It was an astonishing career, begun obscurely in South Wales where he once was obliged (by club fines) to steal milk bottles from doorsteps for his breakfast, to triumphs with Lazio and the 1974 Campionato thanks largely to his goals, to disgrace in the subsequent World Cup in Europe. Thence to supreme success with the New York Cosmos in the USA where he scored goals ad lib, became the favourite of the co-owner Steve Ross, who made him President; and still the centre forward. Nor was Giorgio finished there for back he would go to Rome to become for a time the owner of Lazio with an apartment in the beautiful, much coveted Piazza di Spagna. It was a bit too good to last. In the USA was much resentment among Italo-American businessmen who had subsidised his take over at Lazio but now found themselves cast into the cold.
Then Giorgio found himself facing charges of financial malfeasance, with the result that he had to make a somewhat ignominious return to the USA and was obliged to stay there. Somewhat consoled by a successful radio programme, on which I was occasionally included.
He could scarcely have had a less promising beginning in professional football. He had arrived in Cardiff as a boy, son of an explosive father, who had worked in the marble quarries of Carrara in Tuscany; where tough men were a byword. Some of whom had been used by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to quell strikes in places such as Genoa.
Tall and strong, Giorgio was taken on board by Swansea Town, as it then was, but constantly at odds with Lucas the manager he scarcely ever got a first team game. On one occasion it was recorded his father invaded the manager’s office swinging an axe. In due course, he took Giorgio, by now the big strong centre forward with a ferocious right foot which he would always be remembered, back to Italy where with a short spell at a club from his birth place and another in Serie C with Inter Napoli, he showed his promise and prowess, to be taken on by Lazio.
There he would become a major hero, all those goals bringing at long last the Campionato in season 1973/4. It was logical enough that he should then be picked to lead the Italy attack in West Germany but everything went badly wrong at the first hurdle in Munich. Facing the unfancied Haiti team, Italy struggled painfully and Giorgio was substituted by the manager Ferruccio Valcareggi. He swore at Valcareggi as he left the field and back in the dressing room smashed a series of mineral water bottles, allegedly full though Giorgio said they were empty. It seemed inevitable that he’d be packed off home but the president and manager of Lazio flew to Munich and managed to secure him permission to stay.
Such was his lasting popularity among Lazio fans that when once he arrived by train at Stazione Termini to play for Cosmos in a friendly against his old club, hundreds of fans invaded the station.
I’ve a special memory of his coming to London in 1973 to commentate on Italian radio on the England-Italy World Cup qualifier. He took part in a somewhat abortive television programme filmed at the school, Pimlico, attended by my own four children one of whom Toby, was destined to play pro in Italy at 17 with Formia (juniors!) When Giorgio heard that my little Sunday team, Chelsea Casuals had a match coming, he demanded, “Is there a game for me?” I answered, “Yes, Toby’s away.” “How much?” he asked and I told him it would cost him 20 pence! So play he did, in midfield, at the Royal Hospital in the best of spirits.
Later in his Cosmos presidential office, he sipped Chivas Regal, and told me, “I’m coming again, I’m going to bring you a set of shirts, but I’m not going the pay the 20 pee!”
By Brian Glanville