On 10 May 1981, Juventus entertained Roma at the Stadio Comunale in Turin. The matchup looked likely to be the deciding encounter of the 1980/81 season. With just two more games to follow, the Bianconeri sat atop of the table on 40 points, with Roma just a point behind.
The home team were perennial challengers for the title. They had topped the table in 1977 and 1978, before finishing third and then second in consecutive seasons. They had a team brimming with the cream of Italian talent, supplemented by expensive imports, and were determined that this season would see them reclaim their rightful spot as the nation’s top club.
With the incomparable Dino Zoff between the posts and a line-up boasting the likes of Gentile, Scirea, Causio and Brady, it was a squad built for the domination of domestic football. Coach Giovanni Trapattoni had fallen for the embrace of La Vecchia Signora five seasons previously, and had secured successive Scudetti in his first two years in Turin, also adding the UEFA Cup and a Coppa Italia.
The only currency of success for Juve, though, was the Scudetto – the ‘little shields’ that marked out a club out as the best the country had to offer. The previous two seasons had seen them fall short; first to AC Milan, then to bitter rivals Inter. Another failure would hardly be acceptable.
At the time, Roma were under the charge of Nils Liedholm, the Swede returning to the club for a second stint at the start of the previous season. For 1978/79, he headed up the Milan side that had finished seven points clear of Trapattoni’s Juve, before moving back to Roma.
His maiden term in the Eternal City between 1973 and 1976 had been less than wholly successful, but now, with a league title to illuminate his CV, he was very much the finished article as a coach. As with Trapattoni, Liedholm had enjoyed early success with his new club, although a Coppa Italia was less prestigious than a league title of course.
The trophy was retained for 1980/81 however, meaning that if Roma could add the league title in the same term, not only would it mean a second title to add to the one secured almost 40 years previously, but also complete an unprecedented double for the club. A domestic double in his second season? It was something that would have eclipsed Trapattoni’s achievements at the same mark.
The double was rare in calcio, a feat that only clubs from Turin had achieved up to that point, Juventus having twice reached such elevated heights and Torino on a single occasion. If Roma could emulate their success, it would gift the club a period in the spotlight of European football, when so often in the past they had been compelled to lament their time sat in the shadows of the northern giants of Milan and Turin.
Liedholm’s squad would hardly pale in comparison that of Juventus. Bonetti, Conti and Ancelotti were outstanding players, and as the talismanic leader of the team, they had the hero of the Curva Sud and a native of Rome, the ultimately tragic but wonderfully gifted Agostino Di Bartolomei. Pulling the strings in midfield was the maestro of Brazilian playmakers, Falcão, while leading the line, Roberto Pruzzo’s 18 goals would make him that season’s Capocannoniere.
To play out the remaining fixtures, Juventus faced the daunting task of a visit to Napoli’s intimidating San Paolo. The Partenopei would eventually finish in third place in the league, meaning the game was anything but a foregone conclusion. They would then complete their programme at home against Fiorentina, who would end the season in fifth.
Roma’s run-in looked less complicated. Their next assignment would at the Olimpico against already relegated Pistoiese. The unsung Arancioni from Tuscany would end the season bottom of the table on a mere 16 points, nine away from a group of clubs with 25 points. The final encounter would take Liedholm’s team to Campania to face Avellino, one of those clubs in the group nine points ahead of Pistoiese.
It all meant that if Roma could win in Turin, not only would their fate be in their own hands as they sought the immortality of a domestic double, but the clubs they had yet to play were far inferior to the opposition ranged against their rivals. All they needed to do was to score without reply in Turin. To this day, many on the Curva Sud, and indeed beyond, remain convinced that this is precisely what they did. Perversely, the record books tell a different story.
The scene was set. The two outstanding teams in Serie A were to face off in a game that, to all intents and purposes, would decide which club could add that small but oh-so-important emblem to their shirts for the following season. The only other people on the pitch would be referee Paolo Bergamo of Livorno and his two linesmen, one of whom, Giuliano Sancini, would play a decisive role in deciding the outcome of the game and, ultimately, the destination of the title.
It would come as little surprise to anyone cognoscente with the pressures of a major football match when so much is at stake, let alone one in the volatile atmosphere of calcio, that the game was tense, nervous and at times hectic. It sounds more than a little trite to say there was no quarter asked or given, but it was very much the case. Bergamo issued seven yellow cards – eight if you count the one that was hastily followed by a red, waved at Juve’s Giuseppe Furino 17 minutes into the second period.
For the home fans it was a contentious decision, but it was wasn’t the event that led to a mark of seven out of ten for the Livorno official in the following morning’s newspapers. The key incident of the game – of the season – came with just ten minutes remaining.
The bruising encounter was now leaning strongly towards favouring Juventus. A win would, of course, be even more advantageous, but denying a victory to their visitors and sharing the points would be adequate for a team convinced they could win both of their final two games and lockout the title. Consequently, Roma needed to score.
Driving forward from midfield to try and instigate another attack as time drifted away, Bruno Conti clipped one of his pin-point left-footed crosses towards Pruzzo’s head in the penalty area. Outnumbered by two defenders, and hampered in his jump to reach the ball by the penalty spot, this time the striker eschewed the opportunity to head for goal, realising that from the distance, the chances of beating Zoff would be slim. Instead, he nodded the ball across goal, having spotted a teammate advancing into space.
Maurizio Turone had joined Roma from Liedholm’s old club in 1979. A defender by trade, he played the sweeper role for much of career, more akin to the locking of the backline in catenaccio than the forward sweeping free player of Franz Beckenbauer or Barry Hulshoff.
After a relatively free-scoring spree in his early career with Genoa, when he notched nine goals in a century of league appearances, his prowess would be pushed very much to the backburner by the requirements of his defensive duties. After leaving Genoa, in almost 250 league appearances with Milan, Catanzaro, Roma and Bologna, he would notch just four goals in 11 seasons.
When the ball arced across the Juventus penalty area, however, astutely directed by Pruzzo’s header, it was Turone arriving with almost perfect timing to intersect its flight on the six-yard line and power a header past a helpless Zoff and inside the far post.
The referee pointed towards the centre circle and, despite being more than a little recalcitrant in the goalscoring stakes, Turone knew how to celebrate one of his rare strikes. As the Stadio Comunale fell silent, the defender turned arms aloft running towards the sideline. Roma had their goal: now all they needed to do was to keep the ten men of the home team at bay for the next dozen minutes or so and the gates of paradise would swing open for them.
As the reality of what he had apparently done sank in for Turone, the coquettish nature of the fates was revealed to him in all their spiteful malevolence. Standing directly in front of the Roma hero of the moment was Giuliano Sancini, indicating that the goal should not stand and the hero should return to zero.
Allegedly he was in an offside position when Pruzzo headed the ball. The flag above the linesman’s head wiped out the goal, the timing of the run had only been ‘almost perfect’ and the brief moment of exaltation felt by all Roma players, officials and fans fell away.
Turone’s arms fell to his sides as he stood transfixed for a moment. Bergamo saw his colleague’s signal and ruled out the goal. The referee would later tell how difficult the game had been to officiate in. This was “not because of the goal ruled out by Turone”, however – it was the mere ferocity of proceedings. He remarked that from the moment Furino piled into a heavy tackle on Falcão, the tone of the game had been set.
Turning to the key moment, he revealed that initially he considered the goal to be perfectly legitimate. With a player running from a deep position to meet a pass, it’s always difficult to discern where, at the precise moment of contact, the player is in relation to defenders. Bergamo’s initial reaction was that the goal appeared legitimate, and that is why, at first, he signalled for it to stand.
Then, however, he noticed the flag being held aloft. Concluding entirely logically that his linesman was in a far better position to judge the merits – or not – of the goal, he accepted his assistant’s advice and ruled it out, later explaining, “I couldn’t do anything else.”
It’s difficult to dispute the logic at the time, but afterwards, when reviewing footage of the game, Bergamo thought the issue was less clear, and that his initial reaction may well have been valid. He still stood by his colleague’s decision, however: “Yes and doubts came to me, but on the offside the linesman is the only one able to judge at best because he is in line with the ball. Sancini was good.” Right or wrong, good or fallible, the linesman would pay a heavy toll for the decision. “I’m sorry he suffered because of this story. Insults, threats,” Bergamo explained sadly.
At the time, Sancini owned a gift shop in Bologna, described as the city’s oldest, dating back to 1694. To many adherents of the Giallorossi faith, a different kind of gift was proffered by Sancini at the Comunale on 10 May 1981, with Juventus the recipients.
If to some that seems more than a little harsh on what was surely the most hairline of decisions, it’s an attitude of mind built on paranoia fed by years of perceived injustices. Memories flood of instances when Italy’s northern powerhouse clubs were favoured at the expense of their southern brethren. In such cases, logic often finds difficulty in expelling emotional adherence, even when it’s valid – and sometimes it may not be.
In any instance, Sancini feels that reality vindicates him: “I saw and reviewed that action on TV and I have no doubt: certain offside.” Is there any room for debate? “No, I made the right decision. I was on the line and in mind I have a clear picture. Turone was past the line of the ball when Pruzzo headed it.”
While there have been many references to television analysis of the event in the years since, some suggesting one thing, other’s another, Sancini accepts the evidence offered up by the RAI television company. Apparently, on the day of the game, strike action had reduced the number of cameras normally deployed for such games. But, reportedly, a journalist named Gianfranco De Laurentiis used a slow-motion technique called Telebeam to analyse the footage and backed up the linesman’s decision declaring Turone to be offside by a matter of ten centimetres.
Quoted on Tutto Juve in January 2016, Sancini clearly gives that little credence. “Is Turone convinced of the opposite? Well, maybe I was better placed than he. He came from behind, but when Pruzzo touches the ball he was already ahead of everyone. I had a clear view, I saw well.”
Sancini also revealed that there was little protest from Roma players or officials. He even mentioned that Roma president Dino Viola congratulated the officials on the game and that he was “a gentleman” about the entire matter. Bergamo concurred with the description of the post-match events. “We received the compliments of the presidents of Juve and Rome. Yes, even Dino Viola came to thank us for our work. He claimed to have lost the Scudetto by a matter of centimetres.”
Some time later, when it became evident that the same Viola had reportedly sought to bribe a referee ahead of a European Cup semi-final against Dundee United, more than a few Scottish fans may well have disagreed with the officials’ description of the Roma president.
Someone also likely to take a different view of the events is the man whose fleeting moment of ecstasy was then replaced with despair. As Sancini suggests, understandably Tuone disputed the decision, although as the years pass, he concedes to becoming a little worn down by the subject: “I’m a little tired of talking about it, people ask me all the time, it’s almost become an obsession.”
That said, his recollection is different to that of Sancini, but perhaps not Bergamo. “A glaring blunder, the dynamics of the action was in fact simple and the fact that I arrived from behind could not be doubted. I will say more: Bergamo was in an optimal position to decide for himself. But he didn’t feel like taking the responsibility.”
Harsh, reasonable or still stained with a touch of bitterness and regret? Turone, a child of Varazze in the north of Italy, has little regard for talk of accommodations made or favours offered. “I don’t think Juventus was going to look for help. Let’s not forget that this was a great team: Zoff, Gentile, Cabrini, Scirea, Tardelli. That is the skeleton of the national team that would become the world champion the following year. And then Bettega, Causio, Brady.”
He clearly recognises that Juve were a top team, and perhaps worthy champions. One must not forget that, earlier in the season, they had visited the capital and come away with a goalless draw against Roma. Turone is also quick to suggest that, had things gone the other way, Roma would also have been deserved champions. “But we were no less so: Conti, Pruzzo, Ancelotti, Di Bartolomei and above all Falcão. A phenomenon, a complete player.”
The game, and the events around the 80th minute, had an enormous effect on the championship, but Juve still had two difficult fixtures to complete, and the Roma manager for one was ill-disposed to raise a white flag. “There were still two days to go until the end of the season and we were confident that we would still be able to recover the point that separated us from Juventus.”
Those words sounded a little hollow after the following week’s matches. Roma rattled five goals past the abject Pistoiese to complete their side of requirement, but in Naples, an unexpectedly insipid Napoli seemed to offer little resistance to Juve’s title march and an own goal just past the hour mark by Mario Guidetti, diverting the ball past Luciano Castellini as he attempted to cut out a cross, gifted them a 1-0 victory.
It’s the sort of outcome that inevitably reinforces feelings of paranoia and would have encouraged any number of wry smiles and nods of fearing the inevitable in Rome.
It seemed all was over then for the league title – and so it was. A 1-1 draw against Avellino suggested that the Roma players were resigned to their fate, and when Juventus triumphed over Fiorentina, again by a single goal thanks to a rare strike by Antonio Cabrini, the die was cast.
Juventus would jealously guard the Scudetto the following season as they again ran out as champions, but the following term, Roma, Di Agostino and Liedholm would take their revenge, heading the table by four points. A run to the European Cup final the following season, with the game taking place in the Olimpico, offered another tantalising glimpse of glory for the Giallorossi, before the caprices of football again thwarted their ambition as Liverpool triumphed in a penalty shootout.
Liedholm left to return to Milan and, despite a slight renaissance under new manager, another Swede, Sven-Göran Eriksson, there was little to ease the burning hurt of perceived injustice of what might have been. This was the Gol di Turone, when ten alleged centimetres saw to Roma’s despair.
By Gary Thacker @All_Blue_Daze