An Italian Pastime Coming to St Louis? by Michael J Cross

 

 

 

 

Soccer is a favorite Italian pastime. For anyone even slightly familiar with Italian or Italian-American culture, you know that soccer, or calcio as they say in Italian, is something of a passion. It’s embedded into the culture. Most everyone has a favorite team whether it be the famous Serie A teams like AC Milano, Juventus, AS Roma, Napoli, or the lesser known teams like my favorite, Triestina, which happens to be in the illustrious Serie D.

Because St Louis was populated primarily by continental Europeans, most St Louisans have grown up watching soccer or have played on soccer teams when they were children. The Italian neighborhood in St Louis, The Hill, has been particularly influential in spreading the early popularity of soccer in St Louis and throughout the United States. There was even a film made about St Louis Italians who helped make soccer popular in America. “The Game of Their Lives” tells the tale of the 1950 US soccer team who, against all odds, beat England 1 – 0 during the World Cup. Most of that soccer team was made up of St Louis Italians who grew up on The Hill including stars Frank Borghi, Charlie Colombo, and Gino Pariani.

Soccer has always been a St Louis thing thanks to its rich continental European history. Now, it has become a St Louis passion thanks to the Italians and Italian-Americans who helped to make the sport popular. Today, girls and boys grow up playing soccer here. It’s an inexpensive sport. No need for lots of pads, helmets, skates, or sticks. All you need is a ball and a field. As a child, I played soccer for St Raphael the Archangel in St Louis Hills and then for St Ambrose on The Hill. I was coached by Mr. John DiGregorio, owner of DiGregorio’s Market. I was definitely not the best player, but I have fond memories of those times. Most every child who has lived in St Louis knows what I’m talking about. We have all played soccer and we all grew up cheering for our favorite European team during the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s and women’s national soccer teams have grown in prominence and talent during the last decade and the MLS is becoming more popular as soccer becomes a favorite sport throughout the United States. St Louis has had a part in all of this. Every U.S. team in World Cup history has included at least one St. Louisan on its roster, and 29 St. Louisans have been inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Several current or former MLS players are from St. Louis, including: Mike Sorber, Chris Klein, Pat Noonan, Jack Jewsbury, Matt Pickens, Brad Davis, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Tim Ream, and Will Bruin.

There is no doubt that St Louis represents the nation’s richest soccer heritage. The Italian connection to soccer in St Louis has continued as we have recently hosted two of the top 10 Italian soccer teams, AS Roma and Inter Milan. Thanks to the Italians of yesteryear, soccer has flourished in our city and our region.

So, why doesn’t St Louis have an Major League Soccer team? There are many reasons for that but now is our chance for some needed change. Ciao St Louis, the central media point for all Italians and Italian-Americans in St Louis, would like every St Louisan to consider the benefits of a Downtown MLS stadium. If you live in the City of St Louis, please consider voting YES on Propositions 1 and 2 during the upcoming election on April 4th.  And remember, the stadium tax will only affect those who buy tickets. So if you don’t care for soccer or you would prefer not to go to a game, then you will not be affected by this measure. We firmly believe that once the proposition passes, the MLS will award St Louis an MLS team.Let’s be proud of the soccer city that we are and bring an Italian pastime to prominence in our fair city.

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