AS Roma’s Unique Relationship With Argentina: From Tangos To Batistuta

Over 80 years after its composition, the ‘Canzone di Testaccio’ is still sung by Roma supporters. It’s a way of keeping the memory of the times the team played in the shadow of the Monte dei Cocci, but it’s also a call to arms to the 11 players on the pitch: bring out the Testaccino spirit of yesteryear.

Despite its usage, not many people know that the anthem was based on the ‘Guitarrita’, a tango written by Bixio Cherubini and Armando Fragna in 1930. The composer Fragna and the lyricist Cherubini wrote ‘Guitarrita’ for the soundtrack for the film ‘La canzone dell’amore’, directed by Gennaro Righelli and premiered in Rome on 6 October, 1930.

The film, based on the short story ‘In silenzio’ by Pirandello, was the first piece of cinema with sound produced in Italy. The following year, the songwriter and poet Toto Castellucci composed what then became known as the ‘Canzona de Testaccio’ (and is now also known by the simple title ‘Campo Testaccio’) based on the ‘Guitarrita’. Thanks to his contribution, the very beginning of the tango (“Sotto le stelle nell’Argentina / bruna regina regnavi tu”) became the famous “Cor core acceso da ‘na passione / undici atleti Roma chiamò”. Castellucci’s activity as a writer of songs dedicated to AS Roma wasn’t limited just to this, as during the 1950s he brought out the ‘Canzoniere giallorosso’.

In Rome the idea of basing football anthems on already famous songs thus has roots that go far beyond songs based on ‘La partita di pallone’ by Rita Pavone or ‘La notte vola’ by Lorella Cuccarini. Still, we shouldn’t imagine the ‘Canzone di Testaccio’ as a song that was born out of that collective creativity that is found in the curve and which has given so many masterpieces to Italian sporting culture. Castellucci, in fact, composed a song for the first Italian film about football: Mario Bonnard’s ‘Cinque a zero’, released in 1932, which today only exists in one French-language celluloid.

The film is inspired by the historic 5-0 win by Roma against Juventus on 15 March, 1931, and features many of the Roma squad in it including Ferraris IV, Bernardini, Volk and Masetti, as well as Zi’ Checco, the old custodian of Campo Testaccio. In Bonnard’s film, the footballing events are the backdrop for two couples’ stories: the love between the team’s centre forward and a variety act dancer, and the relationship between the president, played by the famous Angelo Musco, and his football-hating wife, who at the end of the film becomes a huge fan.

Roma’s first anthem was an Argentine tango, but at the time it didn’t necessarily sound like an exotic melody. The spread of the tango through Italy was such that even a seemingly tradiitonal Roman song like ‘Chitarra Romana’, written in 1935 by Eldo Di Lazzaro, was originally a tango. It’s no coincidence that Ettore Petrolini, a great actor and playwright who lived at the turn of the century, composed his own ‘Tango romano’ during those years. Most of all though, consider the anecdote of the young Renato Rascel who, to make a living, passed himself off as an Argentine singer in Turin’s cabaret scene. The story goes that, one day, when he was out in public and was spotted by some Argentine footballers, he asked them “not to rumble him”.

It would be nice to know now what the many Argentines and Italo-Argentines who made Roma great in the club’s first decades thought of the Giallorosso tango. Two of them are even mentioned in the song: Arturo Chini Luduena and Nicolas Lombardo. Chini, a forward who was all about dribbling and speed, arrived in Italy in 1926 with a degree in law. Alba Audace signed him ahead of Juventus and, when the Biancoverdi merged with Roman and Fortitudo-Pro Roma, he became the first foreigner at the newborn AS Roma. In 1934 he moved to Lazio before spending the last three years of his career with Trastevere. After retiring, he dedicated himself to international relations, going to work as a top diplomat in Washington DC.

Lombardo was bought by Roma in 1930, although his Roma story didn’t last long as in 1932 a serious knee injury kept him out for a long time. But his role with the Giallorossi was far from over as the club sent him to Argentina as a scout for new players. While he was there, watching a Racing Club match, he was attacked by a group of fans because they saw him as helping a foreign club “plunder” the Argentine championship. Still, after crossing the ocean on the steamship Duilio, on 18 March, 1932 Lombardo arrived back in Rome accompanied by Guaita, Scopelli and Stagnaro. The three players, bought by Roma to take them to the next level, arrived together in the capital and fled together in 1935 in fear of being made to go and fight in Abyssinia. They were seen getting into a Lancia Dilamda, then seen in Liguria getting on a train to France from where they would head back to South America. There are those who claim that the person who invoked this entirely groundless fear of being made to go and fight in the players was General Vaccaro, a member of the Fascist hierarchy, president of the FIGC – and one of the directors of Lazio.

The history of Roma’s first decade was made by two nationalities: Italians and Argentines, and these are only some of the stories that have reached us today. In subsequent years there were many Argentines who crossed the ocean with the dream of playing for Roma: Spitale, Provvidente, future Italian champions Allemandi and Panto, and Di Paola, Peretti, Pesaola and Valle joined up by World War 2. The famous ‘Piedone’ Manfredini and Francisco Lojacono followed a decade later before football’s borders were closed during the 1970s. During the 80s, Roma woke up as Brazilians, and had to wait until 1993 to see another Argentine in the squad: Abel Eduardo Balbo. With him, the unique relationship between Giallorossi and Biancoazzurri was rekindled, the link between Buenos Aires and Rome reborn. The peak of this relationship was reached at the start of the new millennium, and it’s pointless stating here who that was because needless to say you already know who it is.

This is a translation – the original article was written by Valerio Curcio for Il Fatto Quotidiano, which can be read here.

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