I desisted. This was a mistake because The Fall’s early ‘80s output is equal to their best – maybe is their best.
It was after being gifted The Complete Peel Sessions 1978–2004 for my 30th birthday that my enthusiasm for The Fall was revitalised. Deprived of the means by which to play them, I initially set about replacing my existing cassettes with CDs. The reason why I was buying CDs as opposed to records was to enable the transfer of content onto an MP3 player by way of a computer. My aim was not to upload whole albums but to assemble an anthology. When it came to it, the playlist I devised was too long, and rather than edit it down I divided it into two. By the time I’d added Perverted by Language, Grotesque (After the Gramme), Slates and Hex Enduction Hour to my collection I was faced with the same problem, and so ended up splitting it three ways.
 
Live at the Witch Trials is not a bad record but neither is it indicative of the canon. Within the context of post-punk, there’s not much that sets it apart musically from what was going on at that time. Mark E Smith’s verse obviously raises an eyebrow, but this is not enough – The Fall are more than merely Smith’s vocal intonation.
I like my anthologies to chart a band’s progress from its beginnings, and to do so chronologically. Fortunately, The Fall put out two records prior to Witch Trials: the EP Bingo-Master's Break-Out! in August 1978 and the single It's the New Thing a few months after. Among of all this is the first indicator of a distinctive sound that is unmistakably The Fall, and it is the B-side to the single, entitled Various Times.
The lo-fi production manifest on Various Times resurfaces on The Fall’s second album, Dragnet. Dragnet sees Mark E Smith literally finding his voice, but there are significant developments throughout. A Figure Walks offers particular surprises: the drums, played by Mike Leigh, are looser than we would come to expect – tom-toms and crashing cymbals – and the guitar is let off on an unusually long and psychedelic leash. Printhead is less transgressive, although no worse for it, whereas Flat of Angles is comprised of odd, jerky rhythms fused with guitar licks reminiscent of the Faces.
The Fall followed Dragnet with four singles – Rowche Rumble, Fiery Jack, How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’ and Totally Wired – all released within a year of each other. How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’ and Totally Wired are overrated; Rowche Rumble and Fiery Jack are not. Only Fiery Jack features here, providing a satisfying bridge between Flat of Angles and New Face in Hell.


The Fall in New York (courtesy thefall.org)

Grotesque (After the Gramme) isn’t The Fall’s best album but it accomplishes much. First, on The NWRA we’re introduced to the ‘song within a song’ format that would be repeated on tracks such as Middle Mass, Jawbone and the Air-Rifle and The Man Whose Head Expanded. “Shift,” exclaims Smith, and the group starts to play something else entirely before returning to the original structure a minute or so later.
Second, on New Face in Hell, Mark E Smith hones his talent for telling stories, depicting the plight of an unfortunate ‘wireless enthusiast’ framed for the murder of his neighbour. (Smith would apply this third-person narrative technique only sporadically – Spectre Vs Rector, Jawbone and the Air-Rifle, Wings – and seemed to give up on it entirely after 1988’s Athlete Cured.)
In 1981 The Fall released the EP Slates, which in many respects carries on where Grotesque left off. At same time, it’s more accessible. Where previously repetition had been the order of the day, Fit and Working Again and Leave the Capitol, for want of a better word, rock. The single Lie Dream of a Casino Soul moves in the same direction, demonstrating that The Fall developed a pop sensibility way before Brix came along, while the B-side, Fantastic Life, sounds like something off of The Wonderful and Frightening World Of... or This Nation’s Saving Grace.
 
The received wisdom is that Hex Enduction Hour is The Fall’s best work, but for me its highlight is the track least typical of it: Just Step S’ways.
 The strength of this tune is derived in part from the pulsating dual-drummer line-up of Karl Burns and Paul Hanley, as well as the riff itself. It’s also very funny. Hex is a gloomy record generally, yet it’s not without humour, which is something Mark E Smith isn’t always given credit for.
In any case, the decision I was faced with when putting this playlist together was not which tracks to include but which versions – the original takes or the Peel sessions? While either version of Winter will do – I’ve gone with the abbreviated Hostel-Maxi – the Peel rendition of Who Makes the Nazis? probably edges it. [Hip Priest will be conspicuous by its absence to anyone familiar with The Fall, its omission based upon the fact that I need to be in the mood for it.]
I’m into C.B.! and Hard Life in Country appear on Hip Priest and Kamerads, which is a great compilation for anyone tying up loose ends. I’m into C.B.! is the B-side to the single Look, Know, a song that had been recorded in Iceland along with a few others that ended up on Hex, but it didn’t make the cut. Hard Life in Country is taken from the album Room to Live, which I do not have, and describes a parochial nightmare.
 



The Man Whose Head Expanded was released in 1983. Another single, Kicker Conspiracy, ensued, which wasn’t as good (file alongside How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’ and Totally Wired). The Man Whose Head Expanded is the primary exponent of the ‘song within a song’ scheme, giving way to one of Scanlon/Hanley’s finest grooves. The B-side to Kicker Conspiracy is even better. Everything about Wings is perfect: the drums, the bassline, the guitar, Mark’s enunciation, the subject, the video. If the group had seen fit to break with tradition and include these two tunes on their forthcoming LP then Perverted by Language would be my favourite Fall album (although they were included on the remastered, expanded editions).
With or without them, whether this record constitutes The Fall’s first phase is debatable. Brix, who joined the band that year, would certainly have an effect on The Fall sound but most of the album had been recorded before her impact could be felt (Hotel Bloedel being the obvious, and gratifying, exception). Eat Y’self Fitter is classic, repetitive Fall, whereas I Feel Voxish follows in the vein of up-tempo grooves like Leave the Capitol and Just Step S’ways. Conversely, there’s a heavier sound to the tracks Smile and Tempo House that seems to anticipate what was to come.


[Listen to here.]

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: A.C. MILAN, 1984/85







Anyone who attended a British school during the 1980s might recall the hell that was a nylon football shirt. Those who don’t will have worn jerseys made of polyester – or rather, polyester and cotton mixed. If you are Italian then your memories are more than likely made of acrylic. I base this assumption on the fact that school sportswear, of the sort you used to buy from department stores, reflected what actual sportspeople wore. This was certainly true in England, although I couldn’t honestly say whether the same applied in Italy. Regardless, in the 1980s Italian football shirts tended to be made from acrylic.
Pure polyester would prevail, which is not to say it is the superior fabric. Polyester is lighter and stronger, but acrylic is softer and warmer, although not so much in the wet. It has been reported that when Ennerre began using polyester, some players complained and demanded their old jersey back. (Ennerre are supposed to have devised their own compound called lanetta – ‘lana’ being Italian for wool – but their labels invariably read ‘100 % Acrylic’.)
Acrylic also colours well, which is one of the reasons why the Italian football strips of the 1980s looked as good as they did. Another is that the names and emblems of sponsors – both commercial and technical – started appearing on the tops of almost every professional team, freed from the constraints previously imposed upon them by the FIGC. Up until 1981 many clubs hadn't even bothered appending a badge. That’s probably how people liked it – maybe in deference towards the scudetto and the coccarda – but there’s a lot to be said for well-designed insignia and congenial fonts.
 



Many of the technical sponsors from this period no longer exist in the same capacity, if they exist at all: firms such as Mec Sport, Tiko Sport, Linea Time, Rolly Go, Ennerre. Before A.C. Milan went full-on polyester in 1986, they teamed up with, respectively, Linea Milan, Ennerre, Rolly Go, and Gianni Rivera. Linea Milan re-introduced a wider gauge of stripe not utilised since the early sixties. There was no commercial sponsor just yet, but they did incorporate a badge (designed by Zeta di Milano). This logo simplistically depicted the devil, in homage to Milan’s epithet – Il Diavolo. The following season Pooh Jeans came on board as patron and Linea Milan introduced red shorts, which wasn’t a great look.
When Ennerre took over from Linea in 1982 they reverted to tradition and narrowed the stripes. A.C. Milan remained with Ennerre for two seasons, sponsored first by Hitachi and then Cuore, wearing white shorts with black socks and looking all the better for it. Unbelievably, Milan were playing in Serie B at the time, but by the end of Ennerre’s tenure they were back in Serie A, having been promoted as winners of Serie B in 1983.
In 1985, just as Ray Wilkins and Mark Hateley signed for the club, Rolly Go succeeded Ennerre and carried on where their predecessor left off. The only discernible difference to the shirt was the sponsor, Oscar Mondadori. Established in 1965, Oscar Mondadori was the name given to a catalogue of affordable paperbacks published by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, to be sold through newsagents, as opposed to bookshops. (Fittingly, the first book they published was A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway). Quite apart from the democratising nature of its mission, Oscar Mondadori possessed a distinctive imprint that complimented the red and black stripes of Milan’s shirt. Stamp-printed in a white, curved, lowercase font, the word Oscar predominated, with its enlarged O encompassing the statuette of the same name. Rolly Go’s hexagonal ‘double arrow’ trademark and the five-pointed gold star denoting Milan’s ten championships rounded off the ensemble nicely.
A.C. Milan had a relatively good year, finishing fifth in Serie A and reaching the finals of the Coppa Italia, losing to Sampdoria 1-3 on aggregate. Unfortunately the deals with both Oscar Mondadori and Rolly Go only ran for a season. Gianni Rivera made a good go of it in 1985/86, but the bar had been set too high.
 



In 1986, Silvio Berlusconi completed his takeover of A.C. Milan. At the same time, Kappa stepped in as technical supplier. Kappa – a subsidiary of Maglificio Calzificio Torinese – had a limited presence in football, but a significant one, providing kit for Juventus. In what could be seen as something of a coup, in which Berlusconi himself may have played a part, Kappa furnished Milan with shirts made from polyester while continuing to dress Juventus in acrylic. And yet what will the fans who remember Mark Hateley’s headed goal against Inter in October 1984 have cared for the material the shirt was now made of?
 
 
[A quality replica of this shirt can be purchased from GOLAZZO! AS WORN BY LEGENDS.]