Image credit: bolognafc.it
Words: Martin Mork
On May 31, 1964, Helmut Haller’s penalty in the 17th minute was enough to secure a 1-0 win over Lazio and restore the hopes of Bologna’s first Scudetto after the Second World War, but a stubborn Inter beating Atalanta 2-1 at San Siro. That was it, 34 rounds played and both teams tied together on 54 points. It had never happened before, nor since, but the 1963-64 Scudetto was assigned after a play-off on neutral turf.
However, that was only a small part of the incredible story that was the 1963-64 season, which covered doping scandals, docked points, conspiracy theories and tragedy. Just four days before the historic showdown, Bologna President Renato Dall’Ara suffered a fatal heart attack.
When coach Fulvio Bernardini arrived in 1961, he promised patron Dall’Ara that he’d bring the Scudetto to Bologna within three years. Dall’Ara had also hired director Carlo Montanari to build for the future, adding foreign talent to the rising Italian stars currently in the squad.
‘Il Dottore’ (The Doctor) was running out of time to keep that pledge after ending back-to-back championships in fourth place. Montanari, supported by Bernardini and Dall’Ara, was able to lure shot-stopper William Negri to the ranks and arguably filled the one position in need of improvement at the Stadio Comunale.
The goalkeeper was the missing piece in a thoroughly built attacking side with a leaky defence. Goal-scorer Harald Nielsen, who had arrived from Denmark two years prior, had bagged 19 goals in his second season for the club, helped by the addition of German playmaker Helmut Haller, an eccentric character who moved from Augsburg ahead of the 1962-63 season.
Nielsen and Haller also bonded off the pitch, but the Dane recalled 50 years later to Bologna FC’s official channel that he became adept at diplomacy. “When Helmut had argued with some of the other players, he used to come to my room and say: ‘Harald, you need to help me. I have done something I shouldn’t have done; can you talk to them so that we can be friends again?
“He did many things that he instantly regretted and wanted help to make everything alright and for me it was easy, I would go down and say: ‘We need to win on Sunday, you must make up and move on’. And like that, we put it all behind us.”
Negri, who had arrived from Mantova, proved his worth from the off, spurring Bologna on to fight Helenio Herrera’s reigning champions with three clean sheets in his first five games with the Rossoblu.
With further protection added to the defence, including captain Mirko Pavinato and sweeper Francesco Janich, coach Bernardini seemed to have it right up until October, when Nielsen looked like had finally found his feet, scoring his first goal of the season in the fourth match against Fiorentina in late September and adding a hat-trick at Modena on October 6.
But October was not to be represented by the Dane finding his form, as Bologna were 2-0 up against Milan at home, before drawing thanks to an own goal by Bruno Capra in stoppage time. After the setback, they didn’t score again until November and Sampdoria inflicted Bologna’s first defeat of the season, in between the draws against the Diavolo and SPAL.
But Nielsen proved it wasn’t a fluke when he grabbed another hat-trick against Roma on November 3, helping the home side to a 4-0 win against the Giallorossi and providing much needed confidence ahead of their first meeting with the Nerazzurri at San Siro in Week 10.
With Nielsen on seven goals and Negri with five clean sheets in the first nine matches, Bernardini’s men had the balance to go for victory, but the match ended in a goalless stalemate .
From 4-1 to 0-2
After the first meeting with their rivals Inter, Nielsen and Bulgarelli inspired Bologna to go on a run of nine consecutive wins, culminating in a 4-1 win against Torino on February 2, and the midfield duo of Romano Fogli and German international Haller provided the balance needed for the team play joyful and free-flowing football.
“When you have a player who doesn’t hold back and sacrifices himself for his teammates like Helmut, adding the imagination he had, then you have a great player,” Fogli said about the famous No10, who went on to score the first goal in the World Cup Final against England in 1966.
The Rossoblu remained unbeaten for 15 matches, until Inter returned for another classic encounter at the Stadio Comunale in late March, having beaten Milan 2-1 at San Siro on March 1, proving to be a true contender for the Scudetto thanks to goals by Nielsen and Ezio Pascutti.
The Rossoblu’s consistent form, coupled with Milan and Inter struggling to cope with the pressure of combining domestic and European competitions, meant Bernardini’s men were ahead when the Federcalcio stunned Italian football by announcing the positive doping tests taken by five players from Dall’Ara’s club.
The tests from the big win against Turin had come back positive for amphetamines and among the tested were the mentioned Fogli and captain Pavinato. The club denied it and conspiracy theories about the Milan clubs trying to stop Bologna taking the Scudetto emerged among the Tricolori faithful.
The FIGC, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, disqualified coach Bernardini, changed the match to a 2-0 defeat and stripped them of a further point, but declared the players innocent. The report claims an ill President cried as he received the news and Italian football was split with the North against the rest.
The famous “Easter of blood”
Fresh from their three-point deduction, Bologna had to host Inter after a great run of results.
Easter Sunday of ’64 was labelled La Pasqua di Sangue (the Easter of Blood) and the press didn’t help calm the increasing hatred between the two sides by publishing a front page with DOPED in tall letters. The stadium was heated to a point where the two sets of fans were expected to clash at any given moment.
But somehow the spectacular show that is football helped ease the crowd and make them focus solely on what happened on the pitch. The first half ended in a 1-0 lead to the visiting Nerazzurri and after the break, the Rossoblu seemed affected by the ongoing turmoil in their spat with the champions.
Disorganised and struggling to find space, Jair took advantage of the bewildered home side and doubled the visitors’ lead after 49 minutes. When Haller, who had scored three consecutive penalties, saw his effort saved by Guliano Sarti three minutes later, everything came crashing down around Bologna. Carlo Furlanis managed to grab a consolation goal in the 77th minute, but the 2-1 defeat left them at third in the table, with Milan in between.
Never say die
Bologna continued to battle on after the defeat against Inter by winning their next four games, but the Nerazzurri were also keeping up the pace. The head to head and the points deduction were separating the sides ahead of Bologna’s first match in May against Mantova.
Bologna drew 0-0 at the Stadio Danilo Martelli and with only three matches left of the campaign, seemed doomed to yet another season of almost glory.
But on May 16, reports that the positive test tubes had been tampered with emerged in the news. The samples taken after the match against Turin had been divided into two test tubes: one for analysis and one for counter-analysis. The latter, preserved in Coverciano, established that the amphetamines were added later and were in a quantity able to kill a horse, according to the Gazzetta dello Sport.
The test results had been tampered with and punishment had been revoked by the Italian Federal Court of Justice. Bologna had their managers back, despite rumours about Bernardini sending messages to his bench through a walkie-talkie from the stands during his suspension. More importantly, the points were back on the board and Bologna were actually happy with a 0-0 draw against Juventus on Sunday, May 17.
Bologna and Inter were level again, as the latter also played out a scoreless draw against Lazio in Rome. Both teams collected four points each in the two remaining fixtures and were tied at the top of the League after 34 rounds, thanks to the reversal of the penalty in the alleged doping case.
Serie A decided to arrange a play-off match at the Olimpico and coach Bernardini, who had been back on the bench for two weeks, decided to take his players to a retreat in Fregene, to shield them from the expectations and spirit in the city of Bologna.
As the team were preparing to face Inter for the third time, a side they were yet to overcome during the season, President Dall’Ara travelled to Milan on June 3, four days prior to the match.
On a hot Wednesday afternoon, he met with Inter President Angelo Moratti and the Lega chief Giorgio Perlasca. At 5.30pm, according to Il Resto del Carlino, the Bologna President ‘slumped on the left shoulder of the Inter patron without saying a word. The trusted doctor could do nothing but verify his death’.
Another controversial conspiracy started in Bologna, taking the enormous news as a hard blow. The Rossoblu fans incited ‘they killed him’. Two days later, on June 5, only two of the Bologna stars attended his funeral, whilst the rest were still preparing for the grand Final in Rome.
Bernardini had been offered to postpone the Scudetto play-off by the Federcalcio, but the players refused the proposal and wanted to play in homage to their President. But Bulgarelli recalled that the coach was not at ease. He had brought the team to Fregene in order to give them peace and quiet, to relax and rest, both physically and mentally.
“On the morning of the play-off,” Bulgarelli said, according to L’Ultimo Uomo, “Bernardini gathered us and simply told us ‘not to worry’. He probably needed to calm down as well because when we looked at his feet, he was wearing one sneaker and one normal shoe.”
The one and only play-off
Il Dottore ended the season with a brilliant tactical move, when he shifted his formation and played full-back Bruno Capra on the wing to stop Herrera’s plans and help the defence block Mario Corso from being decisive in attack.
On the hot summer’s day, Bologna and Inter seemed exhausted after having completed a long and hard season and the tie remained open until Giacomo Bulgarelli pushed a free-kick to the side and Romano Fogli’s effort in the 75th minute touched Inter defender Giacinto Facchetti, who deflected the ball past Giuliano Sarti.
The Nerazzurri were unable to come back. They had nothing left to give, after having returned from celebrating their first European Cup triumph against Real Madrid in Vienna. They were tired and Bologna’s energy limited them, as did the hot weather.
Fogli was again influential in the middle of the park nine minutes later. He created space and made himself available. Led the defenders to the right before he played it blindly back across to the left and found Nielsen’s left foot locked and loaded.
“For me, the most beautiful moment was when I gave the ball to Harald,” Fogli said. “I made myself available, brought the ball across the pitch and cut it back in the middle and were able to put it perfectly in the path to come off his left foot.”
“It’s the perfect example of understanding,” added Nielsen. “Inter were sure they were going to win. But we were sure too, because we wanted to win. We wanted to win for Bologna, for Dall’Ara, for everyone. On that day, we would have beaten anyone.”
Serie A 1963-64 table
Serie A 1963-64 Scorers
Image credit: Wikipedia