Happy Birthday, Scudetto!

Happy Birthday, Scudetto!

51 years have passed, but the fascination of the deed still resists the rust of time. April 12, 1970: Cagliari beat Bari 2-0 and win the League two days before the end of the tournament. A victory that glies over the simple sporting meanings to encroach on deep social issues; a triumph which began legend. Sixteen players made history, led on the bench by a revolutionary and nonconformist coach, the “Philosopher” Manlio Scopigno, and on the pitch by a brave leader, the greatest striker in the history of italian football, Gigi Riva.

In the control room, the General Manager Andrea Arrica, the one who first got the wonderful idea: “I wanto to win the Scudetto”, he said clearly a couple of years ealier to the then president Enrico Rocca.

A dream came true, which also started from the desire for revenge of the previous season, when Cagliari had finished second behind Fiorentina, after having been at the top of the table for a long time.

“We have been wronged – Riva later recalled – We started the new season with even more energy and anger, but somehow we were convinced that it was an impossible misison”.

Team is strenghtened during the summer transfer market. Roberto Boninsegna’s sacrifice is offset by the arrival of a trio of aces from Inter: Angelo Domenghini, Sergio Gori and Cesare Poli.

“To tell the truth at the beginning I was not happy about moving to Sardinia – “Domingo” admitted years later – It didn’t take my very long to change my mind: there was little pressure and we played football in peace in Cagliari. The  guys were wonderful and day by day I fell in love with a fantastic city”.

Standing Domenghini and Gori at his side, Riva got two players perhaps more congenial to his characteristics, rather than those of the formidable “Bonimba”. Eraldo Mancin, who freshly won the League with Fiorentina, arrives in the left defense flank; as a backup for the attack here is the young winger Corrado Nastasio.

Otherwise, the well-tested roaster is the same of the previous year. “I’ll end up falling asleep on the bench with a team like this”, Scopigno told reporters at the end of the transfer market, showing hiss his usual mocking smile.

Ricciotti Greatti said about the coach: “He was someone who took ten minutes to read the game and he was able to convey serenity and confidende with a few words. He was able to keep the team at high levels”.

The Rossoblù’s journet in the League begins with a goalless draw in Genoa against Sampdoria; then, four wins in a row. After Vicenza, Brescia and Lazio, also Fiorentina, the Italian Champion, surrounds to Cagliari due to a penalty scored by Riva, in a very hot game: the referee Concetto Lo Bello disallows the equalizer goal from Chiarugi at the last minute and was bitterly criticized by the public of Viola.

In retrospect, a handover. “For me that was the decisive game – said Giulio Zignoli – It was the test of maturity for a team that the year before had missed the title for a trifle”.

Cagliari, now leaders of the table, continues the march: they draw at Amsicora with Inter and beat Napoli 2-0 (double by Riva) and with a feat of Nené, the Brazilian lightning bolt with velvet feet, grown up in the Academy of Santos with Pelé. Scopigno solved the problems on the left flank, choosing Zignoli instead of the designated regular Mancin, who later said: “The coach had personally chosen me, but initially I did not settle down. I had some physical problems, but the truth is that at the time it wasn’t easy for someone from the continent to get used to living in a completely different place. Then slowly the environment of Cagliari conquered me”.

Cagliari draws at home against Juventus. The Rossoblù take the lead with Domenghini, but they are caught up in the final of the game by Cuccureddu, the only Sardinian player in in the pitch. The team is starting to look a bit tired: after the victory over Bologna courtesy of Riva, two difficult draws arrive, in Verona and Bari.

The game played in Puglia, the last one in 1969, however, represents a vital watershed.

“Before the game Scopigno told us clearly that if we hadn’t lost we would have won the Scudetto – confessed Bobo Gori – We had never said that word before, but Scopigno had said so, consequently we had to believe it”.

“It was a crucial match -  Beppe Tomasini recalls – We faced it in a reworked line-up, some players were not in good physical conditions. It ended 0-0, you know the rest of the story”.

The following Sunday, while still recovering, Cagliari is defeated for the first team of the season, in Palermo. Riva would have put in the equalizer, the referee disallows, on signaling of the linesman: offside of Martiradonna. Scopigno loses his traditional aplomb and is suspended for a long time:  he will return to the bench only towards the end of the season. Cagliari reacts, takes a point at home against Milan and beats Torino: they are “Winter champions”, leading the table with 3 points of advances to Inter, Fiorentina and Juventus.

“We believed in it, we had the right conviction”, still insist Beppe Tomasini today.

Really Tomas, defensive bulwark until then, had to leave the scene, due to his knee problems. To replace him, Scopigno decided to move the captain, the midfielder Cera, back into the heart of the defense- “I accepted but on condition that I could play the role in my own way: I wanted to advance in support of the midfield. I didn’t like the idea of standing still behind the defenders”.

Cera was thus the first libero to be used not only with defensive tasks but also as the first organizer of the game. A revolution, sublimated later on by players such as Scirea, Baresi, Beckenbauer and Sammer. Meanwhile, Tomasini, after an illusory attempt to return, was forced to stay out. “I enjoyed it anyway. I was an integral part of the team, I had given my contribution”.

The second part of the season begins with a poker of goals to Sampdoria, followed by a tough victory in Vicenza. At “Menti”, Gigi scores one of the best goals of his career: Gori crosses from the left, Domenghini heads it back to the center, Riva seems to be in counte-time but throw himself backwards, arriving with his left in the sky to turn the ball in the net defended by the former Rossoblù goalkeeper Pianta.

An overturned masterpiece, an iconic goal where there is everything: courage, timing, skills, power: the Vicenza audience pays a well-deserved standing ovation to number 11.

“It was the only way to anticipate the defenders – Riva later stated – I have done it other times in the past, I tried and it went well”.

Brescia and Lazio are beaten with any problem, while the draw against Fiorentina keeps Cagliari at the top. Then Rossoblù play Inter in Milan and the former player Boninsegna scores for the second defeat of the season to be materialized. Juventus is getting closer. The feeling is that the League will be decided in the match in Turin.

At “Comunale”, it rains heavily and everything happens: Niccolai makes one own goal and Riva equalizes. Then the referee Lo Bello, the one from Florence, enters the scene. He assigns a very dubious penalty to Juventus: Haller shoots, Albertosi saves. The referee sees something wrong with the execution, it makes it re-shoot again. Ricky, disconsolate, burst into tears leaning against his goal post, consoled by the German player of Juventus.

“I thought it was already written on the wall – he declared years later – When Anastasi shot, I did not even move. I played the remaining minutes as if no one was in the goal”.

2-1 down, Cagliari launched themselves into attack: six minutes to go, free kick thrown in the box by Cera, Riva is yanked by a defender: Lo Bello whistles the second penalty of the game, this time in favor of Cagliari. Many Cagliari’s players look away as Riva goes to the spot in front of goalkeeper Anzolin. The radio commentator star of “Tutto calcio” Enrico Ameri shouts in the air: “….Riva starts….he shoots…Anzolin saves, but the ball ends up in the net”.

This time Gigi had given up on the classic shot, choosing precision. Anzolin had dived into the right direction, touched ball, but had not been able to stop its slow run towards the corner. “What anxiety, the ball took ages to enter in the net”, Gigi had to say with a shiver after many years.

The game ends 2-2, Cagliari is still 2 points up: at “Comunale” the decisive battle has been played. After the Juventus attack has been rejected, the rest of the season is downhill.

12 APRILE 1970
And here is the fateful date: on April 12 Cagliari-Bari is played. “We didn’t think like it was the decisive game, after all two more matches had to be played – commented Domenghini – We went out on the pitch with a relaxed mood”.

In any case, Amsicora is sold out: 28.000 people, the proceeds was 32 millin and 560.000 lire. The fans take their seats a couple of hours before the kick-off.

Meanwhile, the team has lunch as usual in a restaurant located in a side street of Via Roma. Light meal for Mario Martiradonna, who reaches the stadium by foot: “It was useful to digest”.

Greatti does not play, he is suspended; Brugnera plays with the shirt number 10. The Venetian playmaker in the 39th minute brushes a free kick inside the penalty area, looking for Riva: the bomber dives and with his head touches the ball beating Spalazzi. “I beat the free kick just where I knews I was going to find Gigi: in the game we just repeated what I tried in training, it was natural that certain mechanisms were replicated with my eyes closed”, Mario’s words.

Once the result was unlocked, general attention was focused on the radios that bring good news, Juventus lost in Rome against Lazio: “We didn’t know the score of Juventus: we sensed that something was happening because the fans had doubled their roars – said Comunardo Niccolai – A certain electricity was perceived throught the stadium”.

“The Amsicora audience was our twelfth man – said Poli – They gave a huge boost especially when the fans stamped their feet on the stands”.

When the game was about to end, Bobo Gori scores the goal number two: Cagliari won Scudetto. The party bursts in the stadium,  the fans cheerfully invade the pitch; the city goes crazy with joy, the parades of cars with their horns full throng the streets of the center. A healthy collective madness.

Martiradonna in 2020 told a nice anecdote: “At 6 in the morning I was awakened by a noise in the street. A crowd of fans had gathered under the balcony, cheering me on. I went to the balcony to greet them, it seemed as if I was the Pope”.

“Emotions like this are difficult to explain – said Poli – After the game, the clique of married couples went out to dinner, all together, while the others went to Arrica’s house to celebrate. Also the comedian  Walter Chiari was there”.

“I remember Scopigno in the dressing room – said Riva-  Usually was a cold and distant man, that time let himself go. His Philosopher’s eyes were read with tears”.

There was still one goal to reach in the last two games of the League: defending the record for the lowest number of goals conceded in the 16-teams championship. Cagliari had only suffered 11. At San Siro Cagliari played Milan and it ended 0-0, while in Turin, it was 4-0 for the Scopigno team, thirty minutes from the end. At that point, Adriano Reginato came on as a sub. “Leaving the field Albertosi recommende to do well, he was particularly keen on the record. My mates had given up their moorings a bit, Torino strikers bombed me. But they did not score. Ricky believed in me, I could not disappoint him”.

45 points, 17 wins, 11 draw, only 2 defeats: 42 goals scored, 11 conceded. Gigi Riva was top scorer of Serie A with 21 goals.No doubt: the strongest team had won. The Rossoblù backbone (Albertosi, Cera, Domenghini, Gori, Niccolai and Riva) took part a couple of weeks later at Mexico ’70, where Italy was second behind Pelé’s great Brazil.

“We were a very tight-knit group that played to win – Domenghinis opinion – Everyone gave their best and we had Gigi in front. The last pass was for him”.

Riva has always emphasized the social aspect: “Scudetto was the big social revenge of the Sardinians. When we went to play away, they followed us from all over Italy and all over Europe. We received letters that filled us with pride. They were waiting for us at the end of the game to greet us, transmit their warmth. The whole island partecipated in this victory, which made the whole Europe speak”.

And after 51 years, we still talk about it…

Happy Birthday, Scudetto!