The majority of the images are taken from Archivio personale Giuliana Bertea, courtesy of the player’s heirs/family – permission is needed to reproduce these images, please contact Playing Pasts for information.
The author would like to thank Mimmo Cacciuni (FIP), Giacomo Zucco and Claudia Giordani for sharing their memories regarding Giuliana Bertea, Angela Vacchini, Francesca Cipriani and Aldo Giordani respectively,
Giuliana Bertea’s album we were talking about in Part 2 gave us the chance to follow the career of a sportswoman growing up in the Fascist Ventennio even after the end of the regime: moreover, after WW2 the former young and hopeful SS Parioli/Bruno Mussolini Roma player became the captain of both Indomita Roma (1948/1949 Italian champion) and the Italy national team.
In the 1946 season, the former Bruno Mussolini Roma cestiste played for a new sports club, called Indomita Roma: they easily won their regional championship organized by FIP Lazio, but then they couldn’t reach Northern Italy for the Finals, wich was won by Reyer Venezia. In a country in ruins such as Italy was in 1946, scheduling a National championship wasn’t so easy …
In 1947, after the easy victory in the regional tournament, Indomita Roma could at last compete with the main Italian teams in the Finals.
During the same summer of 1947, the National University Games took place in Merano, near Bolzano. Giuliana was in the Rome team which won the tournament, that doesn’t imply that she was really an university student …
In November 1947, Giuliana was selected for the National team collegiate training in Rome, at the Muro Torto camp, near Villa Borghese, led by US coach Elliot Van Zandt (1915-1959), who at that time was the trainer of the men’s National team. Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he arrived in Italy in 1943, serving with the US Army. When the war was over, Van Zandt remained in a US base near Livorno as sports trainer; then he became the coach of the men’s Italy National team, until 1951. In mid-1950s he moved to Milan, when he first became a baseball trainer fro CUS Milano, and then athletic trainer of AC Milan football club (1957-1959). He was one of the first black person in the history of Italian sports.
Among the many obituaries for Van Zandt’s death (1959), several were from basketball players, trainers, managers, and journalists. Among them, Aldo Giordani and his wife Francesca Cipriani, former Indomita Roma and Italy National team basketball player. Aldo and Elliot became friends in 1944, when the first worked as an interpreter for the US army: during his free time, he organized some basketball games with Allies soldiers. Although they always asked him for a more competitive Italian team, he was so smart that he reintroduced …. the same bad team! Giordani had the opportunity, as one Italian, to attend the coaching courses by Everett Case and Howard Hobson for the US Army in Italy.
In Giuliana’s album we can find the telegram of her call-up for a training day in Turin in late December 1947: the game France – Italy was already scheduled for 9 January 1949.
Giuliana Bertea does not preserve any clipping about her first game for the Italy National team (France – Italy 35-22, played in Paris), but in a very interesting article La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Giorgio Fattori describes the social life of the both men’s and women’s teams the night before the match. While men’s team coach Elliot Van Zandt went to Folies Bergère music hall to have some fun, the girls asked the Italy managers for some freedom in order to escape the excessively restrictive moral measures imposed by commissario unico ‘head coach’ Baratti, compared by Fattori to the 15th century monk Savonarola. They succeeded, gaining a free walk (!) with their male colleagues: a very interesting episode of how a women’s team could fight together to win some freedom in 1948 Italy!
The first part of the 1948 season was a masterpiece by the Indomita Roma team: Giuliana Bertea, Francesca Cipriani, Donatella Amoroso, Luciana Farri, Gabriella Folliero, Marcella Latini, Gianna Marietti, Bruna Marinello, Rosina Micozzi, Riciconi and Clara Tampe, who won 9 matches from 10 in the elementory rounds, ranking 1st after Ambrosiana Milano!
The Roman players were so unlucky during the Finals. Although Indomita Roma defeated Ambrosiana (both times) and Lega Nazionale Trieste, they in turn were defeated twice by Bernocchi Legnano, and drew once against Lega Nazionale Trieste (31-31). So they ranked second with 7 points, just one less than the 1948 Italian Champions of Bernocchi Legnano.
In 2003, a Corriere della Sera journalist interviewed former Indomita Roma player Luciana Riccioni. Born in 1923, she started with gymnastics and athletics: ‘there weren’t so many gyms such as today, but at that time if you wished, you had a lot of opportunities to practice sports’, which is a good synthesis of the social good reputation of women’s sports during the Fascist Ventennio, even if the word “Fascism” is not even quoted. Then, during WW2, ‘the sporting activities declined, but I never quit, not even under bombs, because doing so I could distract from what was happening around me’. The first bombing of Rome happened in July 1943, the last one in May 1944.
A video about the bombing of Rome. Source: https://youtu.be/RMuEzaE9Q-s
When the war was over (the Allies entered Rome in June 1944), ‘we used to go to the gym by bicycle, so that when we started training we were already warmed up’. Then came the basketball: ‘Indomita Rome was known for its boxing and gymnastics activities, but since we were already good at playing basketball, we were supported by the club’, which implies that Luciana had previously started to play with her teammates. Luciana was 163 cm (5ft, 4in) tall, which ‘at that age was enough … nowadays, not at all!’. The girl was fascinated by the team activity (‘you win or you lose with your teammates, not by yourself’), and by the trips by train all around Italy: ‘our team used to have a reservation for a sleeping car … we were treated like queens!’.
Luciana stated she played even in 1948/1949 season , winning the Championship and a bracelet that ‘brought me back to my youth’. That is quite controversial, since Luciana’s name is not reported in Mascolo’s Almanacco, neither in Giuliana’s album clippings nor captions, for season 1948/1949, but only from 1946 to 1948. Was it an 80-years old Luciana mis-remembering? Was it an inaccuracy by the journalist, or even an false memory? Or was Luciana right, maybe because she played once or twice during that season? Further research on sources must be done, to find a definitive answer to these questions.
Sports changed Luciana’s mind forever, even after her youger years. She obtained a degree in Engineering, which was quite rare for an Italian female at that time, as Playing Pasts readers already know from the daughter of Brunilde Amodeo’s story (see https://www.playingpasts.co.uk/articles/football/and-then-we-were-boycotted-new-discoveries-about-the-birth-of-womens-football-in-italy-1933-part-6/ ). Adding to this, Luciana had an important career in Masters sports: she began to play tennis when she was 50, surfing when she was 70, and she broke the Masters’ (80+ years-old class) 50m breaststroke record.
Despite their disappointment for the 1948 season’s 2nd ranking, the Indomita Roma cestiste were almost ready for the great goal. For the 1948/1949 season journalist Aldo Giordani (who went on to be a great basketball commentator) assisted coach Muzio Toti, a friend of his. The new championship structure left the combination of qualificating rounds and Finals, in favour of a simpler round-robin tournament.
In a few cases Giuliana’s album preserves two different journalistic sources for the same basketball game, giving us a wider view on Indomita Roma players. Let’s take for example the two clippings about the game against PTT Trento, played on 27 March 1949. In the first the author writes that when the Roman players reached Trento, their reputation had preceded them: when PTT Trento took the lead in the game(13-11), they already knew that Indomita Roma would comeback … The journalist praises not only Giuliana’s direction of the collective game and tackles, but also her passing to Francesca Cipriani. In the second clipping, Carlo Covi writes that the local audience gathered to watch the Roman hosts, which composed mostly of the National team (Farri, Cipriani, Bertea, and Folliero). Giuliana is praised not only for her having stamina but also for her being the brain behind the team.
In a clipping the local cestiste are called canarine ‘canaries’ probably because of their shirt colour: canarini (male form) is still used in Italy to talk about the Modena football players. Since yellow was the well-known as the colour of Poste Telegrafi (the Italian state Mail), we can imply that the girls from the Poste employees’ sports club wore yellow shirts.
In a 2017 article (see https://www.ildolomiti.it/sport/quando-basket-si-giocava-sotto-la-pioggia-e-anche-trento-aveva-la-sua-olimpia-nata-sulle ) Sandro Cestari writes that from 1948 to 1950 the PTT team was trained by Bruno Aor, who was a basketball player too – he later became the father of Giuliana Aor, the trainer of Italian diving champion Francesca Dallapè. In the 1949 clippings we can read the names of S. Aor Dellai and Lidia Aor: were they Bruno’s sisters, or cousins? Going back in time to the early 1940s, the Trento women’s team was Rari Nantes Trento, which reached the third place during the 1943 season. As told by Paolo Tagliente (see https://www.giornaletrentino.it/sport/basket-addio-ad-adriana-giovannini-1.884738 ) the “Cinquebello” team was made up of Adriana and Clelia Giovannini, Adriana Fumai, Maria Broilo and … Lidia Aor. Adding to this, their trainer was the sports journalist Cafiero Perrella (who later wrote a lot of articles found in Giuliana Bertea’s archive): during that 1943 year, he was a soldier stationed in Trento! The audience was so heated that during a game against GUF Napoli a RNT fan broke his umbrella on the referee’s head! (According to Mascolo 2016, p. 67, the victim was the Reyer Venezia captain, Gina Bonato). Adriana Giovannini was not only a basketball players, but also a high jump and long jump athletic regional champion.
In March 1949 Giuliana was called up by the Italy National team commissario unico Baratti. The humiliating 1948 defeat was a turning point for the team: Baratti didn’t call up eight of the ten 1948 game players (Cenni, Guidi, Maiocch, Plaino, Rocco, Ruggeri, captain Rusconi, Veronesi), keeping only Bertea and Bortolato, and calling up new players such as Branzoni, Caciolli, Cipriani, Farri, Folliero, Marietti, Parovel, Piaia, Santoro and Tommasini. The Indomita Roma line-up was complete, and since they were used to playing together Baratti decided to field for a short time the 5 Roman players together, then fielding a second Italy team that was a selection of the best players from other clubs. Nevertheless, even this time the azzurre were harshly defeated by their French opponents (12-30): Giuliana having the small comfort of being the first Italian to make a basket.
Winning the last game against Comense in Rome (27-18) on 24 April 1949, Giuliana Bertea and her Indomita Roma team-mates were the first-ever (and last!) Roman women’s basketball team to win a national championship. As you can see from statistics, they didn’t score many points (just 384, 110 less than Bernocchi’s), but they have the second best defence of the whole championship (319 points).
Journalist called ‘gamma’ wrote a very nice article about the Indomita Roma exploits, describing the first winter matches, played in a bitter cold temperature, and the last, played in the summer heatt: even after the war, basketball remained an outdoor sport in Italy! Praising the great competiveness of the 1948/1949 championship, ‘gamma’ criticizes those FIP managers who didn’t seem to believe in women’s basketball, despite of President Baratti pleas. The journalist admitted that he was quite sceptical too, but then he changed his mind watching the very methodical (and less agonistic) cestiste‘s game. He added that, lacking any real competiton such football and cycling were for men’s basketball, women’s basketball was not only ‘the one women’s team sport’ in Italy, but it could became the mass women’s sport, thanks to the FIP management and the Italian press. Moving to the analysis of the teams’ performances, ‘gamma’ praised Indomita Roma’s methodical game, blaming the other parts on the Roman players’ excessive fear of Bernocchi Legnano; he added that they couldn’t play on the counter and they were too used to running zone defence (instead of man-to-man defence). The methodical game of the Indomita players was not only very useful during the most difficult games, but was also shown in the very low numbers of fouls: they used to handling the game, also thanks to their very systematic training sessions which allowed even new players to join the Indomita Roma’s spirit.
In ‘gamma’s’ clipping there’s a nice team picture, which is very useful to reconstruct the players’ shirt numbers. As expected from the analysis of Ambrosiana (see http://bit.ly/3ugPpoJ ), the most experienced players such as Cipriani, Farri, Tampe and Bertea had the lower numbers, while the newest ones got the higher numbers. Thanks to a second picture of 1948/1949 Indomita Roma taken in May 1949, which seems to be a different shot taken in the same day, we can pay attention to the fact that on the shirts of players wearing numbers 7, 6, 3 and 5 there’s an empty space (with three little holes). Player number 4 has a little shield, while all the higher numbered players (starting from number 8) are wearing a standard vest. So we can imply that Cipriani (3), Farri (4), Tampe (5), Bertea (6) and Marinello (7) are wearing the first version of Indomita Roma vest.
In November 1950 the new season (1949/1950) started and the Indomita Roma players now wore a little green-white-red scudetto at the centre of their shirts, symbol of the National championship they had to defend.
On December 1949 the Italian National team started to prepare for the new match against France, scheduled for 2 January 1950 in Nice: after a first training week in the first part of the month, the players gathered again during the Christmas holidays in Santa Margherita Ligure, a small sea town.
Although the Italian press wrote about the women’s players in Santa Margherita, journalists paid more attention to their male colleagues in Bordighera (both women’s and men’s teams would play in Nice). Giorgio Fattori, the basketball journalist for La Gazzetta dello Sport, wished the women would just lose with honour: no one bet on their victory. In a further article, he describes captain Giuliana Bertea as a veteran, although she had previously played only two games with the azzure team.
On 2 January 1950, against all odds, the azzurre won the game (18-21): it was the first victory since Italy – France 34-18 played on 16 October 1938!
In front an audience of 4.000, the Italian players took the lead before half-time (7-11), thanks to their defence. In the second half the French players tried to make up the deficit, reaching 18-19, but then a basket by Branzoni closed the game (18-21).
Italian newspapers titles praising the azzurre’s victory in Nice.
La Gazzetta dello Sport made room for the ‘sensational’ Italian victory over their French opponents. In the main article Giorgio Fattori talks about the ‘Termidor’ of women’s basketball (an historical reference to the Coup d’état of 9 Thermidor in July 1794 that meant the fall of Maximilien Robespierre): after the Paris and Modena defeats, finally the azzurre looked up, leaving behind their previous shyness – according to Fattori, they would turn pale during the National anthem before the game! This time, Bertea, Rozzo, Farri, Cipriani and Caciolli (4 Indomita Roma players of 5!) played better, with a lot of technique, while their French opponents tried in vain to play well. On the coaches benche sat the commissario Baratti, the coach Garbosi and also the men’s National team coach Elliot Van Zandt, who was the responsible for player substitutions. Journalist Aldo Giordani interviewed the majority of the Italian players, who broke down in tears at the end of the game (like their French opponents … but for different reasons!). Captain Giuliana Bertea was quite sad for having played only a few minutes, but she praised her teammates. Pierucci says that she would always remember that basket (and the sad face of the French opponent) for the rest of her life, Tommasini saying that finally she knew what it meant to win in an azzurre shirt. Francesca Cipriani, ‘unusually garrulous’ about her future husband’s opinion, describes how she felt chained by the Colchen’s marking.
January 1950 was a sort of magic moment for Giuliana. Just some days after the Nice victory, she and her Indomita Roma team-mates travelled to Belgrade, for a small tour of Yugoslavia. They had been invited by the Yugoslavia Federation, in order to test the women’s National team, which would play against France for the first time. Thanks to a clipping, we can reconstruct the whole tour:
- – 7 January 1950, Institute of Physical Culture gym, Belgrad: Proleter Zrenjanin (Vojvodina) – Indomita Roma 20-29;
- – 8 January 1950, Institute of Physical Culture gym, Belgrad: Crvena Zvezda Belgrad – Indomita Roma 31-18;
- – 10 Jaunary, gennaio 1950, mid-school gym, Novi Sad: Vojvodina regional selection – Indomita Roma 31-32.
Two victory from three games, and … a lot of clippings written in Cyrillic characters: one might wonder whether Giuliana could understand something more than the number characters …
Then the National Championship returned, but Indomita Roma didn’t repeat their feat: they ranked 2nd, after the stunning Ginnastica Comense, a young team won the 1st of its 4 consecutive titles.
From 14 to 21 May 1950 captain Giuliana led Italy’s National Team in the 2nd edition of the European women’s basketball championship, held in Budapest: almost all the players came from Comense, Indomita Roma, Triestina, and Internazionale Trieste. As absurd as it seemed, because of that previous 1938 victory, the Italians were the defending champions!
Italy easily won two games (vs. Netherlands and Switzerland) on three, ranking 2nd in Group C, before Czechoslovakia.
Dreams can’t last forever: the azzurre woke up suddenly in the final round. Thanks to great performances by Bertea, Tommasini and Pierucci, Italy defeated Poland (39-20), but then was defeated by the home team by just 1 point (29-28). No surprise that Italy was beaten 16-65 by URSS (who would go on to win the Championship): even France took revenge for the Nice game, defeating Italy 63-51 in the very last game. At the end, the azzurre had to be content with fifth place in ranking.
In season 1951 Indomita Roma were ranked 2nd, but Giuliana’s album don’t have any clipping, except for an interview by Cenzo Bianculli. Although during that season Giuliana’s performance was still excellent (13 games, 90 points), she probably started to look back on her entire career, especially as she was going to marry shortly afterwards… On March 1951 she played, in Bari, her last game with the National team, Itay – France (45-36).
1952 was the last season of both Indomita Roma and Giuliana Bertea: the team ranked only 4th (14 points), very far from Comense (28 points). The following year, the Indomita Roma didn’t sign up for the National championship: Francesca Cipriani, who would marry her beloved Aldo Giordani on October 1953, had to move to Como to play that season for Comense.
.. So that is all Giuliana’s album could tell us about its owner’s story. In June 2019, the Lazio regional FIP committee organized a celebration for the 70th anniversary of the single Indomita Roma National title (1949-2019). The only living players who were able to attebd were Anna Maria Tonini, Clara Tampe, Anna Maria Ferrero, and Gabriella Folliero. Claudia Giordani represented her mother Francesca Cipriani (would would pass away the following year) and her father Aldo Giordani, while Umberto Broccoli appeared for her mother Lia Francia, Roberto Amaricci and Maurizio Bertea for her mother and aunt Giuliana Bertea.
During that meeting, Anna Maria Tonini said:
I always fondly remember that Indomita Roma team, and Anna Maria Ferrero: Indomita Roma was a wonderful chapter of my life. We were a group of honest and good girls, we weren’t envious but always ready to pass the ball to that mate that seemed to be free from marking
.Finally, the words of 90-years old Gabriella Folliero:
Since words teach but example spurs, I would like to thank those women who had been my models for behavior, education, and respect for others: Luciana Farri, Giuliana Bertea, Gianna Marietti, and Francesca Cipriani. They taught us that we had to sweat and work hard to realize our own dreams. But dreams come true only if we achieve little goals in patience: that’s what I’ve tried to teach to all my sons and grandsons, who all practiced sports. This meeting catapulted me into the past, reviving deep feelings, memory fragments, people that linked the old players and us the “new puppies”, friends that used to make noise during train trips until Aldo Giordani started to reproach us. From all these people we learned discipline, engagement, and the will to set a goal to make our dreams come true. We became National champions, the first-ever in Rome. The seven years I’ve spent within the team have always remained in a corner of my memory, they shaped me and they taught me how to grow up, thanks to sports and to its values.
Article © of Marco Giani
For the digital edition of Giuliana Bertea’s album, see:
For more images about women’s basketball in Interwar Italy, see:
For a biographical article about Elliot Van Zandt, see:
For an article about the 2019 meeting: