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The Pocketbook History of A.S. Roma: Part III (1937-1942)

Roma say goodbye to an ageing squad, then borrow from Hungarian football to win a shock 1942 league title.

Italy’s national soccer team poses with Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP via Getty Images

In Part 2, we saw Roma captain Fulvio Bernardini’s rise to the undisputed leader of the club. Roma chairmen were getting forced out, players were publicly attacked and management dealt with offers to hand out bribes; but it was Bernardini who kept a consistent head—for good and worse.

Everyone around the national press agreed that Bernardini has just played his career-best season in 1936-37 and, while it wouldn’t be enough to win a place in the Italy squad, he did propel Roma to another taste of continental football and, crucially, exposure to Hungarian football - which even the most legendary of Italian coaches (Sacchi) admits Italy heavily stole from, throughout the 20th century.

It would be the last chance that many of Roma’s starters would get in Europe. Roma were becoming ‘La Roma dei Senitori’, with several starters now over 30 years old—including Bernardini himself. Sooner or later, Roma would need a new local lad with fresh legs.

Luckily for Roma, a baker’s son from Frascati heard the call.

1937: Enter Amadei, Piola’s Lazio Mean Business

Brief: Lazio finish second thanks to red-hot scorer Silvio Piola, winning the Capocannoniere award for the first time in his career, while Roma drop down to mid-table among great expectations. An ageing Roma squad manages to reach the quarter-finals in Europe, and a Coppa Italia final.

Roma also win both capital derbies against Lazio that season, taking the wind out of Lazio’s title challenge to eventual (repeat) league-winners Bologna.

Backstory: Another emotional climb-down came after Roma’s 2nd-placed finish in the spring of ‘36. Roma felt they could build on their title-momentum by signing veteran forward Pietro Serantoni from Juventus—by now moving backwards to midfield in his ageing career, but it wasn’t enough.

Serantoni himself was good value (he’d go on to be Roma’s only first-team member of Italy’s 1938 World Cup victory) but Roma would finish a disappointing 10th in the league, with the third-worst defence in Serie A. If young forward Di Benedetti was looking to be the fresh legs in Rome, perhaps he was mentally scared by having to replace the injured Guido Masetti in goal, mid-match (there were no substitution in football at this point) where Di Benedetti conceded 4 goals, after Roma were already 1-0 down.

That match was one of four straight league games where Roma lost 4-0. Roma would fare better in the cup competitions and one-off games, however. They won their first-round fixture in Europe, to get the the quarter-finals of the Mitropa Cup. If any Roma scouts were paying attention to the rest of the competition, they couldn’t fail to notice Hungarian forward Zsengeller’s goals and passes helping his Ujpest team to the semi-finals.

Roma would also lose their first Coppa Italia final, coming out the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline to winners Genoa. But one saving grace, besides the two derby victories of Lazio, would come in the very last game of the season. Amedeo Amadei, a 15-year old forward, would make his debut in a Roma jersey in the course of the winter, and then go onto score against Fiorentina on the final day.

Notable Events

  • Roma sign Pietro Serantoni from Juventus. They make a host of mid-season signings to try and recover their league form, but none of those work out.
  • Roma make their first-ever Coppa Italia final, losing to Genoa 1-0 on the day.
  • Amedeo Amadei’s goal against Fiorentina, on the last day of the 1936/37 season, means his record as Serie A’s youngest-ever scorer is still intact today.
  • Amedeo Amadei holds the joint-record for youngest-ever Serie A debutante, only equaled by Pietro Pellegri in the winter of 2016.
  • Pietro Pellegri’s brace against Roma, on Francesco Totti’s retirement day, meant he eclipsed a record previously held by Silvio Piola.

1938-41: Sliding Doors of the Senatori

Brief: Roma finish off the thirties amid indifferent league form and difficult goodbyes. Italy successfully retain the World Cup on Germany soil. Silvio Piola falls out with Lazio management in almost the same way Ferraris did in 1934, before Lazio’s striker leads Italy to a World Cup win.

Roma bring Attilio Ferraris himself back to the club, from Bari, in time for the 1938-39 season. It turns out to be a curtain call for the Testaccio era, as Roma once again handle retiring their captain Fulvio Bernardini in the worst of ways. Roma move out of Campo Testaccio in 1940, but appoint Hungarian coach Alfred Schaffer to bring fresh ideas to the club. Meanwhile, Piola is annoyed Lazio are forcing him to play in midfield and they narrowly avoid relegation.

Backstory: After trading second-place finishes in ‘36 and ‘37, both sides of Rome finish the thirties on a slide. But not before Silvio Piola’s goals lead Lazio to a European club final. The next season, however Piola comes under fire from Lazio management in the middle of his build-up to a World Cup call—mirroring how Ferraris was blamed for Roma’s league form in 1934 before, like Ferraris himself, Piola would go on to be a key part in Italy’s World Cup 1938 win (alongside Roma midfielder Serantoni).

However, a series of baffling squad decisions and resignations from Lazio management mean Lazio are well on the way down the table by 1940—with Silvio Piola often forced to play as a box-to-box player that robbed him of his goal-scoring touch. If Lazio were doing badly, then Roma were intent to do even worse.

A series of indifferent league-finishes meant Roma management were looking to wrap up the current cycle of players. Unfortunately, they handled captain Fulvio Bernardini (you should be used to this theme by now) in the worst of ways.

Roma first re-signed Bernardini’s mate Ferraris to make a dozen appearances alongside one another, in 1938-39. But it wouldn’t bring the results needed on the pitch, leading to difficult decisions in the summer of 1939. Fulvio Bernardini found out that he, and not just Ferraris, was about to be moved on by Roma.

The only problem was that Bernardini found this out while on holiday, reading the paper at the beach (maybe even in De Rossi’s hometown of Ostia at the time). It wasn’t the best way to handle two icons who’d given a combined 496 games to Roma.

Ferraris would spend a short-lived moment as player-coach of Cesena but really loved to play more than anything, eventually giving his life to football in the most definite sense.

Bernardini had given an uninterrupted 11 years of playing service to Roma, but was always the more coach-minded of the two. Bernardini didn’t just want to win games, but had an entire picture of football in his head that he wanted to use to help build the next generation of players.

Bernardini surprised the press by announcing his next move, in that same summer of 1939, to local non-league team MATER.

At the time, MATER were competing in the informal Serie C; it was a third-division league now being used to test amateur teams against B-team youth and reserve clubs of the biggest names in the land, like the Roma-B team. Some of the press asked Bernardini why he wouldn’t choose to continue playing in Serie A, but the new MATER player-coach wanted to earn his spurs by testing his footballing ideas from the ground up.

It wouldn’t be the last of Bernardini at the summit of Italian football - not by a long shot.

Alfred Schaffer immediately became Roma’s most succesful coach on arrival.
Il Romanista

It was, however, the end of the Campo Testaccio era. Despite Roma president Ignio Betti’s efforts to renovate the Testaccio stadium, it was still seen as unfit for Roma’s growing ambition.

Betti largely gave more than he got back, in his time at the helm of Roma, but he did make one major mark on the club in 1940 by bringing Hungarian coach Alfred Schaffer to the Giallorossi bench.

That was Betti’s last act before standing down for incoming Roma president Edgardo Bazzini.

By the end of the 1940/41 season, Lazio just barely avoided relegation on the very last day of the season (beating Novara on a tiebreaker), while Schaffer’s Roma reached their second Coppa Italia final. Amadei was now firmly Roma’s star striker, but even his hat-trick of goals in the Coppa final first leg wasn’t enough for Roma to eventual lose to Venezia on the return.

Schaffer’s demans, ahead of his second season in charge, were two new midfielders. Get that done and Schaffer promised the Roma board that he’d lead them to the Serie A title. Despite Amadei shining up front and the cup run, Roma had shown completely indifferent league-form for years.

So no one... no one... was ready for the fact Schaffer and Roma would both immediately make good on their word.

Notable Events

  • Roma’s Pietro Serantoni wins the 1938 World Cup final with Italy.
  • Travelling Italian fans get another glimpse of Hungary’s star talent Zsengeller in the very same World Cup final.
  • Guido Masetti becomes Roma’s captain from 1939 onwards.
  • Roma sign full-back Luigi Brunella from Torino. It will take years in the wilderness, but he will eventually make a truly heroic appearance later on.
  • Amadei takes a brief loan away from Rome, gaining experience at Atalanta.
  • Double World Cup-winning full-back Eraldo Monzeglio retires from football, and eventually takes a management position at Roma. Then he goes to serve on the frontline for Mussolini’s army—pictured here.
  • Roma sign Albanian winger Naim Krieziu. He would go onto become a firm fan-favourite.
  • Roma move out of the Campo Testaccio. Their last Testaccio game is a friendly against Livorno, who they played in Roma’s first ever domestic game as a club. Roma now stadium-share the Stadio PNF (national Stadium) with Lazio.
  • Roma beat Torino’s up-and-coming golden generation on the way to the Coppa final. That sets up a bitter cup feud in the following years.
  • One of Jimmy Hogan’s apprentices, Alfred Schaffer, is appointed Roma head coach.

1942: Roma's First Scudetto

Roma’s 1942 league champions
The Anglo-Italian blog

Brief: Roma sign Edmondo Mornese and Renato Cappellini to meet their Schaffer’s demands for two midfielders that’ll help Roma win the league. Guido Masetti leads the team from between the posts, and Amadei is still hitting double figures up front. Schaffer delivers on his promise: Roma are crowned champions on the 14th June, 1942.

Backstory: What more is there to stay? When everything clicks into place, success speaks for itself.

Crucially, Roma chose not to sell or retire any players from Schaffer’s first season in charge, even despite their 11th place finish in the spring of 1941. It was only incoming signings - five of them and all understated names - with very modest expectations surrounding Roma’s 1941/42 campaign; even moreso when Roma lost their opening game to Genoa.

That loss was what would give Rudi Garcia’s Roma the opening to set a record-best start to the season in the 21st century, because Schaffer’s title-winners changed the record from that point in. They went on a monster 13-game run (including beating Bologna and Juventus) to finish up as winter champions, by the time the calendar year of 1942 rolled in.

Suddenly all eyes were back on Roma, who no longer had the luxury of the pressure being off. Sure enough, a stutter came in March as Roma lost 3 straight games and fell to third place. But Schaffer’s team pulled itself back together in time, winning the league ahead of Torino (what would become the Grande Torino of the ‘40s) by 3 points.

Notable Events

  • It was 15 years in the making, but Roma eventually fulfilled their destiny as the first-ever team outside of Northern Italy to win the league.
  • A future side-note: In 2020, Roma named one of their training pitches after Amedeo Amadei—he won a fan-vote online to clinch the posthumous honour. The only two other players who’s named are on the Trigoria turf are Fulvio Bernardini (the entire training center is named after him) and Agostino Di Bartolomei (the first training pitch is named after him).

As we now know, this wasn’t the beginning of a Roma dynasty. That honor would move back up North to Torino, for the next five years to come. The Second World War was always looming in the background, and the chickens were about to come home to roost for Fascist Italy away from the football pitch. But there was still time for chaos on the pitch.

Roma followed up their title-winning season with overblown expectations in 1943. Mid-season, they let Schaffer go and replaced him with fellow Hungarian coach Geza Kertesz, and the changes didn’t end there.

Roma fielded as many as 25 players in the league that season, a record for Serie A at the time. Was anyone seriously expecting a successful title defense from this? To top it off, captain Guido Masetti found out that the change of regime intended to move him on without telling him - exactly like what happened to Fulvio Bernardini.

We suppose the only difference to this story repeating itself, is that Masetti was non-local captain and club legend to have the ax fall on him - not that that should really make any difference. Unlike Bernardini, Masetti didn’t wait until the end of the season to say goodbye. Instead, Roma’s veteran keeper decided to call time on his own playing career in the middle of spring 1943 (when WWII was knocking on people’s door).

The end result was a lowly 9th placed finished for deposed-champions Roma. Serie A also called off the idea of hosting a nationwide league in 1943, owing to the outbreak of war on the Italian home front. Just as Roma were gaining momentum around the country in sport, they were now going back to competing in regional tournaments—Roma later went onto win the local league and Roma City Cup double in 1945—but the frenetic Giallorossi didn’t stop there.

Amedeo Amadei

Two years prior to the curtain of war coming down on the peninsula, in the 1943 Coppa Italia semis against Torino, came the scene of unchecked rage on the field.

A full-on brawl erupted in the 88th minute of that cup game, including physical assault on a linesman. The Italian football authorities figured that if the new Roma captain Amedeo Amadei (succeeding the retired Masetti) hadn’t hit the ref himself, then he at least knew which one of his Roma teammates did. And so Amadei was incredibly banned from football for life by the Italian football chiefs, “in waiting for the real name of the guilty to come forward.”

Later on, teammate Vittorio Dagianti confessed that he had hit the linesman, allowing Amadei back into the professional game.

Amadei never gave up Dagianti’s name himself, instead simply waiting for Dagianti to make things right. Peace was restored in local football, even if war was about to bring the bigger picture to an end.