When Juve came to Melbourne in 1984 and Santo minded their wedding rings

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Santo Cilauro was one third of the Santo, Sam and Ed's Cup Fever! phenomenon that complemented SBS's broadcast of the biggest football tournament on earth.

Paolo Rossi

Source: Getty Images

However, long before then he was a football-loving law student who spent one of the most amazing weeks of his life with the Juventus team of the mid-1980s.

Now 54, Cilauro is a well-known television personality, feature film producer, screenwriter, actor, author, comedian and cameraman.

But his passion for the round-ball game, the Azzurri and the Old Lady of Italian football, is no secret.

Q. You were involved in Juventus’s 1984 pre-season tour – how did that come about?

SANTO: In early June 1984 I was walking from Melbourne University to my aunt’s place to pick up some homemade pizza. On the way, I saw TV vans outside a motel. I poked my head into the foyer and saw that a press conference was about to begin.

Seated at a trestle table were Zibi Boniek, Dino Zoff, and Paolo Rossi. I knew Juve was in town and decided to stay and watch. Right next to me a journalist was asking coach Giovanni Trapattoni who their translator was. In very broken English, Trap replied that he could handle the questions. Within 30 seconds, it was clear he couldn’t.

I took it upon myself to explain what was being asked. Before I knew it, I’d been to sit next to Rossi and translate all questions. By the end of the conference, I’d been invited to travel with the team for the entire tournament.

My only regret is I never got to pick up my aunty’s pizza.

Q. How did you become a fan of football and Juve (I assume you are, extremely presumptuous – apologies if you’re not)?

SANTO: I was born into a football family. My father was part of the local Juventus team administration in Melbourne and then became the chairman of the Victorian Soccer Federation (and later, a member of the Australian Soccer Federation).

I also lived in Collingwood, which meant that mum only needed to knit one black and white jumper – it doubled for Juve and the Magpies. I also played for Juventus juniors – all I can say is that my passion for the game is inversely proportional to my ability to play it.

Q. What was it like being around Juve in 1984? What was the reaction in the Italian community in Melbourne but also the wider community? Were they mobbed wherever they went?

SANTO: They were superstars – many of them were part of the 1982 World Cup winning Italian team (Zoff, Cabrini, Gentile, Scirea, Tardelli, Rossi). So yes, they were mobbed everywhere. The players couldn’t really get out much. 

Q. How did the players enjoy Australia? Did you have much interaction with them?

I did manage to take six of them to an Aussie Rules game at the MCG – they really did enjoy that (especially Rossi). A crazy footballer called Mark ‘Jacko’ Jackson played. I had no trouble explaining the rules – I had lots of trouble explaining his behaviour.

Q. What are some of your favourite stories from that tour?

SANTO: Ha! I can’t say too much. But let’s put it this way – apart from translating at press conferences, my main job was looking after most of the players’ wedding rings and taking calls from wives and girlfriends (where my standard reply was, “I’m sorry – he’s not available right now – he’s in a team meeting”).

I sometimes think of Australia’s ‘golden generation’ 20 years later and I wonder whether there’s any kind of link?

Q. How do you think Juve and their players have changed from the mid-1980s to now?

SANTO: I think there has been one major change - in the 80s, Italian Serie A was arguably the best league in the world. Juve has no trouble attracting the world's best international players (Platini, Boniek, Brady). Over the years, and especially in the last decade, the pulling power of Serie A has declined - star players are far more likely to play in England, Spain and Germany.

I believe Juve have adapted far better than any other Italian club in handling the realities of the commercial climate. The club's player lists have been carefully built around sensible spending and opportune selling – all the while to ensure winning Scudetti rather than attracting the ‘big name’. 

Their squads always seem balanced and their managers always seem focused. One thing that has not changed is their confidence in any major competition – there is a magical ‘historical wisdom’ that manages to stay with them when they take to the field against more fancied European opposition teams.

Q. How has being a football fan in Melbourne/Australia changed in that time?

SANTO: You would think that the answer is “plenty!”, but to me not at all. When you grow up a passionate supporter, the nature of that passion stays the same no matter how much the structures or even the scale of the competitions change.

The only difference, obviously, is our presence in the World Cup – since 2006 we’ve always been there and that is an entirely new dimension for me who has had to suffer through unsuccessful qualification campaigns for 30 years.

Q. Do you have any other football-related thoughts that you want to share with us?

SANTO: Just one general observation about sport and family. Having grown up being taken to the football by my dad and now having two boys who play and love the game – I believe there is no better experience than sharing your personal sporting passion with your kids and family.

I was there with friends in 2006 when Australia drew with Croatia to qualify for the World Cup Round of 16, and I was there a few days later to see the match I’d been waiting for all my life – Italy v Australia.

But that doesn’t compare with the time my dad took me to a cinema in 1970 to watch the film of the Azzurri’s semi-final against West Germany or the time I took him to Japan to watch the World Cup. Go to the game with your kids (or parents) – the memories are priceless.

Q. Are you still in touch with Mark Bresciano? If so, what did he have for dinner last time you spoke?

SANTO: Oh, yes. Bresh and I stay in touch. I saw him recently at a Melbourne Victory lunch. I'll give you one guess what he had - chicken… with ginger and soy.

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6 min read
Published 26 July 2016 at 4:18pm
By Nick Stoll
Source: SBS