Political Footballers XI: Midfield Paolo Sollier

‘Triste come un Consiglio di fabbrica
in un pomeriggio d’inverno
tra un palleggio e un collettivo politico
sogni dittature proletarie e coi gol
richiami alla lotta di classe.
Sotto le curve dei popolari,
composto esulti e nelle domeniche 
di pioggia é più efficace 
il tuo pugno chiuso’

La solitudine dell’ala destra – Fernando Acitelli (quoted in Sappino, 2000)

‘Sad as a factory council, on a winter’s afternoon’ begins the poem above.  The subject of the poem is Paolo Sollier, the ex-Perugia footballer, Serie A counter-culture icon and member of left-wing Leninist workers group Avanguardia Operaia.  In 1969 he was a factory worker for Fiat Mirafiori for eight months.  In the autumn of that year he went to play for Serie D side Cossatese.  He says that he was a worker and a footballer, and in some respects this dual life continued throughout his playing career.  He recalls walking into the players’ dressing room after work, taking off his shoes and shirt and feeling like he had entered a different world (Boldrini).  As he grew older he became more and more left-wing.  To see photos of him at that time is to see the image of a prototype twentieth-century rebel with the long hair and beard, and the belief in the alternatives to the commercialism and corporatism that were beginning to take hold.  He would enter the pitch and celebrate his goals with a clenched fist raised above his head.  The title of an article about him names him as a ‘militant trequartista‘ (Storie di Calcio), and he takes that place in the Political Footballers XI.

The 1960s were a time of increased radicalisation in Italian society.  Many people gravitated towards the left and right-wing extremes.  Perugia, the team Sollier moved to and high point of his career, was one of Italy’s left-wing centres, thanks to its role in the fight against the fascists in World War II (Foot, 418).  In today’s jaundiced view the famous picture of Che Guevara has been reduced to the status of an image largely devoid of meaning, save a hint of the counter-culture.  Just enough to provoke a frisson of excitement in the wearers of t-shirts or displayers of posters.  There was a time though, in the 1960s & 70s when what he stood for, workers rights, anti-fascism and anti-imperialism, were at the heart of the left-wing movement.

Paulo Sollier making his famous gesture

A look at the famous picture of Sollier in his red shirt, fist raised in the centre of a football field remains a potent image today.  For those of us who didn’t live through the 60s, we will never know exactly how it was to be alive and politically engaged then.  But this image means something, it provide a glimpse of an alternative present, one that didn’t happen and in truth was never likely to.  But when Sollier was a player in 1970s Perugia, the dream was alive and well.

Sollier says that all that is remembered of 1968 are a few thousand rioting idiots (cretini), obscuring the left wing’s contribution to social progress, namely feminism, ecologism and civil rights (Boldrini).  For him football in 1968 represents a lost opportunity.  He was attempting to create a movement of radical change but came up against either indifference or obstruction from his fellow professionals, only Gianni Rivera showed an interest (Boldrini).

In his autobiography (Kicks, Spits and Headers: The autobiography of accidental footballer) he criticises other players of only talking about women, ‘…all the time, and when they don’t, they talk about women’ (quoted in Foot, 418).  He found his teammates and opponents to be superficial, lacking in political thought, or if they possessed such thought they were right-wingers like “Wilson, Chinaglia, Mazzola or Facchetti’ (Boldrini).

Sollier is equally scathing about football fans.  He seems to be an adherent to the view that football is an ‘opiate of the masses’, with its ability to draw all eyes to the drama on and off the pitch.  In today’s neoliberalised football world it is especially hard to argue, take a look at the football dedicated newspapers, television shows and channels, the obsessive blogs and tweets.  For Sollier football encouraged people to ignore social issues, and promoted political inaction, providing results went well.  If results didn’t go well this is when tension created by social forces would come to a head in violence and angry outbursts.  At the end of which the underlying social issues still remain (Storie di Calcio, 1976).

From his book:

”Who isn’t politicised and submits each week to the torture of work, of prices, of not counting for anything, becomes a potential human bomb.  He has been charged by the press and has charged himself arguing, betting, selling his arse to the pools coupon, paying extortionate prices to enter the stadium.  If his team loses, plays badly, or the referee invents something, the fan becomes violent and dangerous.’ (quoted in Martin:185)

Due to his book critical of seemingly every aspect of Italian football, and his rebellious nature, Sollier would always be a divisive character in Italy.  There was a memorable incident before a Perugia game against Lazio in 1976.  He said (he later claimed he was provoked by a journalist) that it would be much nicer to beat Mussollini’s team (Cevasco, 2010).  A few places on the internet attribute this quote to him regarding the game, I can’t find an official link though:

“Perhaps it is incorrect to talk about ‘Lazio’s fans’.. the Lazio fascists is better. They beat people up, attacked buses, slashed tyres. I walked off with ‘Sollier Boia’ [Sollier executioner] being screamed out by those shitty people, their hands in the bastard form of a fascist salute. I went into the tunnel without doing anything. If I had given a clenched fist salute it would have merely drawn attention to their insults… once I was inside I was afraid.. shivering.. I wanted a rifle to kill the whole curva…”

What can be said is that the fascist supporters of Lazio didn’t like him, and the feeling was reciprocated (see quote in Martin:184).

Lazio fans with a ‘Sollier Boia’ banner

Arguments and fights between communists and fascists may have illuminated headlines, but very little was ever resolved.  As it was the neoliberals won the battle for supremacy.  Despite the 1960s counter-culture and revolutionary dreams burning out and fading away, he believes the only failure was that they deluded themselves that they could change the world.  In his house there is reportedly a solitary Che Guevara “Hasta la Victoria Siempre!‘ poster and some political books.  He lives in Vercelli, home to another of his former clubs, with pictures of the mountains and vinyl records for company (Cevasco, 2010).  He has little time for modern football, ‘It annoys me, TV has changed everything’ (Boldrini).

di pioggia é più efficace, il tuo pugno chiuso’

… the rain more effective, your fist closed.

Go here to read the other articles in this series: Political Footballers XI


Boldrini, Stefano (online) ‘Paolo Sollier: Il trequartista militante’ on Storie di Calcio http://www.storiedicalcio.altervista.org/paolo_sollier_chi_visto.html

Cevasco, Francesco (2010) ‘Paolo Sollier: Io, calciatore rosso quel pugno chiuso neppure mi piaceva’ on Corriere della Sera.  http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/2010/agosto/11/Paolo_Sollier_calciatore_rosso_Quel_co_9_100811047.shtml

Foot, John (2007) ‘Calcio: A History of Italian Football’.  Harper Perennial, London, UK.

Martin, Simon (2011) ‘Sport Italia: The Italian Love Affair with Sport’.  I.B. Tauris, London & New York.

Sappino, Marco (2000) ‘Dizionario biografico enciclopedico di un secolo del calcio italiano, Volume 2’ Baldini & Castoldi, Milano.

Sollier, Paolo (1976) ‘Calci e sputi e colpi in testa: riflessioni autobiografiche di un calciatore per caso’ Gammalibri.

Storie di Calcio (1976) ‘Paulo Sollier di caldo’ on Storie Di Calcio http://www.storiedicalcio.altervista.org/paolo_sollier.html

10 Comments Add yours

  1. John Ell says:

    What a tosser this bloke was. May ’68 was more than doing a raised fist on a football pitch and having a wanky Che poster in your house.

    1. Alistair says:

      That’s an interesting viewpoint. Lots of people would disagree that 1968 was more than a youthful rebellion grounded in style rather than substance.
      I thought the article made clear that he may look like a poseur to viewers today, but that he was actually serious.
      FYI The Che Guevara poster was in his house now, not in the 60s.

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