November 5, 2013

Herbert Kilpin, A.C. Milan's English Founder

Herbert Kilpin, English-Italian footballer 

I've translated a little Wikisource document written by an Englishman who characterizes the reversal of roles England and Italy had undergone. My senior year of college, I wrote a thesis on Italian merchants in Southampton. Italians used to come to England and low-ball locals in the Cotswolds, but this document I'm translating today is an example of the total reversal of roles by the 19th century. Now it was Englishmen establishing their ways in Italy. One of those Englishmen, a Nottingham-born lace-maker (English lace? Some sixteenth-century Venetian must have rolled in his grave.) came to Italy and established what would eventually be called A.C. Milan, the world-famous soccer team. The team name is still pronounced in Italian as "Milan" rather than the proper native name of the city, Milano. Herbert Kilpin, apparently by coincidence, played for a team named after Italian war hero Giuseppe Garibaldi in his youth in Nottingham. What I've translated below is the first part of a document written in Italian by Kilpin, recounting his twenty-five years spent playing soccer in Italy. Here is the original Italian-language text on WikiSource. And here it is in its original publication in "Lo Sport Illustrato."
To Twenty-Five Years of Football
by Herbert Kilpin
I was thirteen when I debuted as a footballer, as a right winger for "Garibaldi": a little club, wearing red shirts of course, which we boys had founded in my hometown of Nottingham, dedicated to your legendary hero here in Italy. It was therefore in a Garibaldian shirt that I did my first exploits: I won the city "Boys' Squad" championship.
In Nottingham, at that time, there were more than three hundred clubs, big and small. Our "Garibaldi" club fought out our matches on "half-a-crown ground": an immense open space that comprised around twenty football fields. The city rented them out from Saturday to Saturday for half a crown (about three lira) to whichever club reserved them first. So on Saturdays, on the city grounds, twenty matches would be played simultaneously, and it was most curious seeing every field sharply separated from one another by the public, spectators who wanted to see their favorite team in competition.
I later played for Notts Olympic and St. Andrews, in the second division, and always at the amateur level.
My First Match in Italy
I would soon abandon my homeland: I was not yet twenty when I came to Italy, settling first in Turin.
It was September, 1891. I had arrived a few weeks ago when, one Sunday, my dear friend and compatriot Savage, a most skillful footballer, invited me over to the parade grounds to participate in a match. They had started playing football in Turin and Genoa just a few months prior. That morning there was a friendly match between the English squad and the Italian one of F.C. Torinese. They invited me to start for the English team. I rolled up my trousers (I remember they were quite new and I was wearing them for the first time that Sunday. I never would have thought they would serve me in my first match I ever played in Italy), took off my jacket and there I was, in the match.
I soon noticed two things I found very odd: first of all, that there was no official; second, that as the game went on our opposing team, the Italians, kept getting bigger. Every so often an audience member, full of enthusiasm, would join in, so that we eventually found ourselves struggling against a team of some twenty players. This did not stop us from winning 5-0.
One of my adversaries, imagining himself one who knew something of football, took particular aim at me. His system of play consisted of falling upon me with all his weight and available speed. The first times I was able to evade him, but at one point he unexpectedly tripped me, and made me roll for ten meters.
It was in that tumble that I ripped my new trousers. I got up furious, and as I did not then know a word of Italian I asked Savage to my adversary to stop with his attitude, which was certainly not that of a proper footballer. But he continued undaunted in his bumping, tripping way until I finally lost my patience. I waited for him to try to hurl me once more, and with a hip fling of the type only English footballers know, I gave him a good tumble worthy of poetics. He took five minutes to get back up, by which point he had been totally trampled, and then he abandoned the match, and football itself, forever.