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Roma Waves Goodbye to Lupetto Creator Piero Gratton

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In 1978, Roma needed to start selling shirts instead of players. Gratton came up with the immortal answer.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-DERBY-ROME Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Roma have kicked off April announcing the death of Piero Gratton in the late hours of April 3rd. It’s unclear whether Gratton’s death is Coronavirus-related or simply due to natural passing—he was 80 years old—but Gratton’s immortal signature will remain on the club for many Roma jerseys to come.

Who was Gratton?

Gratton created the first-ever commercially-sold Roma crest in 1978, now lionized as the ‘Lupetto.’ By today’s standards, it may look like no more than a 32-vertex cutout that you could make yourself on Adobe Illustrator, but it remains the most coveted symbol in Roma’s library for the very fact it launched Roma as an intercontinental club.

Prior to his greatest feat with Roma, Gratton had worked as an animator with Rai and as TG2’s graphic designer for decades. By the sixties, his graphic design work earned him a solid reputation as the ‘Walt Disney of Italian television’ in closed circles. It wasn’t long before Milan-born Gratton—graduated in design through his studies in Rome—was tasked by Roma with designing their season tickets for the 1974-75 football season; coincidentally the first season where coach Nils Liedholm took the full-time job on Roma’s bench after leaving AC Milan to travel down to the capital himself.

Inspired by the solo performances of Franco Cordova on the pitch, ‘74-’75 looked like the only season offering Roma fans any hope, amid a very uninspiring decade of mediocre Roma squads that came to be remembered as the “Rometta” years (‘little Roma/’poor Roma’).

Roma Going Commercial in 1978

NSS Sports Magazine

Tired of watching Roma’s fall from grace and, more importantly, tired of watching Roma destroy itself with bad transfer market deals only to have to save itself from financial ruin each decade by selling off youth talent to Juventus, then-President Gaetano Anzalone set about installing proper foundations for Roma to grow as a club in every sense.

Anzalone would put in the groundwork for Roma to build a new training ground on the city outskirts at Trigoria, and took inspiration from American sports to setup the club’s commercial store.

Selling replica football jerseys to Italian football fans? At the time, it was unheard of and far from the only moves of Anzalone that were initially greeted with skepticism (if not outright derision) but later proved key to the lifeblood of Roma.

Anzalone himself went on record as saying it was bittersweet to have his successor, Dino Viola who arrived in 1979, credited with the key moves at grassroots-level that were in-fact down to Anzalone’s initiative. If Viola ushered in Roma’s greatest-ever era as a club in the 1980s, it was thanks to Anzalone’s shrewd moves in the shadows that preceded it.

No move was more shrewd than trusting designer Piero Gratton with the new club crest that would go on Roma’s now-immortal Pouchain kits of the late 1970s.

Roma debuted the first Lupetto crest-adorned kit in December of 1978, in a 1-0 win against Juventus where Agostino Di Bartolomei scored the only goal. There couldn’t be a more symbolic statement for Gratton’s creation: Roma announcing their ambition for financial independence as a club, by holding onto an academy-born local lad who was now scoring the winner against Italian football’s biggest dynasty up North.

The home kits especially resembled a popular series of ice-creams on sale at the time, and it’s rumored that Nike will bring back the theme for the 2020/21 season, current world climate permitting.

FKD Design mockup shirt for Roma’s rumoured 2020-21 colour scheme
FKD Design

As for Gratton himself, he would go on to design the images for the Italian-hosted Euro 1980 tournament as well as UEFA’s own logo in 1983, after they re-branded themselves amid Silvio Berlusconi’s pressure to encourage clubs to breakaway into an independent European Super League tournament.

Gratton would also help Lazio rejuvenate themselves as a club, after they were condemned to Serie B in Italian football’s Totonero betting scandal, designing the club-crest eagle that the Biancocelesti used from 1979 to 1982. He also designed the Bari club crest that would go on to be used by the Pugliese until 2014.