Book Review: William Garbutt – The Father of Italian Football, by Paul Edgerton

William Garbutt – The Father of Italian Football gives a fascinating insight into the life of a man who is in no small part responsible for the rise in level of pre-war Italian football. It not only highlights Garbutt’s significant role in the successes on the field for several clubs in Italy, but also goes to show the effects on all members of society, all over Europe, of the rise in Fascism, and the two World Wars that featured heavily in his career.

Garbutt may not have been given the plaudits he deserved in the country of his birth – England – but he was, and still is, seen as the one and only “Mister” by the Genovese people. Indeed, throughout Italy players call their Coaches “Mister” as a direct result of his time in Calcio. His success with his beloved Genoa – where he won the Scudetto in 1915, 1923 and 1924 – and his achievements in the modernisation of Italian football have him firmly fixed into the history books.

The book tells the life of Garbutt, separating his footballing achievements from his struggles against war and oppression. In both areas, the author outlines the political, sporting and historical climate of the time, enabling the reader to get a feel for the importance of the situations he encountered. Control of the fans, legalisation of player wages, regulation of clubs by the Government and match-fixing are all issues that come to the forefront as troubles affecting the game.


Much detail is spent on the story of his life in football, on the three Scudetti he secured for Genoa, his Coppa Coni victory with Roma, and his spells with Napoli, Athletic Bilbao, and Milan. The reader is informed about the man himself, his wife Anna, and later on after his move to Napoli, the adoption of daughter Maria.

Football went on the backburner for the Great War, as survival became the priority. The accounts of the political situation, accompanied by official records to put the events in a larger perspective, help to make gripping reading as the characters you have begun to respect and warm to are put in desperate positions in war-torn Italy.

Garbutt will be remembered in Italy for his great success in modernising Italian football, being the first professional manager, pushing the league for reforms, and gaining success on the field with his ultra-professional approach. But once you have read this book, he becomes a hero not only for his football achievements, but also his personal ones, and for coming through what was a desperate time for that generation both in the UK and Italy.

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