On 10 May 1981, Juventus entertained Roma at the Stadio Comunale in Turin. The match up looked likely to be the deciding encounter of the 1980-81 Scudetto. With just two more games to follow afterwards, I Bianconeri sat atop of the table on 40 points, with Roma a single point behind. The home team were perennial challengers for the title. They had topped the table in 1976-77 and 1977-78, before finishing third and then second in consecutive seasons. They had a team brimming with the cream of Italian talent, supplemented by expensive imports, and the club were determined that this season would see them reclaim their rightful spot as Italy’s top club.
With the incomparable Dino Zoff between the posts and a line-up boasting the likes of Gentile, Scirea, Causio and Liam Brady, it was a squad built for the domination of domestic football. Coach Giovanni Trapattoni had fallen for the embrace of La Vecchia Signora five seasons previously, and had secured successive Scudetti in his first two years in Turin, also adding the UEFA Cup and a Coppa Italia. The only currency of success for Juve though was league titles, the Scudetti – the ‘little shields’ that marked out a club out as the best the country had to offer. The previous two seasons had seen them fall short; first to the Rossoneri of Milan, and then to the Nerazzurri of Inter. Another failure would hardly be acceptable.
I Giallorossi were under the charge of Nils Liedholm. Il Barone had returned to the club, for a second stint, at the start of the previous season. For the 1978-79 season, the Swede headed up the Milan team that had finished seven points clear of Trapattoni’s Juve, before moving back to Roma. His first term in the Eternal City between 1973 and 1976 had been less than wholly successful, but now, with a league title to illuminate his CV, he was very much the finished article as a coach. As with Trapattoni, Liedholm too had enjoyed early success with his new club, although a Coppa Italia, was less prestigious than a league title of course. The trophy was retained for 1980-81 however, meaning that, if Roma could add the league title in the same term, not only would it mean a second title to add to the one secured almost forty years previously, but also complete an unprecedented domestic double for the club. A domestic double in his second season? It was something that would have eclipsed Trapattoni’s achievements at the same mark. How remarkable would a ‘double’ be? It was a feat that only clubs from Turin had achieved up to that point. Juventus having twice reached such elevated heights, and Torino on a single occasion. If Roma could emulate such success, it would gift the club a period in the spotlight of European football, when so often in the past they had been compelled to lament their time sat in the shadows of the northern giants of Milan and Turin as Campionatos Italiano.
Liedholm’s squad would hardly pale in comparison that of Juventus. Bonetti, Conti and Ancelotti were outstanding players, and as the talismanic leader of the team, they had the hero of the tifosi on the Curva Sud and native of Rome, the ultimately tragic but wonderfully gifted Agostino di Bartolomei. Pulling the elegant strings in midfield was the maestro of Brazilian playmakers Falcão and, leading the line, Roberto Pruzzo’s 18 goals would make him that season’s Serie A Capocannoniere.
To follow, and play out the remaining fixtures, Juventus faced the daunting task of a visit to Napoli’s intimidating Stadio San Paolo. I Partenopei would eventually finish in third place in the league, meaning the game was anything but a foregone conclusion. They would then complete their programme with a home game against I Viola of Fiorentina, who would end the season in fifth position. Roma’s run in looked less complicated. Their next assignment would at the Stadio Olimpico against already relegated Pistoiese. The unsung Arancioni from Tuscany would end the season bottom of the table, on a mere 16 points, nine away from a group of clubs with 25 points. The final encounter would take Liedholm’s team to Campania to face I Lupi of Avellino, one of those clubs in the group nine points ahead of Pistoiese. It all meant that, if Roma could win in Turin, not only would their fate be in their own hands, as they sought the immortality of a domestic double, but the clubs they had yet to play were far inferior to the opposition ranged against their rivals. All they needed to do was to score without reply in Turin. To this day, many on the Curva Sud, and beyond, remain convinced that this is precisely what they did. Perversely however, the record books tell a different story.
The scene was then set. The two outstanding teams in Serie A were to face off in a game that, to all intents and purposes, would decide which club could add that small, but all-so-important emblem to their shirts for the following season. The only other people on the pitch would be referee Paolo Bergamo of Livorno, and his two linesmen; one of whom, Giuliano Sancini would play a decisive role in deciding the outcome of the game and, ultimately, the destination of the Serie A league title.
It would come as little surprise to anyone cognoscente with the pressures of a major football match when so much is at stake, let alone one in the volatile atmosphere of Italian football, that the game was tense, nervous and at times hectic. It sounds more than a little trite to say there was no quarter asked or given, but it was very much the case. Bergamo issued seven yellow cards, eight if you count the one that was hastily followed by a red, being the second one waved at Juve’s Giuseppe Furino 17 minutes into the second period. For the home fans it was a contentious decision, for others less so, but it was hardly the event that led to a mark of seven out of ten for the Livorno official in the following morning’s newspapers. The key incident of the game, of the season in all probability, came with just ten minutes of the game remaining.
The bruising encounter was now leaning strongly towards favouring Juventus. A win would of course be even more advantageous, but denying a victory to their visitors, and sharing the points, would be more than adequate for a team convinced they could win both of their final two games, and lock out the title. Roma needed to score. Driving forwards from midfield to try and instigate another attack as time drifted away, Bruno Conti clipped one of his accurate left-footed crosses towards Pruzzo’s head in the home penalty area. Outnumbered by two defenders, and hampered in his jump to reach the ball by the penalty spot, this time the striker eschewed the opportunity to head for goal, realising that from the distance, the chances of beating Zoff would be slim. Instead, he nodded the ball across goal, having spotted a team-mate advancing into space.
Maurizio Turone had joined Roma from Liedholm’s old club in 1979. A defender by trade, he played the sweeper role for much of career, very much more akin to the locking of the backline in Catenaccio than the forward sweeping free player of Beckenbauer or Hulshof. After a relatively free scoring spree in his early career with Genoa, when he notched nine goals in a century of league appearances, his goalscoring prowess would be pushed very much onto the backburner by the requirements of his defensive duties. After leaving I Rossoblu, in almost 250 league appearances with Milan, Catanzaro, Roma and Bologna, Turone would notch just four goals in 11 seasons. His job was to prevent goals, not be the man to score on the big occasions, or almost any other occasion at all, come to that. When the ball arced across the Juventus penalty area however, astutely directed by Pruzzo’s header, it was Maurizio Turone arriving with almost perfect timing to intersect its flight on the six-yard line and power a header past a helpless Zoff and inside the far post.
The referee pointed towards the centre circle and, despite being more than a little recalcitrant in the goalscoring stakes, Turone knew how to celebrate one of his rare strikes. As the Stadio Comunale fell almost silent, the defender turned arms aloft running towards the side line. Roma had their goal, and now all they needed to do was to keep the ten men of the home team at bay for the next dozen minutes or so, taking into account any injury time, and the gates of paradise would swing open for them.
As the reality of what he had apparently done sank in for Turone though, the coquettish nature of the fates was revealed to him in all their spiteful malevolence. Standing directly in front of the Roma hero of the moment was Giuliano Sancini, indicating that the goal should not stand, and the hero should return to zero. He was in an offside position when Pruzzo headed the ball. The flag above the linesman’s head wiped out the goal, the timing of the run had only been ‘almost perfect’ and the brief moment of exaltation felt by all Roma players, officials and fans fell away.
Turone’s arms fell to his sides. He stood transfixed for a moment. Bergamo sees his colleague’s signal and rules out the goal. The referee would later tell how difficult the game had been to officiate in. This was “not because of the goal ruled out goal by Turone” however, it was the mere ferocity of the game. He remarked that from the moment Furino piled into a heavy tackle on Falcão, the tone of the game had been set. Turning to the key moment though, he revealed that initially he considered the goal to be perfectly legitimate. With a player running from a deep position to meet up with a pass, it’s always difficult to discern where, at the precise moment of contact, the player is, in relation to defenders. Bergamo’s initial reaction was that the goal appeared legitimate, and that is why, at first, he signalled for it to stand. Then, however, he noticed the flag being held aloft. Concluding entirely logically that his linesman was in a far better position to judge the merits – or not – of the goal, he accepted his assistant’s advice and ruled it out, later explaining that, “I couldn’t do anything else.”
It’s difficult to dispute the logic at the time, but afterwards, when reviewing footage of the game, Bergamo thought the issue was less clear, and thought his initial reaction may well have been valid. He still stood by his colleague’s decision however. “Yes and doubts came to me, but on the offside the linesman is the only one able to judge at best because he is in line with the ball. Sancini was good.” Right or wrong, good or fallible, the linesman would pay a heavy toll for the decision. “I’m sorry he suffered because of this story. Insults, threats,” Bergamo explained sadly.
At the time, Giuliano Sancini owned a gift shop in Bolgna, described as the city’s oldest, dating back to 1694. To many adherents of the I Giallorossi faith, a different kind of gift was proffered by Sancini at the Stadio Comunale on 10 May 1981, with Juventus being the recipients. If to some, that seems more than a little harsh on what was surely the most hairline of decisions, it’s an attitude of mind built on paranoia fed by years of perceived injustices. Memories flood of instances when Italy’s northern powerhouse clubs appear to have been favoured at the expense of their southern brethren. In such cases, logic often finds difficulty in expelling emotional adherence, even when it’s valid, and sometimes it may not be.
In any instance, Sancini feels that reality vindicates him. “I saw and reviewed that action on TV and I have no doubt, certain offside.” Is there any room for debate? “No, I made the right decision. I was on the line and in mind I have a clear picture. Turone was past the line of the ball when Pruzzo headed it.” While there have been many references to television analysis of the event in the years since, some suggesting one thing, other’s perhaps another, Sancini accepts the evidence offered up by the RAI television company. Apparently, on the day of the game, strike action had reduced the number of cameras normally deployed for such games. But, reportedly, a journalist named Gianfranco De Laurentiis used a slow-motion technique called ‘Telebeam’ to analyse the footage and backed up the linesman’s decision declaring Turone to be offside by a matter of 10 centimetres. For anyone more comfortable with Imperial measurements, that equates to around four inches.
Now, in such circumstances, assuming that the evidence is both accurate and valid – and reports suggest that some have cast doubts on that – whether you consider a decision taking into account such a small margin is massively impressive and worthy of praise, or borderline the intuitive guesswork of a experienced official is a matter for consideration. Quoted on the www.tuttojuve.com website in January 2106, Sancini clearly leans towards the former. “Is Turone convinced of the opposite? Well, maybe I was better placed than he … He came from behind, but when Pruzzo touches the ball he was already ahead of everyone. I had a clear view, I saw well.”
Sancini also revealed that after the game there was little protest from Roma players or officials. He even mentioned that Roma president Viola congratulated the officials on the game and that Dino Viola was “a gentleman” about the entire matter. Bergamo concurred with the description of the post-match events. “We received the compliments of… the presidents of Juve and Rome. Yes, even Dino Viloa came to thank us for our work. Viola was a gentleman, he claimed to have lost the Scudetto for a matter of centimetres.” Some time later, when it became evident that the same Viola had reportedly sought to bribe a referee ahead of a European Cup semi-final against Dundee United, more than a few Scottish fans may well have disagreed with the officials’ description of the Roma president.
Someone also likely to take a different view of the events is the man whose fleeting moment of ecstasy was then replaced with despair. As Sancini suggests, understandably Tuone disputed the decision, although as the years pass, he concedes to becoming a little worn down by the subject. “I’m a little tired of talking about it, people ask me all the time, it’s almost become an obsession.” That said, his recollection is different to that of Sancini, but perhaps not Bergamo. “A glaring blunder, the dynamics of the action was in fact simple and the fact that I arrived from behind could not be doubted. I will say more: Bergamo was in an optimal position to decide for himself. But he didn’t feel like taking the responsibility.”
Harsh, reasonable or still stained with a touch of bitterness and regret? Turone, a child of Varazze in the north of Italy, has little regard for talk of accommodations made or favours offered. “I don’t think Juventus was going to look for help. Let’s not forget that this was a great team: Zoff, Gentile, Cabrini, Scirea, Tardelli. That is, the skeleton of the national team that would become the world champion the following year. And then Bettega, Causio, Brady.” He clearly recognises that Juve were a top team, and indeed maybe worthy champions. One must not forget that, earlier in the season, they had visited the capital and come away with a goalless draw against Roma. Turone is also quick however to suggest that, had things gone the other way, Roma would also have been deserved champions. “But we were no less so: Bruno Conti, Pruzzo, Ancelotti, Di Bartolomei and above all Falcao. A phenomenon, a complete player.”
The game, and the events around the eightieth minute of course had an enormous effect on the championship, but Juve still had two difficult fixtures to complete, and the Roma manager, for one, was ill-disposed to raise a white flag. “There were still two days to go until the end of the season and we were confident that we would still be able to recover the point that separated us from Juventus.” Those words sounded a little hollow after the following week’s games. Roma rattled five goals past the abject Pistoiese to complete their side of requirement, but in Napoli, an unexpectedly insipid Napoli seemed to offer little resistance to Juve’s title march and an own goal just past the hour mark by Mario Guidetti, diverting the ball past Luciano Castellini, as he attempted to cut out a cross, gave them a 0-1 victory. It’s the sort of outcome that inevitably reinforces feelings of paranoia and would have encouraged any number of wry smiles and nods of fearing the inevitable in Rome. It seemed all was over then for the league title, and so it was. A 1-1 draw against Avellino suggested that the Roma players were resigned to their fate, and when Juventus triumphed over Fiorentina, again by a single goal, thanks to a rare strike by Antonio Cabrini, the die was cast.
The Old Lady would jealously guard the Scudetto the following season as Juve again ran out as champions, but the following term, Roma, Di Agostino and Liedholm would eventually take their revenge, heading the table by four points from I Bianconeri. A run to the European Cup Final the following season, with the game scheduled for their own Stadio Olimpico offered another tantalising glimpse of glory for I Giallorossi, before the caprices of football again thwarted their ambition, as Liverpool triumphed in a penalty shootout. Liedholm left to return to Milan and despite a slight renaissance under new manager, another Swede, Sven-Göran Eriksson, there was little to ease the burning hurt of perceived injustice of what might have been, of the Gol di Turone – ten centimetres, cruel fate and Roma’s despair.
(This article was originally produced for the ‘These Football Times’ website).