We continue our legends of Rome series on asroma.co.uk with a look back at the first great centre forward in Roma’s history, Rodolfo Volk.
There are many players who have worn the red and yellow shirt over the years who are worthy of remembrance. Volk was one of the first. A prolific goal scorer who was known as ‘Sciabbolone’ or ‘Sigghefrido’ (among other names), he scored 103 goals in 157 games for Roma between 1928 and 1934. Even though he is one of Roma’s earliest heroes from Testaccio, he has not been forgotten by the club’s fans as the Curva Sud still sing his name.
Volk was born in Fiume (now Rijeka, Croatia) on 14th January, 1906. Fiume was under the suzerainty of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the time, though Volk himself held Italian nationality. He started his career with Gloria Fiume in 1925 before moving to Florence a year later for his military service. However, as a conscript, he was forbidden from taking part in any other physical activity. This was combined with the issue of the Viareggio Charter, a 1926 act which banned foreigners from playing for Italian teams.
To get around the rule, Volk played under the name ‘Bolteni’ to enable him to play for newly formed Fiorentina during his military service. Under the pseudonym, he played in Fiorentina’s second ever match in 1926, a 2-2 friendly draw against Sampierdarenese (who later merged with Andrea Doria to form Sampdoria), and scored in their opening game of the season against Pisa. As well as Bolteni, Volk is also listed in the records as ‘Folchi’ after foreign names were Italianised on the orders of the Fascist regime.
At the end of his military service, Volk was inundated with offers to join other teams, including CA Paris and Sparta Prague, but he preferred to go back home to play for Fiumana. He was so prolific in that season that in 1928 he came to the attention of some of Italy’s top clubs. Roma, Napoli and Juventus all showed interest in Volk, but on coach William Garbutt’s insistence Roma president Renato Sacerdoti made the decisive move to sign the striker. He was presented as a Roma player on 23rd September, 1928 on the same day as he played his final game for Fiumana – a friendly match played the day after his transfer was finalised.
A prolific goal scorer at his previous clubs, it didn’t take long for Volk to endear himself to the fans as he became the Giallorossi’s first great cannoniere and one of Campo Testaccio’s earliest heroes. Despite not having the best technical ability, he had an aura of dominance on the pitch because of his powerful presence and quick movement on and off the ball. Most dangerous of all was his fierce right foot, which could beat opposition keepers from any angle. Volk preferred to play with his back to goal before receiving the ball to feet, then swiftly turning and firing a shot at goal, leaving keepers with little time to react.
He famously said, “I don’t think, I shoot”, and while his motto was simple it was extraordinarily effective. He was the first player to score a goal at Campo Testaccio in its inaugural game against Brescia on 8th November, 1929 – Roma went on to win 2-1. Exactly a month later, he would go down in history as the first player to score in a Rome derby. It was 8th December, and Lazio were hosting Roma at the Stadio Rondinella. No one had broken the deadlock by half time, and as full time approached it looked like it would end in a draw.
Then, with 73 minutes on the clock, Attilio Ferraris IV managed to get away from his marker Mario Malatesta with a sudden dash and picked out Volk. As usual, he had his back to goal but controlled the ball as Lazio’s defenders closed in around him. With a sharp turn that took them by surprise, Volk found the space he needed to fire a low shot at goal. The angle of his shot caught Ezio Sclavi out and he could do nothing to prevent it flying past him. It was enough for the Giallorossi to win the first Roma derby, and Il Messaggero described the moment thus: “The cries of the supporters reached the heavens, caps were thrown, red and yellow flags were waved as they shouted for joy. Meanwhile Volk’s team-mates smothered him as they embraced him and shook his hand”. It was just the start of his purge of Lazio; he played against the Biancocelesti eight times, and scored in seven stracittadine (only failing to find the net in his last appearance against them in 1933).
Vorche, as Volk became known in the Roman dialect, was adored by the Roma supporters, and the man of many names earned two more as a sign of affection from the fans. Tall, blond and physically strong, Volk was nicknamed ‘Sigfrido’ (which became ‘Sigghefrido’ in the local accent) after the legendary Norse hero. His tall build also gave him the nickname ‘Sciabbolone’ (the Big Sabre) partly because of his deadly finishing but also as a juxtaposition to the more disparaging nickname ‘Sciaboletta’ (the Little Sabre) given to King Victor Emmanuel III, who needed to have a particularly short sabre (sciabola) made for him due to his short stature.
In his first year at Roma, Volk scored 26 goals – including four in a 6-1 win against the league champions Torino, a haul that left the Granata keeper Vincenzo Bosia in tears at the end of the game. The following season he scored 21 times, finishing only behind the great Giuseppe Meazza in the scoring charts. In 1930/31 he became the first Roma player to finish top scorer in Serie A with 29 goals, including a club record run of finding the net seven games in a row. After Roma played Admira Wacker in a friendly on New Year’s Day, 1931, Admira’s Austrian international Ignaz Siegl said, “Volk was magnificent. He scored a wonderful goal and has few rivals for the power of his shot. [Goalkeeper Friederich] Franzl told me that his palms are still stinging after he made a miraculous save from one of his shots”.
Volk had more to his game than scoring goals though, and conducted himself as a true professional. Even in the early days of calcio when rules about fitness and nutrition were somewhat more lax compared to modern football, he once recalled how Roma’s professionalism off the pitch so often got them out of holes on it. “We got to the end of games with an extraordinary amount of energy still in reserve. We could have played for another three hours. In the final few minutes we sprung forward on the attack with such vigour that we were often able to salvage something from a difficult situation. That was the real heart of Roma. We all felt that we had to conduct ourselves as true athletes”.
He would eventually score 42 times in 61 games at the Campo Testaccio; the crowd didn’t sing “Vorche is a goalscoring magician” and “The winger crosses and Vorche shoots and scores, that’s how to play and Roma will show you how” for nothing! Volk is remembered even now by the Stadio Olimpico crowd, who still sing “Vorche è ’n mago pe’ segnà” today. Volk passed 100 goals for the club (only five other players have done this in the club’s history) during the 1932/33 season and could have scored many more but, in the prime of his career at 28, he signed for Pisa.
It wasn’t through choice that Volk left for the third division – internal disputes between Volk and his great rival Enrico Guaita – another fantastic striker of Roma’s early years and the new idol on the terraces – and Elvio Banchero forced him out. His final game came on 18th June, 1933 against Ambrosiana-Inter, when despite being sent off he left the Campo Testaccio pitch to a standing ovation. After Pisa he played for Triestina, Montevarchi and Gloria Fiume before returning to Fiumana, earning promotion with his home town team to Serie B in 1940/41. After the Second World War, he continued to play until finally retiring in 1949. Despite his incredible scoring record – not just for Roma – Volk never appeared for the Italian national side. Instead, he played just five times for the Italy B team, scoring five goals including a brace on his debut against Greece.
After his retirement, Volk remained impassioned with the game and stayed close to the sport he loved by taking up a job as a janitor at the offices of Totocalcio – Italy’s state betting system – in the Piazzale Ponte Milvio in Rome. Later during the 1960s, he worked in the CONI indoor swimming pool complex. As so often happens, Volk became a forgotten man in the football world as new heroes were embraced, and on 2nd October, 1983 – while the city was still celebrating Roma’s second title win – Volk died poor and alone in a nursing home in Nemi, a small town just southeast of Rome.
Volk was one of the great strikers not only of Roma’s early history but of the Fascist era. He left the Giallorossi with a record of 103 goals in 157 games, holding the all time scoring record until 23rd November, 1986 when Roberto Pruzzo drew level with him. He scored two goals on no less than 17 occasions, two hat-tricks and four goals on one occasion against Torino. Sciabbolone, Sigghefrido, Vorche, Volk – many were the names that the Fiume-born striker went by during his time in the capital. No matter what you call him though, he will always be the first great centre forward in Roma’s history.
Legends of Rome graphics courtesy of forza27.com