Posted: 4/5/2012
Title: FAREWELL, LONG JOHN

Blog:                                                                                                                         

        It was a June day in 1974 in Stuttgart, West Germany and outside the Neckarstadion some pretty girls from Argentina were handing out flags and souvenirs for the next World Cup to be held in 1978 in Argentina.

       Inside I was sitting in the press tribune for Italy v Argentina. In their first group match Italy had found themselves 1-0 down in Munich's Olympiastadion against lowly Haiti, before they recovered to win 3-1. Giorgio Chinaglia had been substituted at half-time by coach Ferrucio Valcareggi and swore at him and went crazy in the dressing room.

       So he was left out of the Argentina match and was sitting near me with the Italian and international press. He spoke with a gentle Welsh lilt as he had played for Swansea Town(now City) as a teenager after his dad left their home in Carrera, Tuscany and a hard life working in the marble quarries. Life wasn't easy in South Wales either, and the young lad used to take half empty milk bottles from neighbours doorsteps to drink. 

       He returned to Italy in 1966 to do his national service and play for a couple of Serie C teams before signing for SS Lazio in Rome. In 1974 he helped them win The Scudetto for the first time, was top goalscorer with 24 goals, and scored the winner in the last match of the season. Altogether he scored 122 goals in 240 matches for the biancocelesti (white and light blue) and in 2000 was voted  their best player of all time. He was given the nickname Long John, after the Welsh star John Charles who played for Leeds United and Juventus and for Wales at the 1958 World cup in Sweden

       Anyway he was not a happy player in that press box. We got to talking and I suggested that since his English was good and he was unhappy in Italy he should consider going to join the fledgling NASL League in USA and particularly The New York Cosmos, since there was a big Italian population in the Big Apple. The talent in 1974 was awesome: Sandro Mazzola, Fabio Capello, Gianni Rivera, Gigi Riva, Dino Zoff, Pietro Anastasi, Giacinto Facchetti... so maybe there was a leadership problem. The result as 1-1.

       He started in the third and deciding match in Stuttgart against Poland and was again substituted and the 2-1 loss meant that Argentina and Poland advanced and the Italians went home. He played another season in Serie A but was booed wherever he went and finally flew to New York in 1976 to join Pele, Beckenbauer and other stars and stayed for 8 years.

      For Italy he had scored 4 goals in 14 matches and in 1973 at Wembley crossed to Fabio Capello for a 1-0 win over England. In November 1977 prior to a 1978 World Cup qualifier at the same venue I had a long chat with him and Cosmos coach Gordon Bradley. England won 2-0 but still failed to go to Argentina.

      In the NASL he was a scoring sensation and the darling of the fans and the media and owner Steve Ross. They won the Soccer Bowl four times and toured the world in the off seasons. When the league folded he crossed The Atlantic many times and was briefly Lazio President in the '80's. He asked and received huge donations from friends in the New York area to purchase Lazio but they all lost their money and received no stake in the club.

     A few years ago he and others were indicted in another Lazio scam and stayed away from his native country. He passed away at his home in Florida of a heart attack after doing his regular radio soccer show, age 65.

      

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