For the earlier parts of this series see:
Original research by Marco Giani and with special thanks to Federica Buratti for the translation
- Adding to the personal archives of Luisa “Gina” (preserved by her daughter Rosa Mottino) and Marta Boccalini (preserved by her nephew Paolo Gilardi, son of Rosetta), I recently had the chance to examine some new research objects such as a VHS tape and an audiotape, which are currently stored at Istituto Lodigiano per la storia della Resistenza e dell’età contemporanea (Ilsreco), that is the Institute of Resistance and Contemporary Age History, located in Lodi, Boccalini’s hometown. The Director of Ilsreco, Professor Ercole Ongaro, wrote some books during the 1980s and 90s about Ettore Archinti (1878-1944), one of the most important men in local history. Ettore was a revolutionary socialist sculptor, who became the first-ever Socialist Mayor of Lodi (1920), just before the Fascist regime took power. Ostracized by the regime, he nevertheless carryied on working for almost twenty years, until 1943, when he joined the Italian Resistance. In 1944 he was arrested for having helped a number of British prisoners to reach the Italo-Swiss border, he was sent to Flossembürg concentration camp in Germany, where he died in the same year. In one of his last cards, written to friends on the day of his arrest, he wrote:
Be strong, my beloved friends. Love is everlasting, and I will be with you forever
History of Ettore Archinti (in Italian).
At 1’ 52’’, “Testa di Popi” (“Popi’s head”: Popi was Giacomo Barcellona, Giovanna’s son); at 5’ 20’’, the last card wrote by Archinti
- The audiocassette tape contains the interview given to Professor Ongaro by Giovanna (and her husband Giuseppe “Peppino” Barcellona), Marta and Rosetta Boccalini in 1978 and the VHS tape contains Ongaro’s interview to Marta and Rosetta in 1989 (Giovanna and Giuseppe have since sadly passed away). For me, it was a unique experience to have the opportunity to listen to the old calciatrici‘s voices, and above to watch their living faces while they told their history to Professor Ongaro.
- In contrast to Marta (b. 1911) and Rosetta (b. 1916), the eldest Boccalini sisters Giovanna (b. 1901), Teresa (b. 1903) and Gina (b. 1906) grew up in early 19th century democratic Lodi, where the workers’ movement had built up a lot of social agencies, and among them, sport had a place. In a photo taken in 1922, we can see Gina and some friends, in swimsuits, cheering during the Colonia Fluviale, River Summer Camp.
In the same summer, Giovanna, Teresa and Gina joined some of the older Socialist women (including Celestina Fasoli, Archinti’s lifelong partner) in the Summer Camp in Liguria, where they had to oversee a lot of children. Gymnastics and children’s games were among the activities offered by the educators, who also spent their free time visiting the Liguria coastal towns, and… swimming!
Gina was so good at swimming that, when still just a girl, she saved a drowning boy from the waters of the River Adda. As her sister Marta recalled in Ricordando… when the Municipality authorities wanted to reward the unknown brave teenage lifesaver, Gina hid. She was afraid of her mother Antonietta’s reaction, when in saving the young boy, she had temporarily abandoned all the children Antonietta had entrusted to her care…
Growing up even the youngest sisters of the family were introduced to sports and physical activities. In the 1978 interview, Marta, talking about Boccalini’s house in via Cavour 25 (now: 55), Lodi, says:
Now, try to enter into our house, please measure the width of that courtyard – now, as adults, we have a different view … and then imagine that we 23 kids played all together football, with hands ..
- Moving to the Fascist age (1922-1943), the youngest Boccalini sisters (including Gina, who was the middle child of the 5 sisters) seized all the opportunities offered by the authoritarian regime to the Italian girls, above all after 1927, when the family moved to Milan …
After her marriage, Gina stopped practicing sport, as was usual during that time. Marta started to suffer from some physical problems, which were to haunt her for the rest of her life. As we already know, Rosetta became a great sportswoman, playing in the Ambrosiana female basketball team in the late 1930s. Together with her team- mates, Rosetta travelled across the country, something scarcely possible for a young girl in Fascist Italy…
- Meanwhile, the Boccalini’s new generation had to raised, and as previously seen, sport continued to play a central role in the education offered by Giovanna to Giacomo “Popi” (b. 1926) and Grazia Barcellona (b. 1929), and by Gina and Marta, who had to take care of her nephew for some years, to Gina’s daughter Gioia Mottino (b. 1937).
Astonishingly, Giovanna (not her husband Giuseppe) introduced her son Giacomo to the football fandom, going with him at the Arena, at that time house of Ambrosiana Inter, to see Meazza and his team-mates.
It was during those years that Grazia was introduced to ice-skating, thanks to the fact that Barcellona’s house was so near the via Piranesi’s Palazzo del Ghiaccio, one of the few ice rinks in late 1930s Italy. In a 1978 interview Giovanna revealed that she knew nothing about ice skating. Archinti, on the contrary, was very fond of it, and he used to skate at Palazzo del Ghiaccio often during the week, with some old friends. One day Archinti told Giovanna:
Why don’t you let little Grazia try ice skating? I know the Ice-Skating Club President very well…
- After the war, Grazia became a great ice skating champion, competing at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz. But she wasn’t the only Boccalini sisters’ children to have a sport career. Gioia, Gina’s first daughter, was an amateur athlete at Polisportiva Ambrosiana, training at the Arena Civica. She competed in 100m, 200m, and long jump. She also competed with Giuseppina Leone, the most important Italian athlete of that time. After getting married, Gioia gave birth to Marco Bonitta (b. 1963), a well-known volleyball coach, who had also been the coach to the Italian Women’s National Team coach twice, from 2001 to 2006, when the team took gold at the 2002 FIVB Women’s World Championship, and from 2014 to 2016.
- Up to now, we can clearly see how the GFC adventure was just a chapter in the lifetime’s romance of the Boccalini sisters with sport, in all its forms, They were raised thinking that practicing sport was an important part of their personality, and they later decided to educated their children (above all, their daughters and their nieces) in the same way … It is truly a wonderful story of female sporting tradition, played during one of the most patriarchal times of Italian history. As Archinti (the spiritual inspiration behind Grazia’s career) always told the young Boccalini sisters during the dark Fascist years
‘Go on, go on, let’s go on working, and you will see how things will change. A change is going to come, if we go on working’.
As Giovanna recalled in 1978, after so many years, Ettore Archinti
‘always encouraged us … you know, always, always, always!’
Article & Images © Marco Giani
To read Part 5 of the series click HERE
For a new (Italian) article by Marco Giani published by «Archivio Storico Lodigiano» historical journal about Boccalini sisters, see http://bit.ly/2t5Hajj .