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Friday, February 26, 2016


Over the past few years, a football competition called the Clericus Cup, the tenth edition of which is currently under way, has gained the attention of football fans and media alike, if only because it involves priests from a number of seminaries in and around Rome. Because of the media attention the competition receives, many people erroneously consider the Clericus Cup to be the Vatican City's league championship. 

Fewer people, however, realise that football has been played competitively amongst the staff of the various departments within the Vatican for over 40 years, and that the tiny country has long had its own functioning league and cup competitions.

Perhaps the first recorded mention of any type of football being played in and around the Vatican dates from 1738, when a team named Belvedere played a match against Rospigliosi; the former had its own playing field at the Vatican.

During the First World War, the Knights of St. Columbus, an American organisation became renowned for their work in providing services for Allied troops of all creeds and colours under the motto "Everyone Welcome, Everything Free." This had not gone unnoticed by Pope Benedict, who, when meeting a delegation from the organisation in August 1920, invited them to build recreational facilities for the youth of Rome.

Pope Benedict XV was committed to improving working conditions for those employed inside the Vatican during his comparatively short reign, which lasted from 1914 until his death in January 1922, and obviously took into consideration not just the spiritual well-being of those serving under him, but also their physical well-being.

With the encouragement of Pope Benedict XV's successor, Pope Pius XI, work was carried out by the Knights on a total five recreational grounds between 1922 and 1927, the first of which, the Oratory of St. Peter, was opened in 1923. The grounds now bear Pope Pius XI's name, and are situated on the Via Santa Maria Mediatrice, just a few hundred metres from the walls of the Vatican. One of the pitches in the complex, the Campo Cardinal F Spellman, hosts the Vatican City's international fixtures.

 The home of Vatican football: The Campo Pio XI sports complex, which contains the Campo Cardinal F Spellman (Photo: Author's own)

The first match played between two teams of Vatican employees took place in 1947, when the Fabbrica di San Pietro took on a team representing the Department of Pontifical Villas (Ville Pontificie).

Organised football in the Vatican dates from the mid-1960s, when the football lovers amongst the staff of the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museum) founded SS Hermes. From Hermes' inception in 1966 until 1970, when a small-scale tournament called the Hermes Tournament was created, the club played only the occasional friendly. The Hermes tournament ran from 1970 until 1973, when a group of Vatican employees decided upon creating a proper league.

Among those involved in creating the league, and what became the Attività Calcistica Dipendienti Vaticani (ACDV - the Vatican Employees' Football Activities, to use a very loose translation - the Vatican FA) were Enrico Ottaviani, Bruno Luti, Giancarlo Taraglio, Renato Aubert, Maurizio Matruzzi, and the man who was later to become the league's president, Dr. Sergio Valci. Dr. Valci was to remain president until his death on 30 October 2012, when Taraglio took over the position.

The first league championship, known as the Coppa Amicizia (Friendship Cup), commenced on 2 April 1973, and involved 7 teams, each representing various facets of the Vatican government. The teams were as follows: Governatorato (Vatican government/civil service), Hermes/Musei Vaticani, Osservatore Romano, Radio Vaticani, Sampietrini (those working in St. Peter's Basilica), Tipografia (the printing works) and Vigilanza (guards, not to be confused with the Swiss Guards). Osservatore Romano won the inaugural championship.

The Governatorato side, which later became known as Fortitudo, won the league championship in 1974, though it was another five years before the Coppa Amicizia was played for again; Osservatore Romano, the team representing the Vatican state newspaper of the same name, and which later changed its name to Astor, won it in 1979. The Coppa Amicizia evolved into the Campionato Calcio Vaticano, the first edition of which was won by Malepeggio Edilizia in 1981. 

Many of the teams taking part in the Vatican league championship down the years have indulged in name changes, including Osservatore Romano, who won the league again in 1982 as Astor and again in 1987 after what seems to have been a merger with Tipografia (the team was listed as Tipografia/Osservatore Romano in the league's honours-list), Governatorato, Poste, which later became Telepost, and APSA, which became Ariete.

The history of football in the Vatican is littered with name changes, teams which had a short shelf-life and others which disappeared, only to be re-formed some years later. Not only that, but several teams which take part in the league competition did not take part in the Coppa Vaticana and vice-versa; it is a phenomenon that continues up to the present day.

The Vatican's footballing trendsetters, Hermes/Musei Vaticani, won the Campionato for the first time and only time in 1983. They have had a little more success in the Coppa Vaticana, the Vatican's cup competition, which was established in 1985, although Telepost won the inaugural edition. Hermes/Musei Vaticani won the competition for the first time in 1986, and have won it twice more, in 2008 and 2009, under the name Hermes SS.

There had been no Vatican league championship since 1995, when Dirseco lifted it for the fourth year in a row, nor had the Coppa Vaticana been played for since that same year, when Telepost won it for the fourth time in total, stopping Dirseco from winning that competition for the fourth year in a row.

However, in 2006, the board members of the ACDV decided to resurrect football in the Vatican by not just re-establishing the Campionato and the Coppa Vaticana, but also put in place the Super Coppa Vaticana, to be played for by the winners of the Campionato Calcio Vaticano and the Coppa Vaticana. The first final took place on 21 May 2007 between Cirioni AS, winners of the Campionato, and Pantheon SD, winners of the Coppa Vaticano, with Pantheon SD winning the Super Coppa.

Fortitudo 2007, winners of the 2012-13 Coppa Vaticana/Coppa Sergio Valci (Photo courtesy of the ACDV)

In comparison to the internal Vatican league and cup competitions, which involve employees - the vast majority of whom are Italian - of the various Vatican departments, the Clericus Cup, which, again, is not run by the ACDV, is a more recent phenomenon; it is a descendant of a competition called the Rome Cup, which began in 2003 with eight teams, all representing different seminaries in and around Rome. The first edition of the Clericus Cup took place in 2007, and now involves priests-in-training from around 100 countries, all of whom are based at the seminaries participating in the competition.

The Clericus Cup is run by the Centro Sportivo Italiano (CSI), or the Italian Sports Centre, which itself was founded in 1944 by an organisation called the Gioventù Italiana di Azzione Cattolicà (GIAC), or the Italian Youth of Catholic Action. The CSI is primarily a Christian organisation, but, as it states on its own website, it is an organisation which is open "to those who are committed to sport in the service of man."

One of those involved in the setting-up of the Clericus Cup - which itself was the brainchild of the then CSI president Edio Costantini - in its current format, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, jokingly told a news conference in 2006 that he dreamed of a day when a Vatican side would compete with the cream of Serie A and play in international competition.

Cardinal Bertone's words went viral in minutes, but those journalists taking notes were over 20 years behind the times when it came to the Vatican being involved in international football, or, at least, taking on representative football teams from other countries. The Vatican City's representative (national) side have been playing friendly matches since 1985, when they defeated the Austrian Sports Journalists team by 3 goals to 0 in Rome on 31 October of that year.

The Vatican team have played most of their matches against a varied line-up of opponents over the years, from teams representing television stations such as RAI (Italy) and Télé Monte Carlo (Monaco) to the Italian restaurateurs' representative side through to non-league football clubs from Italy and Switzerland. The team have regularly taken part in charity matches, and a number of Vatican clubs have followed suit from time to time.

The national side's first-ever match against another international team took place on 23 November 2002, when they drew 0:0 against Monaco. Five months later, they drew 0:0 with a team representing San Marino on 27 April 2003, though their opponents were not the full national eleven. Since their first game against Monaco, they have played the Monégasques three times, losing all three matches, the most recent defeat - by 2 goals to 0 - coming at the Campo Cardinal F Spellman on 10 May 2014.

Vatican City (yellow shirts) and Monaco line up before their friendly in Rome in May 2014. Monaco won 2:0 (Photo: Author's own)

There has occasionally been speculation regarding the Vatican City's participation in non-FIFA international tournaments such as the NF-Board's VIVA World Cup or the new ConIFA World Cup, which is due to take place in Sweden in June 2016; occasionally, the question has been raised as to whether the ACDV go so far as to apply for UEFA membership. 

Although no official statement has ever been forthcoming from the Vatican's football authorities regarding the national team's participation in either of the aforementioned tournaments, unofficially it would appear that the Vatican's strictly neutral stance would prevent its representative football teams from playing teams from, for example, "breakaway republics" such as Abkhazia, Republika Srbska, or Northern Cyprus (TRNC), or, indeed, teams from Crimea, as this would be seen to give legitimacy to those in power in these regions.

In a short interview after the Monaco match in 2014 with the then newly-installed ACDV chairman Danilo Zennaro, the subject of joining UEFA, the NF-Board or ConIFA was broached, and Zennaro had this to say on the subject, and also on fielding a national team in order to play abroad: "We have a big problem, because our players are Italian citizens; it is impossible for us to [consider] this type of suggestion because all the players are employed in the Vatican but are Italian citizens. The Vatican passports are only for the diplomatic corps.
"I spoke to the others [Vatican FA board members] some months ago, but we do not have an idea [regarding] this situation. For us, it is difficult for us to organise a real team to go to play outside; first, the job; second, family. We enjoy playing in our championship, but we do not have the time to go abroad.
"I think first, step by step. Our championship began 43 years ago, and it is very hard to organise it every year, because there are not many players. It is okay to play this type of match [international fixtures], but it is also difficult to compete with other international teams, because the age of our players is [above that of other teams]."
A photo of the pitch at the Associazione Sportivo La Salle, Rome (Photo: Author's own)
Most of those representing the Vatican City in international matches hold Italian nationality, and this would scupper any attempt to join UEFA and/or FIFA; only around 200 Vatican passports are in use at any one time, and are exclusively reserved for the country's diplomatic corps. Once a particular individual finishes their term in the Vatican diplomatic corps, they are required to return their passport to the Vatican authorities and revert to their original nationality.

So, for now, the Vatican City international side must make do with occasional friendlies against teams representing various Italian organisations, and the odd game against Monaco. Domestically, Musei Vaticani were the dominant team last season, with the seemingly disbanded Dirseco and San Pietro sharing the previous five league championships between them.

League and cup games, which are 60 minutes in length, are currently played at the Associazione Sportivo La Salle complex in the west of Rome, which caters perfectly for the current needs of the ACDV as it has two 8-a-side pitches available for use. Until fairly recently, when the number of players and teams dipped, the Vatican league and cup competions both had 11-a-side matches, which were regularly played at the Stadio Spellman. 

The Vatican team were due to play Monaco in a friendly in the French town of Beausoleil in May, but those plans have been scrapped. (There is a possibility that Monaco will travel to Liechtenstein to play a friendly there at the beginning of June instead.) Those hoping that the ACDV will join any football organisation are likely to be disappointed that this will not be happening any time soon.  

On the other hand, the national team will continue to play friendlies, albeit on an intermittent basis - which is understandable, given the other commitments of players and technical staff - and the league and cup competitions (plus the Supercoppa) will still continue for the foreseeable future, even though, rightly or wrongly, the Clericus Cup puts them in the shade. It has been an occasionally difficult journey for Vatican football, but it has evolved and progressed significantly since the mid-1960s, and this is testament to the hard work put in by a good many people, not least Valci, Taraglio and Zennaro. 

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to all the the ACDV for their assistance in recent years, and to Giancarlo Taraglio and Danilo Zennaro; much of the above information, particularly concerning the Clericus Cup, is widely available on the internet. For statistics, kindly visit articles published earlier on this blog or go to the RSSSF website. Other information was drawn from "Io Sport In Vaticano" (2011, R & S Calvignoni, Libreria Edifice Vaticano), and a interview with Sergio Valci in L'Osservatore Romano in 2009.

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