ARTICLE: The forgotten story of … Brunswick Juventus’ 1985 NSL championship, by Joe Gorman

The forgotten story of … Brunswick Juventus’ 1985 NSL championship

Joe Gorman

Strewn across Melbourne’s northern suburbs are the remnants of a once-great football club. Juventus, one of the most successful Victorian sides during the 1950s and 1960s, has gradually been whittled away to nothing. Thirty years ago to the day Juventus lifted their one and only National Soccer League trophy, yet within three seasons the club was relegated from the NSL, and by 1996 they were kicked out; this time for good.

A few years ago, a family tree of the Italian clubs in Victoria was published online. Trying to follow the maze of splinters, mergers and breakaways makes for head-spinning reading. Triestina, for example, became Essendon Royals by virtue of mergers with Fiorentina, Moonee Ponds, East Brunswick Reggina and a host of other clubs.

Formed out of the predecessor club Savoia in 1949, Juventus was supposed to be the great unifier. According to the official history book, Juve! Juve!, the name “Juventus” was chosen for its neutrality, and because black and white striped shirts were “always easy to find in Melbourne”.

Published in 1990, the club history book – half in English, half in Italian – is out of print, out of date and long forgotten. The little poem on the inside cover – “To the fans of yesteryear, those of today, and to the ones of the future” – is both beautiful and haunting in the current context. These days the trophies, pennants and memorabilia are housed at Whittlesea Ranges; Moreland Zebras have the photos, host the anniversary events and officially trade under the name Juventus International Soccer Club; while Brunswick Zebras play at Juventus’ junior ground at Sumner Park, Northcote. All the clubs claim a link to the original Juventus, based either on colours, history and shared memory.

Fabio Incantalupo, 51, was the favourite son of Juventus. His father Greg was the mayor of Brunswick, served on the club committee in the late seventies, and helped Juventus secure a training base. He took Fabio to see Juve play from a young age, and at 10 years old, Fabio started his career with the club. Although he had the chance to trial for Australian rules side Collingwood in his late-teens, he always loved football, and it was from this platform that he represented the national team at youth level, and in 1989 was named Italo-Australian Sports Personality of the Year.

“It got ripped apart,” he says of his childhood club. “They went from Juventus to being the Bulleen Inter Kings, then the Thomastown Zebras, then Whittlesea… everyone claimed a little bit of nostalgia of the club. The ones that play in the black and white are still a little bit connected, but it’s symbolic. It’s sad.”

The solitary success story of Brunswick Juventus in 1985 can only be understood within the context of football in the mid-eighties – the lost years of the NSL. The original, commercially oriented ideals of the competition, which began in 1977, had been forgotten or simply ignored. The league’s main sponsor, Philips Industries, withdrew in 1982, while Channel 10 stopped broadcasting games after just two seasons. No crowds, no money and no exposure forced the league to revert to a ridiculous conference system in order to survive. In 1984 the league expanded from 16 teams to 24, split into a so-called “Australian” or “Northern” Conference and the “National” or “Southern’ Conference”.

The conference system was a cost-cutter. The idea was that less interstate travel for clubs would save money and more local derbies would draw in the crowds. In reality it was total anarchy. Both conference had sub-sections relating to the city the teams came from, and there were occasional inter-conference challenge rounds. The Australian or Northern conference was basically the teams from NSW, the National or Southern conference was the rest, including Brisbane, who of course were geographically the furthest team in the north.

The much-vaunted “local derbies” between Blacktown City and Penrith City at Cook Park, for example, drew less than 1,000 people, while the first ACT derby between Canberra City and Inter Monaro in Queanbeyan was played in front of just 2,100 people. There was promotion and relegation, but it didn’t extend to Newcastle, Canberra or Wollongong, who were were granted development status by the NSL. In the latter half of the 1985 season, Fairy Meadow, a tiny club from the sleepy coastal town in the Illawarra, looked to be a real possibility for promotion to the national league.

The striker was one of the game’s first stars, a legendary goalscorer for club and country whose international career ended abruptly and in controversy

Looking back, even the names of the teams that entered in 1984 seem to forecast the impending downward spiral: there was the Croatias of Melbourne and Sydney, the most difficult of all the ethnic communities in Australian football; the Maltese teams Sunshine George Cross, Green Gully and Melita Eagles; Blacktown City and Penrith City from Sydney’s outer-western suburbs; and Inter Monaro, who were backed by the Italian Marco Polo Club. And, of course, Brunswick Juventus, the third-placed team from the 1983 Victorian State League season.

The clubs held sway over the federation, and after Melbourne and Sydney Croatia resolutely refused to change their nationalistic names, the labels Hellas, APIA, Juventus and Makedonia crept back. While Australian rules and rugby league were looking to expand beyond their traditional geographic boundaries, football was doing the reverse.

In a sense, this was reflective of the times – it was the European migrants and their children that gave Australian football its unique character. SBS, the multicultural television station, began screening the games, while in Melbourne, the premier football newspaper Soccer Action dedicated space every week for foreign-language columns. The author of Juve! Juve!, Egilberto Martin, wrote: “For the European migrant the code of soccer, besides its essentiality as a sport, represents also a piece of that gigantic mosaic which makes up his socio-cultural structure and has retained it in spite of the mockery, the popular derision, and the powerful hold of other football codes, and in Victoria, by Aussie Rules.”

Brunswick Juventus entered the 1985 season led by the well-connected Italian-Australian triumvirate of Tony Schiavello, Sam Manenti and Vince Verducci. The team manager was Joe Caruso, a colourful local identity who owned an espresso bar in Coburg and a travel agency in Sunshine. Rocco Di Zio, a journalist, administrator, volunteer and raconteur was, as usual, omnipresent in the club operations.

They were coached by the late, great John Margaritis. A former South Melbourne Hellas player, Margaritis had been sacked and re-hired several times by South Melbourne and West Adelaide Hellas in the early years of the NSL, and returned to Juventus in characteristically chaotic circumstances. He led Brunswick Juventus to the National League in 1983, stayed on in 1984, left at the end of the season, but when Tommy Traynor was fired after just three pre-season games, returned in time for the 1985 campaign.

It was an argument with Incantalupo that sealed Traynor’s fate. He told the team he was under pressure from the press to pick Incantalupo because he was Italian. “It wasn’t like I instigated it,” remembers Incantalupo, “I just think it was supporters who were upset because we weren’t winning. I was sitting on the bench, things started to get a bit heated. They said to me, ‘why aren’t you playing’, you know? I said go and ask him… he’s the coach. It just snowballed from there and he got the sack. The vibes weren’t good from the start.”

Aside from the dressing-room dramas, Caruso had signed well in the off-season. At the time, Lou Sticca,
the man responsible for bringing Alessandro Del Piero to the A-League in 2012, was a 25-year old fan. “Led by a good committee, [Caruso] was able to build a football structure and team and attracted the right players and coaches,” he remembers. Soccer Action’s Lawrie Schwab wrote that without Caruso, Margaritis “would be like a man with one arm”.

Signing a contact with Caruso was an experience in itself. Incantalupo remembers going to his cafe, hopping in his white, beat-up Mercedes and being taken to the races, the customary cigar always hanging out the side of Caruso’s mouth. “Friday night at Moonee Valley, just to negotiate my contract for the following year,” laughs Incantalupo.

The big name recruits of Peter Lewis, Paul Wade and Yakka Banovic, complemented the solid core of Brian Brown, Mike Petersen, Joe Sweeney and Eddie Campbell. The young starlets were Reno Minichello, Mehmet Durakovic, Andrew Zinni and Incantalupo. Sticca says the captain, Brown, was “the main reason Juventus had any success at all”, while Incantalupo was the “love child” and the “flagship” of the club. Yet at the beginning of the season, Margaritis told the press: “we are not saying we will win the championship this year”.

Juventus’ first win came over Green Gully at Olympic Park in March, and in April Incantalupo scored his first goal of the season in a 2-2 draw with South Melbourne. Elsewhere, a two-game stint by England international Kevin Keegan at Blacktown City drew large crowds and media attention, and a scintillating 3-1 Juventus victory over South Melbourne drew rave reviews as “the game of the season”.

But things took a turn for the worse in July. Incantalupo got into a heated argument with team-mate Richard Miranda during a match against Brisbane Lions, and was sent off. Things escalated quickly after the pair started arguing over whether to press high or drop off while defending a throw-in. “It was just one of those things in the heat of the moment,” says Incantalupo now, “I might be the first time a player has been sent off for swearing at his own player!”

A week later in Sydney, the infamous
Pratten Park riot saw the referee punched, kicked and spat on by unruly fans in a match between Sydney Olympic and Sydney City. “At long last, soccer has grabbed public attention,” lamented Andrew Dettre in Soccer Action. “True, it needed the prodding of an ugly riot, the mindless savagery of a few dozen or perhaps hundred lunatics – but we’ve made it.”

Indeed the crowds just would not show. By 1985 the clubs barely attracted fans outside the various ethnic groups, and furthermore, they didn’t even have full support from their own communities. Consider the “game of the season” between South Melbourne and Juventus in June – held at the best football stadium, Middle Park, between two of the best Victorian sides who purported to represent the state’s largest and most vibrant ethnic communities. Only 5,000 people turned up.

Fernando Spano is illustrative of this dilemma. His father arrived from Calabria in 1956 and became a Juventus fan, his cousin played for the club, but Fernando’s first sporting memories are of watching Australian Rules side Collingwood. Spano followed his father to Australia in 1965, and although he followed Juventus through the Italian newspaper Il Globo, he was instantly attracted to the roar of Australian Rules football at Victoria Park. Without much English, he says Collingwood helped him fit in to a new society, and that the violence and hatred at the football put him off. “You couldn’t go and not be taunted,” he says. “It’s not in the spirit of the sport.”

Sticca also had an affection for both football and Australian rules. “I’d go and watch Carlton play in front of 30-35,000 people at Princes Park, and then I’d go and watch Juventus play in front of 2,000 at Olympic Park,” he says. “To me, I loved it. Same same.” Still, by the early nineties, Sticca also realised that football needed drastic reform. “There was only one way I could see soccer progressing in this country, and that was to break away from the little ethnic club model,” he says.

The only thing that remains of Juventus is memory, and the best memory is the 1985 grand final victory. After defeating South Melbourne in the major semi-final and Preston Makedonia in the conference grand final, Juventus faced Sydney City in the national grand final. Sydney City, known by most as Hakoah, were run by current FFA chairman Frank Lowy and were the best team in the NSL, having won four national titles in eight seasons. But Juventus had an extra incentive – Schiavello had promised an all-expenses-paid end of season trip to Italy to play Roma if they players brought the title home.

Brunswick Juventus won 2-0 on aggregate over the two legs, with one goal in Sydney and one in Melbourne. After just two minutes of play in the second leg at Olympic Park, Juventus player Robbie Cullen received a head-knock and was taken to hospital with concussion. In the reshuffle, Incantalupo was moved into the forward-line. When Cullen woke up, he immediately asked: “did we win?” and “who scored?”

The answer, of course, was Fabio Incantalupo. After missing the entire 1984 season after a knee reconstruction, an argument with the coach in pre-season, an on-field skirmish with his team-mate in round 18 and having scored just three goals all season, it was Incantalupo who scored the winner in both legs. The first, in Sydney, was a shot from outside the box; the second in Melbourne a tap-in from a corner. In the crowd, his father watched on proudly, and his girlfriend cheered for the man she would later marry. “They looked after me,” says Incantalupo, who had his knee operation paid for by the club. “Maybe because of that I had to repay them, and that was the best way I could do it.”

Later this month the 30-year anniversary dinner will be held at the Casa D’Abruzzo Club in Melbourne. The playing group will reminisce about the good old days, the colourful characters like Caruso, as well the hard-working volunteers like Di Zio and Joe Castelli who would fork out their own money to help players settle, or mortgage their family home in order for the club to have financial security. Sticca, who remains one of the most influential figures in the Australian game, still credits Di Zio as a central reason he got involved in the administration of the game. He learned a great deal watching the older guys, “their love of their sport, their community and their love of their club”.

But apart from the memories, there is little else to hold on to. Incantalupo believes the failure to set down firm roots with a social club and a home ground is the cause for the demise. Juventus’ plans for a $3 million sports complex at Clifton Park never eventuated, and the site is now home to a council-owned synthetic field. “If they had owned a club, a home ground, and a club room,” says Incantalupo, “I think Juventus would still be going.”

Others, however, believe that the Italians assimilated quicker than the other ethnic groups, and thus no longer needed their club as a social lubricant. In 1990, Victorian Soccer Federation president, John Dimtsis, wrote: “The story of Juventus in Victoria tells us a great deal not only about a successful soccer club; it tells us much about Italian life in Victoria. Juventus was for many years… one of the main foci of Melbourne and Victoria’s Italian community.”

Those days are long gone, for the Italians and increasingly also for the other European migrant groups and their once-mighty football clubs. With the
A-League and its non-denominational clubs now firmly entrenched, perhaps Juventus are the canary in the coal mine for the ethnic clubs. “Juventus,” says Sticca, “is a club that lost its community.”

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/bl...-brunswick-juventus-1985-nsl?CMP=share_btn_tw

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