AS Velasca: Artisans of the Beautiful Game

Coins being thrown, abuse at the club owner, pointless racism. The ills of modern football are absent at a new club in Italy.

Over the last quarter of the year, it seems that the silent majority are having their efforts ruined by monstrous fans. To paraphrase Austin Powers, ‘Who throws a shilling?’

The right way to appreciate football is to give it your all, whether bellowing at the right-back to bomb on, telling the midfield to stop going backwards or yelling at the number nine to stop playing as a ‘false nine’ and truly whack the ball into the net.

Equally, there is an appreciation for doing it ‘the right way’. However good ‘MSN’ is (iMSN if you include Iniesta, BiMSN if you include Sergio Busquets, and why would you not?), they aren’t half a bunch of princes when they play and don’t get the decisions their way.

Equally disturbing was the report that Notts County have been put up for sale at the end of February because their owner was concerned that fans would start targeting his own family with their complaints about not being as big as Forest. When my club, Watford, sent letters to 200 fans suggesting they shift across to make way for more corporate hospitality seats, many fans took out pitchforks and keyboards.

Ultimately, and this is true for Watford and indeed any non-league side hoping to rise up the pyramid, progress brings change. At the very big clubs, it is almost an insult to a city if a football club (without naming Scouse names) suggests charging visitors £77, pricing out the most loyal fans who need that £77 for things like heating their house or filling the bellies of the next generation of the team by Stanley Park’s fans with grub. Thankfully, the unnamed club in the Mersey area relented, and all is right with the world.

Many of you may be ‘Against Modern Football’. I am sure you do not need to be told that the movement started in Italy, as No al Calcio Moderne. High ticket prices in the late 1990s, too many televised games and alien kick-off times led to the movement that has swept up everyone who cares about the direction football is going in. We may have James Richardson to tell us how good Totti and Del Piero were, and some of you surely flew over to see them in the flesh, but many Italians foresaw the way calico was going.

Many of you may be ‘Against Modern Football’. I am sure you do not need to be told that the movement started in Italy, as No al Calcio Moderne. High ticket prices in the late 1990s, too many televised games and alien kick-off times led to the movement that has swept up everyone who cares about the direction football is going in. We may have James Richardson to tell us how good Totti and Del Piero were, and some of you surely flew over to see them in the flesh, but many Italians foresaw the way calico was going.

STANDamf is always looking for the next way to oppose Generation Live on Sky Sports, as I will call it in my book Saturday, 3pm (out digitally May 19). Look no further, therefore, than Milan, and a new football club that should win the admirers of aesthetes and ‘the right way to play’.

Wolfgang Natlacen talks a good game. The Milanese team he co-runs, AS Velasca, could turn into the Italian version of Clapton FC. Velasca is ‘an oversized micro football club’ which plays in the church-run CSI league.

Their slogan is ‘part football club, part work of art’, and those are the two aims of the club. Their decent XI is fighting their way up to Serie A in the style of Castel di Sangro, but we asked Wolfgang to talk about the artistic side.

Before he does so, which Milan footballers can be considered ‘artists’ of calcio?‘Undoubtedly, the playmaker is the most artistic role in football,’ explains Wolfgang correctly. ‘It seems that Pedernera was the first true “artist” with a football. More recently Baggio and also Pirlo are the best examples of what art could be on the football field.

‘In a certain way, modern football, as a game, has killed the playmaker. They are less and less free to move, to invent. Football needed more athletes than artists. The pressing, the defensive tactics, the technique; all of this means the playmaker finds it tough to remain an attacker. Remember Zola or Baggio?’

Ah yes, Gianfranco Zola, former Watford manager and 90 minutes away from promotion in 2013. Then his team lost to Yeovil (up the Yeo! – Ed, Bill Biss), and with it he lost his job. Heady days at the Vic.

Each year Velasca approaches artists to be their resident ‘sponsor’. They do this ‘by financing our seasonal clothing. This season, the French artist Regis Seneque is sponsoring us. From the bollettino to the jerseys to the cards used by the referees, he is in charge. For him, AS Velasca is a much better opportunity to display his work than a gallery.’

Velasca also have plans to put on a show away from the pitch in a gallery in Milan, the Spazio O ( ‘The exhibition will focus on our growth and all the artistic collaborations. For now, we prefer to keep our collezione and not to sell it.’

That’s a novel way of raising funds to build a stand! Another way would be to boost attendances by signing a former Milan hero. It worked for Watford when Filippo Galli played at centre-half under Luca Vialli, after all. Better yet, Barnet allowed Edgar Davids to be their manager without paying him! He was somewhat autocratic though, but nonetheless an artist in glaucoma goggles somehow playing long-ball football in the Conference. He famously resigned after three red cards in as many games.

Outside of Milan, Wolfgang states that Maradona and Socrates ‘are artists par excellence. It’s important to say that a lot of players became artists also outside the pitch.’ Eric Cantona, my hero, is one. ‘It’s funny how, when he was a player, he defined soccer as an art form, before changing it in to “a minor art form”. Pietro Paolo Virdis is also an artist, a great culinary artist. And Olivier Dacourt, Del Piero, Zebina, they are all involved in art.’

Perhaps they should head down to Velasca some time, where everything around the field has been created by artists. A cinderblock by Seneque is found at the stadium. Patricia Waller designed the captain’s armband and an artist named Patrizia Novello created the substitution board.

Their social media presence is strong, with 600 Facebook likers and 180 people tuned to their Instagram account as of the end of February.‘The idea came first from the vice-president of the club, Loris Mandelli,’ says Wolfgang. ‘He contacted me because he knew that I would like to be part of this adventure.

‘For me it was a dream I had long nurtured, but I thought it was too early to bring it to life. It is very hard to emerge in a city like Milan. Mandelli reminded me that, in Italy, all clubs are handled by older people. So both of us wanted to create an alternative to modern football. AS Velasca may seem an avatar of NaCM,’ Wolfgang counters, ‘but actually we don’t define ourselves by comparison with bigger clubs. We don’t try to imitate or to reject something; we are trying to pave our own path.

‘In our point of view, Velasca is something radically different because football and art have the same importance in the project and reinforce each other. Our objective is to create links between art and football because these two universes may seem totally different; one may seem elitist, the other too popular. We want to attract new attendances towards both art and football.’

Maybe the decline of the two Milanese clubs was the catalyst, Wolfgang suggests. ‘Unquestionably, A.C. Milan and Inter are still two colossi. Of course, now they are in a period of crisis.‘A.C. Milan is no longer Berlusconi’s toy, the Berlusconi show. It is not a political weapon any more. Silvio seems tired. They are trying to re-invent the club by creating a new stadium (in vain), by putting on events, creating a museum, and even an artistic gallery.’

The football can’t be beautiful enough at the San Siro.‘Internazionale lost its soul by spending and spending until Moratti had to sell the club to its current owner. Consequently, at Velasca we have tried to create something totally different based on a global artistic approach. That is, we don't use art and graphics to support the sporting aspect, but instead see art an integral part of it.

‘We are trying to attract more and more Milanese but we know that it will be a long process. As long as Milan and Inter will be out of European competition and, more generally, as long as Italian football will go downhill, it will be possible.

‘We have noticed that Milanese folk, and not just them, are getting tired of this situation in Italian football. We think that they want new sensations, new vibrations. Milanese are happy to hear about our new project and it is our intention to bring them with us, so that they can come to our little stadium and make them dream.‘We have about 50 regular spectators. A few of them are discovering football for the first time; others are renewing their ties with the game. And we are happy to welcome any fans who are new to football.

‘I haven’t seen any tifosi with sketch pads! I know that few of our followers want to create a real group of supporters, but also an artistic side project about their new beloved team. In parallel, we are also working on a different way to tell the story of our matches. We are asking different artists to invent a new way of depicting a football match. Our next collaboration should be with a courtroom sketch artist.‘As we have many followers in Europe, we organize a weekly live tweet of our games. We cover all our games, on Twitter especially, and post a photo to Instagram.

‘Every month, we print the bollettino in which we report all the game’s highlights and facts that happened inside and around our project.‘Football is a collective sport and our club is a collective project in which artists are free to express themselves.’To conclude, Wolfgang says he is sure a British equivalent, a sort of FC Velasca Hamlet, could exist. ‘The recipe,’ he says of his club, who welcome visitors of all teams or none, ‘is to define a new approach and to never give up whatever the difficulties. Our project is fuelled by passion and emotion rather than money.’Sounds like they’re against modern football to me!