16 December 2020

The founding of AC Milan

English roots of one of Italy’s football giants

The Milan team that were Italian champions in 1901:
Herbert Gilpin (left) is next to Alfred Edwards in the middle row
The football club that would eventually become known as AC Milan was founded on this day in 1899.

Although Juventus have won twice as many domestic Serie A titles - 36 to their 18 - AC Milan have been Italy’s most successful club in international club football, winning 18 trophies, including the European Cup/Champions League on seven occasions.

Yet the club owes its existence largely to five expatriate Englishmen, who conceived the idea of forming a football club - a cricket and football club, to be more accurate - during an evening at the Fiaschetteria Toscana bar, a few steps from the Duomo in the centre of Milan, where they would meet frequently to socialise.

The group comprised Alfred Edwards, a businessman from Shropshire, players Samuel Davies, from Manchester, David Allison and Edward Nathan Berra, both English but born in France, and Herbert Kilpin, who is remembered as the club’s driving force.

Herbert Kilpin in the striped shirt that remains the rossoneri livery to this day
Herbert Kilpin in the striped shirt that
remains the rossoneri livery to this day
Kilpin, a butcher’s son from Nottingham, was both a footballer and a businessman. He had been a founder-member of the Garibaldi Reds, the amateur team in which Nottingham Forest has its roots, and had found his way to Italy after his boss, the famous lacemaker Thomas Adams, sent him to work with the Turin textiles merchant Edoardo Bosio, who in turn directed him to work in Milan.

The five formally founded Milan Cricket and Foot-Ball Club in a room they had hired at the Hotel du Nord et des Anglais, now the five-star Hotel Principe di Savoia, on Piazza della Repubblica.

Edwards, a former British vice-consul in Milan, was the club's first elected president. Berra managed the cricket section, while Kilpin was player-manager of the football team. It was determined at the outset that red and black would be the club colours and they have been nicknamed the rossoneri ever since.

The team did not have to wait long for success, winning their first Italian championship in 1901 after the fledgling competition had been won in each of its first three seasons by Genoa Football and Cricket Club, another team formed by English ex-pats.

It was the first of three titles in six years and the run of success may have continued had the club not fractured in 1908, when a dispute over whether ‘foreigners’ - that is, players who were neither Italian nor British - could play, led to the formation of breakaway club Internazionale.

Kilpin retired in 1908 and it was not until the 1950s that success returned for the club.

By then the name of AC Milan was well established.  The club, which had dropped ‘cricket’ from its title in 1919, was ordered by Mussolini’s Fascists to be known as Associazione Calcio Milano in 1939, after the Italian dictator outlawed the use of English names.

The club always wanted to recognise its English heritage, however, and after the end of the Second World War reverted to Associazione Calcio Milan, a compromise that incorporated the anglicised spelling of the city’s name.

The beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was built in the late 19th century
The beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
was built in the late 19th century
Travel tip:

The Fiaschetteria Toscana, where Herbert Kilpin and his friends would meet in Milan, was a wine shop and bar in Via Giovanni Berchet, a short street opposite the eastern entrance of the elegant glass vaulted Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the oldest shopping mall in Italy - built in the late 19th century - that connects Piazza del Duomo with Piazza della Scala. The bar no longer exists, its premises now housing a restaurant, although its name has been preserved in the Bubu Fiaschetteria Toscana, a bar in Via Bartolomeo Eustachi, about 3km (2 miles) outside the city centre to the northeast.

The Stadio Giusppe Meazza in the San Siro district has been AC Milan's home since 1926
The Stadio Giusppe Meazza in the San Siro
district has been AC Milan's home since 1926
Travel tip:

AC Milan played at five different grounds in their early years, but since 1926 their home has been the magnificent Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, in the San Siro district of northwest Milan. The stadium, which can accommodate almost 80,000 spectators, was completed in its original form in 1926. A number of extensive renovations, the last of which was completed ahead of the 1990 World Cup finals, gave the stadium its distinctive appearance, with its top tier supported by 11 cylindrical towers which incorporate spiral walkways. The stadium was named after Giuseppe Meazza, who spent 14 years as a player and three terms as manager at Inter, in 1980.  Since 1947, AC Milan and Inter-Milan have shared the stadium. 

Also on this day:

1944: The birth of businessman Santo Versace, entrepreneurial brain behind the fashion empire

1945: The death of Giovanni Agnelli, founder of Fiat

1952: The birth of World Cup winner Francesco Graziani

1954: The birth of singer-songwriter Ivana Spagna


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