This article is a sum of the (still on-going) research of the author about the first women’s football club in Italy, the “Gruppo Femminile Calcistico”, born, raised and dead in Milan, 1933, during the Fascist regime.
By Marco Giani (with special thanks to Federica Buratti for the linguistic review of the translation)
- In a sexist country such as Italy, where, in May 2015, Felice Belloli, chief of Italian football’s amateur leagues (including women’s football one), could say a sentence like «You cannot always talk about giving money to this bunch of lesbians», football still remains a matter of gender. Yet, the history of women’s football began under the (as everyone knows, sexist) Fascist regime. Stunningly, the brave Milanese girls who started playing football in 1933 succeeded for some months (before the inevitable repression) in taking advantage of the dictatorship’s rhetoric: they were able to gain a temporary authorization because they painted themselves as super-Fascists, as the perfect embodiment of the new Fascist sportive women.
- The girls of Gruppo Femminile Calcistico ‘Women Football Club’ (GFC) were a group of tifosine ‘female football supporters’ who decided, in Spring 1933, to play football. At that time, Milan was the capital city of the Italian sport movement: in the first part of the century, lots of women had the opportunity to play sports such as gymnastics and climbing; in 1932, the Milanese 20-years old girl Gaby Angelini amazed the Italian audience flying completely alone all over Europe in her first aerial raid. Adding to this, Milan was the centre of Italian press industry: in spite of the censorship, there were a lot of newspapers who tried to make the first move in describing the new connection between women and sport. In fact, Fascism was trying to support female sport practice, in order to gain stronger future mothers, who were going to give birth to stronger Italian sons (and soldiers, ready to gain Mussolini his long-awaited Empire): yet, there were a lot of traditional prejudices about it, especially among the most conservative families.
- Supported by some open minded men (actual and former players, trainers, sponsors), the GFC started playing some training matches in Milan, publicizing at the same time its activity by a lot of open letters to the sport newspapers, and a sort of manifesto, called programma. Using Irrobustire il corpo e ingentilire l’anima (‘Strenghtening the body, improving the spirit’) as a sort of slogan (note the binary, Mussolini’s-styled linguistic structure), they were aware that they had to gain some support from the audience and from the regime: in fact, they were bravely trying to play the traditional male Italian sport. Yet the calciatrici ‘female footballers’ – raised by the Fascist school where female students had to attend physical education lessons -, proposed an argumentation that sounded like this: we played all kind of sports (athletics, swimming, etc.) you asked us to, now why can’t we played our beloved football, the national sport of Italy? That’s why, being interviewed, the calciatrici painted themselves as smart, modern yet healthy girls, very different from the immoral “American” girls who loved the dance floor and the cafè. In order to avoid moral scandals, they decided to play dressing a black medium-sized sottana ‘skirt’; adding to this, GFC used some special rules, such as the prohibition of aerial play, to avoid physical crashing (that could be dangerous for their “precious” – in regime’s eyes – bodies). For the same reason, after some time GFC decided to call some 13-years old boys to play as goalkeepers. At the end of their promoting activity, the calciatrici gained not only the blessing of a powerful physician such as Nicola Pende, but also the temporary authorization to play. Leandro Arpinati (gerarca of Bologna, lifelong friend of Mussolini, at that time chief of the Italian sport) granted it in April 1933, just a month before losing all his power: the GFC was allowed to play, but in private way, with no audience. In fact, during the first training matches, the almost 30 calciatrici played just in front of amiche ‘female friends’ and relatives’ eyes.
- During Spring and Summer 1933, the rising of GFC divided Italian sport press. Most of newspapers decided to ignore it; some of them made fun of the calciatrici, most of the time throughout sexist vignette ‘balloons’, while the editor of Il Littoriale (the National Italian Olympic Committee newspaper) fuelled an argument with Losanna Strigaro, the scrappy mouthpiece of GFC.
- Yet, the Milanese newspaper Il Calcio Illustrato, like the most part of women’s press, decided to support GFC: it published a lot of articles, photographs, and a whole inchiesta ‘reportage’, based on 9 interviews. Giovanna Barcellona was interviewed too, as member of the staff (she was the elder sister of two calciatrici, Luisa and above all Rosetta, the star of GFC); yet, the journalist didn’t write that, before the Fascist era, she had been a socialist activist. He couldn’t know that, some years later, she was going to became partigiana ‘anti-Fascist insurgent’ during Second World War, and then twice city counsellor for PCI (Italian Communist Party) in the Milan municipality. Up to now, there aren’t enough proofs to say that GCF was a resistance group: yet there is no doubt that not all calciatrici (socially composed by students, teachers, seamstresses and milliners, office workers) had a strong Fascist faith.
- In Autumn 1933, simultaneously with the rising of Achille Starace, (Secretary of the Fascist Party) as the new chief of Italian sport, the GFC’s experiment ended. While in June the Milanese calciatrici, despite of Arpinati’s rules, had decided to play their first public match in front of 1,000 viewers, during the summer some new calciatrici groups raised all over Italy (Alessandria, Rome, Bologna, Parma, Venice). In October, 1 the first national match, between the Milan and the Alessandria female clubs, was planned: at the last minute, it was forbidden by the Fascist authorities. In November an anonymous editorial published by Il Littoriale explained the new Starace’s strategy about Italian sport, after the bad result of Los Angeles Olympic Games (Italy had gained no female medals, because of the decision not to call female athletes, such as Ondina Valla): because all the national sports efforts had to be aimed to the gain of Olympic medals, only Olympic female sports should be practiced by Italian women. For this reason, there was no place for sports such
as female boxing, or football.
- Historical proofs say that the Milanese calciatrici went on playing, in a private way, until the first months of 1934. After that, Italian women had to wait until the fall of Fascism and the end of war to play football again. Yet it’s another story, that should not make us forget of the courage and above all of the craftiness of the 1933 calciatrici.
Bocchio, Sandro (2017): Il calico con la gonna. In: Tuttosport, 27/12/2017. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/35520971/Sandro_Bocchio_Il_calcio_con_la_gonna_ .
Giani, Marco (2017): «Amo moltissimo il giuoco del calcio». Storia e retorica del primo esperimento di calcio femminile in Italia (Milano, 1933). In: La Camera Blu, 17 (2017), pp. 384-422. Available at: http://www.serena.unina.it/index.php/camerablu/article/view/5395 .
Giani, Marco (2017b): Le nere sottanine e la congiura del silenzio: lingua e immagini nelle polemiche giornalistiche sul “Gruppo Femminile Calcistico” milanese (1933). In: Lingue e Culture dei Media, v. 1, n. 2. Available at: https://riviste.unimi.it/index.php/LCdM/article/view/9346 .
The whole textual corpus of press articles (photos included) used in both Giani’s articles, and more research instruments (such as the complete list of calciatrici’s names and surnames), are now available at: https://unive.academia.edu/MarcoGiani/Calciatrici1933 .