How Italian Football Creates Italians: The 1982 World Cup, the ‘Pertini Myth’ and Italian National Identity

John Foot*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
965 Downloads (Pure)


Italy’s victory in the 1982 World Cup is usually narrated through the figure of Sandro Pertini, the President of Italy who attended the final as a spectator. It is also often described as an ‘anti-fascist’ and ‘democratic’ World Cup. This paper looks at the ways in which that victory intersected with forms of national identification, and unpacks the forms in which the stories coming out of the tournament provided a perfect framework for such identification – redemption, the wise father-figure, the artists, the workers, the underdogs. The paper goes on to critique the ways in which the simplistic link between national identity and football has been made in the past, and the descriptive accounts of this tournament to date. The latter part of the paper looks in detail at the figure of Pertini and his relationship with the 1982 victory. It is argued that Pertini’s 1982 image provides Italians with a rare example of a universally popular moment, which has been exploited by both right and left in the years that followed. It is also argued that, Pertini’s connection with the victory was very carefully stage-managed and needs to be seen in terms of the framing provided by television and commentary. Pertini himself managed the event perfectly so as to create osmosis between his own personality and the football team itself. However, the link between Pertini and 1982 came at a cost. His own radical past was toned down to the point of being forgotten, and he was re-invented as a bland figure ‘Italy’s grandfather’. A final section looks at the possible effects of the 1982 victory, including the idea that what has been termed the ‘footbalization’ of Italian society really began after 1982, and not with the rise of Silvio Berlusconi in the mid-1980s as is often claimed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-358
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of the History of Sport
Issue number3
Early online date4 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Italian football
  • National identity
  • Sandro Pertini
  • Silvio Berlusconi
  • World cup


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