In the annals of sports history, team dynamics, politics, and off-field antics have often punctuated sports. However, seldom does a story emerge as intriguing and controversial as the account unveiled within the hallowed walls of S.S. Lazio’s locker room during the championship season of 1973-74.
The squad was divided into two factions, one led by striker and Lazio Legend, Giorgio Chinaglia and team captain Giuseppe Wilson. The other led by Luigi Martini, with Luciano Re Cecconi being the meditator liked by both sides of the squad. A divide so great that they would dress in different rooms. The cause of this divide was the differing personalities of the squad.
The two factions would butt heads constantly. Training matches would run late into the night. Manager Tommaso Maestrelli would call the game a draw as a victory for either side would spark off a fight. The physicality of the training matches led to numerous injuries.
The differences in the squad shined through during a match against Hellas Verona. Lazio entered halftime down 2-1, but a bigger problem was ahead. Every member of the squad was frustrated, and it was about to boil over in the locker room. Maestrelli stopped the entire team from entering the locker room and said “Back on the pitch.” The players would return to the field and work out their differences there. Lazio would win the game 4-2.
In Italy, the Years of Lead, a period of social and political turmoil that affected Italy. Gun ownership spiked in Italy. The Lazio squad was no different. Only one member did not have one, Re Cecconi, a prankster by nature, who would ultimately lose his life in 1978 after faking a robbery as a prank at his teammate’s jewelry store.
During the 1973-74 campaign, the majority of members would carry a 9mm Walther P38. However, Chinaglia upped them all with his selection of a Model 29 .44 Magnum, similar to the one popularized in 1971 with the release of the movie Dirty Harry.
The squad would reside in a hotel on the edge of the city during the season. The rampant ownership of guns, numerous firing ranges were set up in the hotel for the amusement of the squad. One such makeshift range resulted in a bullet being lodged in a wardrobe of a nearby school for the disabled.
The makeshift range was not the only time when guns would be shot in the hotel. Sergio Petrelli says he shot the light in his room because he couldn’t be bothered to get up to turn it off. Guns continued to play a role in the squad. Initiation for new squad members would mean firing pistols with blanks between the legs of the teammates in a sign of ‘trust.’
The most infamous incident of gun play came the night before the Rome Derby between Roma and Lazio. Roma fans had gathered outside to make noise to gain a potential advantage during the match. Multiple players awoke from their bed to the sight of the Roma fans. Petrelli and other players took matters into their own hands. Reaching for their guns and shooting the street lights, raining glass down on the scattering opposition fans. Lazio would go on to win the next day.
One thing in common that they all shared besides soccer was their interest in Fascism. After his career, Martini became an MP of Alleanza Nazionale, a neo-fascist party; Franco Nanni, one of the starting midfielders, would support the Alleanza Nazionale mayoral candidate Gianni Alemanno. Felice Pulici, the goalkeeper, went on to be a candidate with Francesco Storace, a former senator of Alleanza Nazionale. Chinaglia was a fan of Giorgio Almirante, the one-time leader of the MSI, the neo-fascist party that preceded Alleanza Nazionale.
The politics of the Lazio players rubbed off and attracted others to Lazio. In 1987, far-right fans would unite under Irriducibile. Members of the group cite their love of Lazio, coming from watching the 1973-74 scudetto winning side. The group has made displays of obscene anti-Semitic and xenophobic materials over the years. Banners of Mussolini and phrases such as “Auschwitz is your country, the ovens are your homes.” The culture is extended to the players of the Scudetto winning side when they returned to the stadium. All members are greeted with a Roman salute or a Nazi salute.
Despite this turmoil, Lazio won, taking first place in the standings at the midseason mark and never letting go. Winning the league on the penultimate day with a goal from the league-leading goal scorer, Giorgio Chinaglia. This would be the first for Lazio in their 73-year history.
The saga within Lazio’s locker room during the 1973-74 championship season stands as a testament to the intricate tapestry of sports A team rife with tension. This chapter in Lazio’s history not only highlighted the complexities within a team but echoes a broader narrative that left an indelible mark on the sport, transcending the boundaries of the beautiful game itself.