They say that without the night, you’d never get to see the stars. In the case of Football Italia on Channel Four, this was not strictly true.
Gazzetta Football Italia brought to you interviews and action from all the best players in the world just after breakfast on Saturday morning.
On Football Italia Live you got to see it all as it unfolded, along with all that Po Valley fog or bright golden sunshine that beamed into your living room on Sunday afternoon.
But Football Italia Mezzanotte, shown late on Tuesday nights, felt like a portal into another dimension. This was Calcio by night. A whole new aesthetic — and whether we realised it or not, it was a peek into the future of televised football in Italy.
It all came about in 1993 when Serie A made its first foray into Pay-TV. Cable channel Telepiù (co-founded by Milan President Silvio Berlusconi and Fiorentina President Vittorio Cecchi Gori) bought the rights to screen one live game every Sunday night for the first twenty-eight rounds of the thirty-four-week season.
Football Italia was in its second year of bringing live Serie A into our homes. Mezzanotte edited the Telepiù game into a forty-five-minute highlights package, then included all the best moments from Sunday afternoon’s live broadcast. At its peak, the one-hour Football Italia Mezzanotte drew audiences of over half a million in the UK.
In its early iteration, the Sunday evening slot was not necessarily the standout fixture on the schedule. Adopting a similar approach to SKY’s Monday Night Football in the UK, Telepiù aimed to spread its coverage around the league.
One got to see teams and stadiums that you wouldn’t get to see on Sunday afternoon. If you were already playing Championship Manager Italia on your clunky home computer, this was in large part the magic of the show.
And just as you got to check out provincial teams that were struggling for Serie A survival, you also got to see those that were on their way up. Teams from outside the Northern axis and on their way soon to being able to contend for the title.
This democratic approach would soon change. Nighttime soon became seen as primetime and it would soon exclusively feature the biggest clash that weekend.
Once this was the case, the quality and appeal of the Sunday afternoon live broadcast on Channel Four began to erode, before being dropped entirely by the station in 2001.
To paraphrase the American poet Emily Dickinson, we have now grown accustomed to the Serie A night game. Television companies say it looks better, sounds better and for many years now, they have dictated when these big games are played.
The evening is also more time-zone friendly for many viewers outside of Europe. The stadium-going fan who needs to go to work or school the next morning is of secondary concern.
Was all this the beginning of the end? Perhaps. But for those ignorantly blissful in those first few years, it was a glorious novelty. It meant extra Italian football on free-to-air TV for us in the UK. It meant having to get familiar with working your timer on your Video Cassette Recorder. It meant getting up early on Wednesday morning and watching one hour of Serie A before going to school.
As a collector of footage from this era, I probably now look out for these broadcasts the most, and so in tribute to this unsung hero of the Football Italia trinity, here are some of the most memorable moments from Football Italia Mezzanotte.
Honorable mentions go to Genoa’s Japanese striker Kazu Miura scoring in the Derby della Lanterna in 1994 and Lazio’s Giuseppe Signori deciding the Rome derby earlier that year. The on-field action was barely distinguishable by the amount of smog and smoke that circulated that night at the Stadio Olimpico.
Dejan Savicevic is also unlucky that his hat-trick for Milan away at Bari, in an eight-goal bonanza, does not feature. And Gabriel Batistuta’s winner against Juventus and his air-guitar celebration also misses out.
The final list is below and in chronological order.
1. October 31st 1993 – Inter vs Parma
I suppose one cannot assume that everyone who tuned in to watch on Tuesday night, also watched Football Italia on the weekends.
So just as Football Italia Live got lucky with having a six-goal banger in its maiden broadcast with Sampdoria and Lazio in 1992, Mezzanotte got off to an auspicious start with newcomers in its first broadcast with Inter and Parma a year later.
Whether you were familiar with Inter’s Uruguayan forward Ruben Sosa or not, his hat-trick performance on Halloween in 1993 was something to behold.
Also, check out the goals from Parma’s central defensive pair Georges Grun and Lorenzo Minotti.
2. December 11th 1994 – Lazio vs Juventus
There was already a buzz around twenty-year-old Alessandro Del Piero. His early season form and his iconic last gasp winner against the Fiorentina the previous weekend had captured the attention of everyone across European football.
Seven days later, he was at it again. Scoring this wonder goal away at Lazio in a 4-3 victory. It was a madcap game, which saw the hosts go a man down after only twelve minutes when goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani got sent off and captain Signori sacrificed as a result.
Signori was apoplectic but his coach Zdenek Zeman was typically unmoved and just kept smoking on his cigarette. Lazio still took the game to the visitors, but it was another Juve youngster, nineteen-year-old Corrado Grabbi who ultimately sealed it for Marcello Lippi’s team.
Needless to say, Grabbi’s career did not hit the heights of Del Piero’s, but his cool finish took Juventus back to the top of Serie A.
3. February 26th 1995 – Sampdoria vs Juventus
Gianluca Vialli was, without a doubt, the best Italian striker in the late 80s and early 90s and synonymous with Sampdoria’s domestic and European success in that period.
However, his move to Juventus in 1992 to link up with Roberto Baggio did not go as anticipated. While Baggio enjoyed arguably the best years of his career, the once prolific Vialli scored just ten league goals in two seasons for the Old Lady.
It was only when Lippi arrived in 1994, that Vialli experienced a renaissance in form and powered Juve to their first Scudetto in nine years.
Vialli’s decisive goal against his former teammates was typical of what he had shown the home fans at the Marassi time and time again down the years. And it was a major step toward capturing that long-awaited title for those he had left them for.
4. September 17th 1995 – Roma vs Milan
If you had followed PSG’s Champions League run to the semi-finals the previous season, you would have already encountered the formidable sight of George Weah.
Along with Louis Van Gaal’s young Ajax team, Weah’s strike partnership with David Ginola was appointment viewing on ITV’s Champions League Highlights show – another football television classic from these bygone days.
Mezzanotte viewers would have been the first to see that Weah could do it in Serie A though. His brace away at Roma in Week 3 demonstrated that Milan had found their new Number 9, all in the wake of Marco Van Basten’s long injury lay-off and forced retirement that summer.
5. October 13th 1996 – Roma vs Milan
Roma got their revenge a year later. The capital club had always flattered to deceive for much of the 90s, but under their new Argentine coach Carlos Bianchi, and with a young Francesco Totti in tow, they got an early scalp here against the previous year’s champions and all looked promising in The Eternal City.
It would prove a false dawn. Bianchi famously attempted to offload Totti later that season to Sampdoria and did not even last the season.
It was a memorable night nonetheless and one which had shown that Totti, against top opposition, with or without Bianchi, was going to be a star.
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