Growing up in Italy, playing soccer is every boy’s greatest dream, much like baseball, basketball, and football are the dreams of many American boys! Few get to really pursue this dream, but my dad was one of the lucky ones. Throughout his life, he lived and breathed soccer! He truly loved the game and didn’t have any trouble memorizing all the stats of all the soccer games played by all the Italian teams. His favorites were Juventus and Milan, but he paid close attention to all of them. In fact, when the World Cup games were on, he was always at the Italian club in San Francisco watching the games on a giant screen TV! Growing up, I never quite understood his fascination with the game, but I later came to understand why he had such a passion for it. You see, my dad played professional soccer in Italy for probably about 8 years in the late 40’s and early 50’s. His team was Gallarate (a town near Milan in Northern Italy). He played in Serie B and was a mid-fielder.
During his career, he was a top goal-scorer and earned quite a following in his home town. Many in the town followed his games and were excited whenever he’d score a goal – even to the point of getting free dental work from his dentist! He was a home-town celebrity but you’d never know it by his demeanor. He took the accolades quietly, even though he enjoyed the little perks!
During a recent trip to Italy, a few years after my dad had passed away, I got to meet up with one of his many fans who had followed his career closely. He asked me if I knew what a great soccer player my dad had been, and sadly, I had to confess that I had only heard about the perks he received(and those stories weren’t even from him!) He told me that my dad had great talent, but my dad was too conservative and humble to allow himself to venture into Serie A. He said that Como, a Serie A team at the time, had courted my dad to play for them. But my dad had declined because he felt that his knees weren’t good enough! He had had meniscus surgery, which in those days was a major operation, and he was unsure that he could keep up in Serie A. According to this fan, my dad had incredible skills – he could use both feet to shoot into the goal or to pass, and he had great aim with his head shots! I only wished that I could have seen him play this game that he loved so much. The only memory I have of his skills was when he used to play “keep away” with me…I remember chasing the ball but never being able to get it because he’d whisk it away with his feet so much faster than I could ever go!
There is so much more I’d love to ask him about his soccer days but sadly he’s no longer with me. And when he was here, I never thought about asking…why is it that we never take those special opportunities when we have them?