Tuesday, April 15, 2008

handbags. no, really. handbags.

My flight from Calcutta to Mumbai was interminable, and to stave off crushing boredom I spent my time copying amusing passages from John Foot's comprehensive, if Inter-biased Calcio, a handy tome for everyone with a desire to learn more about Italian football, or for those requiring a reference that will tell you useful things about what Denis Law really got up to in his time in Italy, and so on.

His chapters on the Lazio of the Seventies and the chequered career of Giorgio Chinaglia are unimprovable, although you could never argue that he had to struggle with his raw material. This is what I mean:

--The Lazio team of the 1970s was often involved in violence, on and off the pitch. The most infamous incidents of all involved two English clubs - Arsenal and Ipswich - both of whom played against Lazio in Europe in the Fairs Cup, a forerunner of the UEFA Cup, in the 1970s. Arsenal were holders of the trophy when they drew Lazio in the first round of the 1970 competition. Two John Radford goals at home put the Gunners in control, but Chinaglia struck twice near the end to snatch a draw. The match had been dirty, but everything seemed to have been smoothed over at a luxurious dinner in a central Rome restaurant. The two teams sat at separate tales, apart from Chinaglia, who chatted amiably with his old Swansea teammate, Arsenal's defender, John Roberts. Then, without warning, all hell broke loose.

There are different versions as to what sparked the fight. According to one, the trouble began when the Arsenal players complained about the 'effeminate' little bags they were given as presents by Lazio, and started throwing them about. Years later, Roberts would say, in a kind of sartorial mea culpa, 'looking back those leather purses were lovely...in those days British men wouldn't have carried them around but now they would.' In any case, a Lazio player threw one of the purses into Bob McNab's face, and then grabbed his ear. Soon, 'the refined restaurant was transformed into a bar full of pirates fighting over their treasure.' The players piled outside and laid into each other, egged on by the two managers, including Lorezo, the Argentinian who had led his national team during the 1966 World Cup, and perhaps had a score or two to settle. Incredibly, Chinaglia stayed out of it.

Would attempting to link the modern use of the term 'handbags' in football to this incident be purposeless? I see it as a sort of chicken-and-egg thing, myself

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