Dangerous play

Joe McGinniss tackles an Italian soccer club president.

Topics: Books,

Anyone who’s been following “Fatal Vision” author Joe McGinniss’ career over the past four years knows about his obsession with soccer. His latest book, “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro,” chronicles his love for a soccer team in a tiny Abruzzi town, but it’s also a cautionary tale about the dangers of bringing purist values to the dark world of Italian athletics. As one player warns McGinniss, “Remember. We are the land of Dante, but also of Machiavelli.”

During his season with the Castel di Sangro club, McGinniss made himself into its de facto mascot, endearing himself to many of the players. But as he relates in the book, one night when he discovered treachery on the team, he had a confrontation at a hotel with the team’s president, Gabriele Gravina, a powerful local figure flanked perennially by a pair of bodyguards and married to his niece. After Gravina warned McGinniss not to publish anything about what he had discovered and told him he’d make sure that he never came back to Italy, he started pushing the writer around. McGinniss countered with his own abuse: “You believe DHEA will help your cock to stay hard. What fucking stupidity! You shit! You Southerner!” Not surprisingly, relations between the two men are still strained.

In the fall of 1997, McGinniss referred to the slow construction of Gravina’s new stadium in an article in the London Sunday Telegraph Magazine. Despite an 11 billion lira ($6.5 million) subsidy contributed by the National Football Federation for the dual purpose of making the club more competitive and refurbishing the venue, the team had made no remarkable acquisitions in the off-season and still had no place to play.

“For the foreseeable future, the Lilliputians would be banished from Lilliput and would be forced to play their matches at a distance in front of an uncaring public,” McGinniss wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “This didn’t augur well, nor did the fact that [club owner Pietro] Rezza and Gravina had apparently taken the multi-million pound bonus they had received for promotion and were widely believed to have salted it away for future private uses, which eventually came to include the expansion of a water-bottling plant, a shoe factory, and the incorporation of a bank.”



According to McGinniss, a friend of Gravina’s saw the article in Scotland and sent it him. “He claimed that I had defamed him,” McGinniss told Salon Books. “But he couldn’t be defamed if no one knew about it. The article appeared in Britain, not Italy! As it stood, he was walking around with this defamation privately.” But Gravina went public, McGinniss says, by posting translated copies of the article all around Sulmona, the provincial county seat where he lives. “He called his friends and told them about it. He put up posters near, you know, Johnny’s Barbershop.”

In a few months, the mail brought McGinniss an Italian writ charging him with libel. “It was in a beaten old envelope with stamps all over it. A lot of the letter was in handwriting. I could barely make it out in any language, let alone Italian.” Through a Florentine friend, he arranged to have a local lawyer defend him last December; a couple of months later, the lawyer billed him $10,000 for out-of-pocket expenses. “He sent me two faxes,” McGinniss says. “I was asking myself, How much could fax paper cost in Sulmona?”

Despite Gravina’s threats and the libel charge, McGinniss has returned to Italy unharmed, most recently in February. “Gravina told some people that the most he can do is keep me out of the stadium,” McGinniss says. “But I’ve written him a few times. [Italian soccer great Roberto] Baggio was playing there, and I asked Gravina for tickets. He never responded. I also sent him a card this Easter, letting him know that it was the season of joy. He didn’t respond to that, either.”

The club had a terrible showing this year, but McGinniss’ faith isn’t shaken: There’s always next season.

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>