Sixty years ago, Chicago White Sox fans cried, Say it ain't so, Joe!" In Rome today it's, Say it ain't so, Giordano."
Bruno Giordano is the center-forward of Lazio, Rome, a hero in the city where he grew up.
Soccer seemed to have given Bruno Giordano a way out of his meager beginnings. But when the balloon went up last month in the Italian soccer betting scandals, his was one of the 27 names given by Massimo Cruciani, a wholesale fruit dealer in Rome, to public prosecutors.
Cruciani complained that many of these players had double-crossed him. After accepting large sums of money to "fix" matches. They played it straight and Cruciani lost a fortune. Bookmakers threatened him if he didn't pay them 300 million lire.
Giordano had been foolish enough to endorse a 2 million lire check from Cruciani. His story that he'd done it on behalf of a relative of his wife who had sold Cruciani a gold watch seemed thin. Stranger still was the story of a Bologna player, Petrini, who said he'd visited Cruciani in Rome: to give him a letter from the Pope.
Petrini and the $2 million-valued Bologna center-forward, Beppe Savoldi, had wanted to put on a charity game for the United Nations Children's Fund, which they hoped the Pope would attend; hence the letter for Cruciani.
Italian police in four cities pounced on 13 Italian players and the president of the Milan club, Feice Colombo, after the March 23 soccer matches. They were charged with fraud and were taken in chains to a Rome prison. They are now out on bail.
Among those arrested was Giuseppe Wilson, Lazio defender and captain who played for the Cosmos in 1978.
One journalist suggested that, with the new arrivals, the prison could field an excellent team, particularly strong in defense, Enzo Bearzot, coach of the Italian national team which in June will play in the European Nations Cup in Italy, said he thought the suggestion was in bad taste.
Colombo admitted that everything Cruciani had alleged was true. Milan had bought its 2-1 victory over Lazio this season.
Colombo stated that one of his players, veteran goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi, reported Lazio was prepared to let Mialn win if it received 20 million lire. Colombo says he realizes now that he was out of order in not reporting Albertosi to the soccer authorities.
After Milan's win, Colombo said Albertosi demanded the money; or else there were people who would blow the whistle on Milan. Colombo gave him the money, Colombo said, but the whistle was blown anyway.
In the image of Italian public life, soccer has long been considered corrupt. During the 1974 World Cup in Stuttgart, Italian players reportedly had unsuccessfully offered money to the Poles during the game to let them tie, and thus remain in the competition. Polish team captain Kaziu Deyna, and the goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski, substantiated the story, but soccer authorities did nothing.
Whatever happens to the Milan team judicially, only a miracle can stop it from being relegated to the Italian Second Division next season.
If found guilty, the players could be banned from the sport for life.