Literature, Eros and football

Stefan Howald reports from PFFC's trip to Casarsa in October 2003


Pier Paolo Pasolini was not only a writer prone to scandals but also a keen footballer. So what better way to celebrate these two forms of culture than through an international event in his home town.


Both regional newspapers printed previews, the one fairly short, the other one quite substantial. Both of them stressed the strange combination of Pasolini and football and mentioned the international cooperation with which Pasolini was to be celebrated. Alternative football teams from England, Switzerland and Italy agreed to meet at the beginning of October in Pordenone, next to Pasolini’s home town of Casarsa.

The contacts with Italy were established through my former team in London, Philosophy Football FC, and my present Swiss team, FC Levante Wibi, developed some enthusiasm for the idea; as J., who took over the unofficial role of organiser, argued not unreasonably, mainly to forget our somewhat depressing season in the veterans’ league of the progressive Swiss Football championship. Finally, after some acceptances and cancellations and renewed acceptances, thirteen people travelled from Zürich by car and train to Friuli.


Friday afternoon we arrived, on time, at Pordenone, where we were collected by Mick. He got stuck here as a temporary auxiliary English teacher 28 years ago and since then he has become a respected English teacher at a vocational school. With his football team, Socialmente Utile FC, whose initials remind him at his beloved Sheffield United FC, he combines football with political activities, playing in a prison or organising a tournament with asylum seekers. Silvio Berlusconi managed to orchestrate his ascent to power via a football club; so we urgently need some counterweights.

Pordenone, with 50,000 inhabitants, consists of a small historical centre from the 14th century, and sprawling quarters from more recent times; firstly thanks to the textile industry and then thanks to Zanussi, an international electronic appliance company and biggest employer in the region.

In advance of the trip, a hectic circulation of e-mails between Pordenone, London and Zürich dealt with the barely veiled threat that after the football game some self-penned poems would have to be read. Now, for me, Pasolini means mostly a scandalous rumour; his collection of poems with the title Gramsci’s Ashes is memorable for me because of the work of Antonio Gramsci, his Freebooter’s Writings I know only in the form of a German alternative magazine, his later films are beyond my taste and understanding. At least, during a meal after a training session, my colleagues at FC Levante Wibi and I were involved in a fierce debate about the year of Pasolini’s death and how it came about, the more outrageous and bloody suggestions for which I don’t want to mention. To rectify my ignorance I ordered a collection of poems by Pasolini which arrived two days later but which wasn’t quite what it had claimed. Nevertheless it was quite interesting: a collection of poems in Friulian, the local Italian dialect, some 40 pages by Pasolini, but by a dozen or so other authors as well, and all poems in three languages, Friulian, Italian and German, beautifully crafted. «Viers Pordenon e il mont», ‘towards Pordenone and the world’, I read: about girls and boys who dreamt about escaping and tried to escape, about the landscape and violins in the evening ‘in the desperate emptiness of Casarsa’.

First half

Saturday morning at ten o’clock there was an official reception for us at Pordenone town hall. Last autumn, the town elected, for the first time, a left-wing mayor: young, open-minded. He thanked us for the t-shirt we presented to him ­ the most recent creation in the ever-expanding range of t-shirts from Philosophy Football ­ with a quote by Pasolini: «Dopo la litteratura e l’eros, il calcio é uno dei grandi piaceri», alternatively pink on blue or blue on pink. Geoff, incomparable Gaffer of Philosophy Football, acknowledged the event with some philosophical musings, and A., elected at very short notice as the speaker for FC Levante, contributed some well-chosen words in Italian.

The reception in Pordenone was followed by another reception at the town hall in Casarsa, a fascinating mixture of styles: a brutalist concrete building from the 1960s, brightened up with some paintings by a local and fairly minor artist, and in between was placed the stiff-necked portrait of a former mayor and a wooden peasant’s cupboard with dusty files in it. The acting mayor, a member of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, in more formal clothes than his younger colleague in Pordenone, managed eloquently to bridge the gap between local wine and Pasolini, or the other way round. Geoff, no longer trusting his Italian, stressed in English how Pasolini stood up for all the under-privileged; the mayor listened indulgently to a rough translation of the speech and thanked us, with a stoic smile, for the Pasolini-t-shirts presented to him but he quickly passed on the pink-coloured one to his assistant and kept the more decent blue one.

Anyhow, Casarsa is cultivating a Pasolini Centre, a small house with three floors and six rooms for exhibitions containing some nice photographs, texts and books by Pasolini and posters which he drafted when he worked in Casarsa with the Communist Party, before he, for ‘reasons of decency’, was thrown out of the school and the CP as well. The director of the centre stressed the pioneering work done by Pasolini between 1942 and 1950 with his poems in Friulian, which at that time was not a written language and did not have an official transcription. On the second floor we encountered an almost life-sized picture of Pasolini wearing a shirt of the Azzuri team, from about 1950, and in the office, taken from the poison cabinet, newspaper pictures from 1975 showing Pasolini’s maltreated body.

Apart from manager and supporting fan, Philosophy Football had only arrived with four players, so I switched loyalties and joined my old English team. The indoor tournament paired four teams of five players plus subs against each other, and two women’s teams in two games of their own. Mick’s Italians from SUFC won the tournament, Philosophy Football came second, FC Levante had, apart from two defeats, the satisfaction of winning against the English and U., who played with FC Levante as well as with one of the women’s teams, and me, each scored four goals. As soon as they entered the hall, the English had started to liven up the atmosphere with encouraging shouts and fiery chants; first prize going undoubtedly to Cornish Al’s song line ‘I left my foot in San Franceso’.

Afterwards, we travelled in high spirits to Via del Fante, a pitch with sand sprinkled on it, on which Pasolini, once upon a time, is said to have played. A combined Anglo-Swiss team took on an Italian team, for two halves of twenty minutes. Geoff, in his role as referee, ignored during the first half a blatant handball in our penalty area and then, pressured by Mick to finish the game, let it run long over the presumed time till the Italian keeper, under slight pressure, spilled a corner and I hammered the ball from three yeards out with my left foot into the roof of the net. One minute later Geoff brought the match to an end.

Second half

In winning mood we moved to the neighbouring village of Valvasone where a festival of peace was in full flow. Or, rather, in fairly sluggish flow. A local rock group, the Backwoods, attacked American hits from the swinging sixties. A spray artist prepared elaborately to spray a rainbow, his work only, which was then scattered by a sudden drizzle. The food served consisted of some penne in plastic plates at five euros. When we left, the audience dwindled to half its number. At least, I remarked comfortingly, there were some local families sitting in the tent but C. admonished me, rightly so, for this wishful thinking.

We returned to Pordenone, to Inchiostro, a former cloister which served, with a bar in the middle and with several rooms branching off, as a local youth and cultural centre. In one of the rooms Geoff had managed to pin some Philosophy Football t-shirts to the wall which the local youth eyed curiously but fairly sceptically. But the reading of the poems didn’t seem to materialise. Most of our hosts were missing. Finally the recital started in the presence of five Englishmen, four Swiss and three Italians. Rob, an actor by profession, performed four of his own poems, witty and clever: ‘120 minutes of boredom’ with many doubles entendres, followed by a pastiche in the style of Shakespeare, and Cornish Al followed suit with some further poems. I had decided to say a few words about Scottish writer Stuart Hood. Hood once translated, in addition to many other writers, Pasolini into English, and I have recently translated his autobiographical report about his time as a prisoner of war in Northern Italy and his fight with the Italian resistance in 1944 into German; so I thought this would illustrate some connections of international resistance past and present. But looking around me, I was struck by a cafard, or his Friulian counterpart. To whom should I address my rambling thoughts in English which would have broken the humorous frame and mindset? So I abstained, disheartened. Half an hour later the cloister was full to breaking-point, without much poetry in evidence. I shall cover the ‘eros’ of the night with a veil of discretion.

Final score

The following day, Sunday, we spent strolling through the crumbling charm of Venice, and travelled back during the evening. Our group on the road encountered a snowstorm in Southern Tyrol, and our sleeper was made to wait for three hours somewhere outside the gates of Milan for a late connection from Rome ­ possibly a form of poetic justice for the recent blackout Italy had to endure due to a defective Swiss power cable.