il portale dell'ebraismo italiano

From Giorgio Ascarelli to Enrico Bassani, the Jewish presidents who made the history of football

Napoli has won its third “Scudetto”, the Italian national championship well in advance. A feat that the team hasn’t managed to achieve for no less than the last 33 years for no less than 33 years, since the days when Diego Armando Maradona made the world dream with the ball at his feet. It was also an opportunity for a few to learn more about the history of the club’s founder and first president: the Jewish entrepreneur and philanthropist Giorgio Ascarelli, a member of an ancient Jewish family originally from Rome who had moved to the southern part of Italy after the unification of the country.
The new sports partnership was formed in August 1926, with the ambition of being a protagonist from the very beginning. This goal was the result of a broad managerial vision and pioneering intuition. In fact, Ascarelli had the Vesuvius Stadium built at his own expense, the first privately-owned stadium ever, which was then named after him by popular acclaim a few days after his death (which occurred prematurely in 1930, at the age of 36, due to peritonitis).
“An authentic wonder” is how the Gazzetta dello Sport, the most important national sports newspaper, defined it. One of the many marks left by Ascarelli in the city, later erased by the violence of fascism, which in times of rising anti-Jewish hatred would proceed to remove his name from every physical and intangible testimony associated with him.
A contemporary of Ascarelli’s was Renato Sacerdoti, one of the founders of the Roma football team and its second president. However, they had different view about politics: Ascarelli was a socialist sympathiser while Sacerdoti was fully at ease in his black shirt. This, in addition to an earlier conversion to Christianity, did not, however, save him from the racist laws that affected him and his loved ones as well.
“His diabolical cunning, based on the typically-Jewish aptitude for bribing people with money and induce them to commit crimes and to take responsibility for crimes to which they would perhaps never have resorted had it not been for the circumstances that brought them closer to the odious Jew, has been overcome by the sagacity of the Italian police,” exulted the Popolo d’Italia, the newspaper of Fascism, announcing his arrest in the same days in which anti-Semitism was being institutionalised.
Troubled months later followed. A sentence of exile, a return to the capital after the collapse of the regime, the need to hide after the Nazi occupation. However, as he returned to the world of football he marked his personal revenge against those who had forced him to step aside.
Another name not to be forgotten is that of Raffaele Jaffe, a teacher who founded the Casale Football Club in the early 20th century. It was a pioneering era marked by the victory of a resounding “Scudetto” by the Piedmontese team, in the same days in which Europe was sinking into the abyss of a world war as a consequence of the Sarajevo bombing. In those days, however, people in Casale were focusing on the feat of Jaffe’s boys, winners in the double final against Lazio. And “boys” is not used inappropriately, since the skeleton of the eleven first strings was formed by the students of the Leardi School where this strict teacher, who had suddenly become extremely passionate about football, used to teach. Jaffe as well, like Sacerdoti, would later convert to Christianity. But the anti-Semitic measures of 1938 reached him as well, forcing him to resign as headmaster of the Lanza Institute. Even harsher days were to come after that: the arrest through fascism, the transfer to Fossoli, the deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau (from where, at the age of 67, he would not return).
Little known is the story of Enrico Bassani, Giorgio Bassani’s father, the famous writer, who was president of the Spal football team from 1921 to 1924. Under his leadership Spal achieved the highest victory in its history, the semi-final in the 1921-22 tournament. There are other contributions that would be worth mentioning. First of all, that of the headmaster of the Regio Istituto Tecnico Giuseppe Orefice, who was among those who, in 1902, founded the Vicenza football teamThat of Baron Giorgio Treves De’ Bonfili, founder of the Padova football team in 1910. That of Davide Fano, founder of the Venezia football team. A little further to the north, right after the First World War, the Jew Leo Brunner entrusted the leadership of the Triestina football team to a young coach who had grown up in the San Giacomo district. His name was Nereo Rocco, the “Paron”. He would establish himself as one of the greatest coaches of any era.

Translation by Francesca Angelucci, revised by Alida Caccia, students at the Secondary School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities – Pagine Ebraiche.