EZIO VENDRAME: Womaniser, poet, rebel and … also footballer!
There is a man who gives a famous journalist who wants to interview him an appointment at the cemetery of his village, Casarsa della Delizia, in Friuli.
On Pier Paolo Pasolini’s grave.
Because, says the man, ‘Pier Paolo is still the most alive person around here’.
There is a man who, as a footballer, in order to rebel against a ‘combined’ match between his team and the opposing team, runs the whole field backwards, with the ball at his feet, up to a metre from his own goal line, pretending to kick the ball into the net.
A spectator in the stands will die of a heart attack at that gesture.
‘Well, if he has a weak heart he doesn’t have to come when I play football’ will be our man’s comment.
There is a man who, while still playing football, notices that there is someone very dear to him in the stands. So he takes the ball in his hand, stops the game and goes to greet him.
The man in the stands is a poet, his name is Piero Ciampi from Livorno.
There is a man who still enjoys coaching young boys from a village near his own but who, with each passing year, says he dreams more and more of ‘coaching an orphan team’ given how difficult it has become to put up with his boys’ parents.
There is a man who has always lived the life he wanted to live, in defiance of conventions, the bigoted Italy in which he grew up, the coaches who wanted to harass him, and the husbands he made despair of the many women he loved.
This man’s name is EZIO VENDRAME and cancer took him away on 4 April 2020.
This is our remembrance.
Ezio Vendrame was born in Casarsa della Delizia, Friuli, on 21 November 1947.
When he was only five years old, his parents separated.
Neither of them had the financial means to take care of little Ezio.
He is sent to an orphanage.
Even though he, the parents, have both of them.
These are terrible years for Ezio and for all the children ‘guests’ of that facility.
The discipline of the priests who run the orphanage often becomes violence or pure sadism.
The most pestiferous are led around on a leash, like dogs.
Unsurprisingly, Ezio grows up an atheist and throughout his life is totally refractory to rules, impositions and constraints.
Fortunately, in adolescence, two authentic anchors of salvation arrive that will allow him, at least in part, to go beyond the years of abandonment and total lack of love.
They are football and girls.
And not exactly in that order.
At football Ezio discovers he is good.
Dribbling, ball control, game vision and above all a truly rare creativity and imagination with that ability to ‘invent’ the play from nothing.
Qualities that soon attracted the attentions of Udinese.
Ezio also discovered that he had a great passion (and just as much talent!) for seducing representatives of the opposite sex of various ages.
‘I have slept with hundreds of women ! but I swear … I have LOVED them all. I have never made love without feeling’ Vendrame himself will always say with deep conviction.
Udinese included him in its youth sector but … Ezio Vendrame was ALREADY Ezio Vendrame.
He just can’t stand the diktats.
Udinese, without too many regrets, sold him to Spal.
His relationship with President Paolo Mazza did not take off.
At Spal, the most intense memory for Ezio is not related to football.
But to ‘that other’ passion.
Ezio fell madly in love with Roberta, one of the girls who were part of the ‘match prize’ for the players in the event of victory.
For her he skips training sessions, pretending to be ill or with continuous unspecified ‘muscular troubles’ … which miraculously disappear in the company of his ‘Queen’, as Ezio called her.
Obviously the little game cannot last long and the thing, once discovered, does not exactly fill President Mazza and the Estensi managers with joy.
Vendrame began wandering around the lower divisions until the summer of 1971 when the call came for him from Lanerossi Vicenza, a team in the top division.
Here Ezio found an ideal team and environment.
On and off the field.
Long hair, an easygoing, rebellious hippy look.
He starts the season on the bench but when he plays he shows all his qualities to the full.
He is left free to create, to move with a certain freedom between central midfield and the flanks.
For an ‘anarchist’ like him it is not only the ideal condition … it is simply the only possible one.
At Vicenza he soon became an idol.
Of the fans crowding the Menti and the Vicenza ladies eager for a ‘shake-up’ in that sleepy Veneto province.
In some matches Vendrame is absolutely unreachable.
In Vicenza people will talk for years about his performance against Inter at the San Siro in 1972.
Invernizzi, the Nerazzurri’s coach, would change his marking three times.
The last to try will be the great Giacinto Facchetti … to no avail.
Against Vendrame, he scored an epic ‘doll’ that day.
‘The night before the match I spent it in the company of a “Brazilian streetwalker”.
She brought good luck and from then on it became almost a ritual! Nothing relaxed me more the day before a match …’ Vendrame recalls with amusement.
Ezio’s ‘X-rated’ memories are endless.
“In 1973 we went to play in England for the Anglo-Italian Tournament. When I came back from London I had a suitcase full of items from a sex shop where I had spent a fortune! For the Vicenza ladies I was frequenting at the time I became even more popular and in demand!’
… and so much for the respectable, hypocritical and bigoted Italy of the time …
The three seasons at Lanerossi Vicenza were to be framed.
So much so that in the summer of 1974, half of Serie A was on the trail of that ‘long-haired man with velvet feet’.
The one who wanted him most of all was Luis Vinicio, the Brazilian coach of Napoli, who won the competition from Inter in extremis.
It seemed to be an opportunity for Vendrame’s definitive consecration.
Things, however, will turn out very differently.
Right from the start.
That is, from when Vendrame goes to negotiate his contract with the general manager of the partenopei Francesco Janich, the former defender of Lazio and Bologna among others.
Vendrame is determined to make the most of the opportunity.
‘Now I’m going to screw him,’ thinks Ezio shortly before sitting down at the negotiating table.
He asked for 20 million lire per season.
Exactly double what he was earning at Vicenza.
Janich accepted without batting an eyelid.
The contract was signed.
Vendrame was beaming.
He will be for a couple more days.
Until he discovered that the young Ferradini, a new signing from Atalanta, with only one appearance in Serie A on his CV, earned 60 million … and was the lowest paid of the rest of the squad!
On the field things are, if possible, even worse.
His relationship with Vinicio does not take off, on the contrary.
It takes only three games for the Brazilian coach to realise that Vendrame is not what he expected and that as a footballer he is not right for him.
Ezio will spend the rest of the season between the bench and the stands … thus being able to devote himself to his absolute favourite activity to the delight of him and several Neapolitan ladies.
… some of them even seduced in the toilets of the San Paolo stadium …
Once the negative (football-wise!) Neapolitan experience was over, Vendrame was bought by Padova, in Serie C.
It seems impossible that at not even 28 years of age there is no team in a higher category willing to invest in him.
But then, as now when they stick a label on you, it is hard to make the ‘insiders’ change their minds.
At Padua, in a league that was really too easy for him, he played at a very high level and even started to score a few goals, one of his main gaps up to that point.
The club, however, does not sail in gold, quite the contrary.
The match premiums are the minimum set by the Federation: 22,000 lire per point.
In one of the last matches of the season Udinese, fighting for promotion to Serie B, arrived at the Appiani stadium in Padua.
The Friulian managers offered Vendrame 7 million liras to sit still for the whole ninety minutes.
Harmless him, harmless Padova thought the Bianconeri managers.
“I sucked in so many of those matches! And all without anyone giving me a penny… what’s the difference for one more shitty game?” was Vendrame’s reasoning before the match.
But then something happens.
The Appiani is full of Friulian fans who have followed the team to the away match in Veneto and find nothing better than to boo, insult and rail against their fellow countryman who is playing that day with the ‘enemy’.
It turns out to be the worst choice they could have made.
Vendrame gets pissed off.
He gets really pissed off.
And decides to ‘play’ for real.
It ended 3-2 to Padova, Vendrame scoring a brace.
His second goal will be talked about for years in Padova.
There is a corner kick for the hosts.
Vendrame is about to kick it.
First, however, he blows his nose with the corner flag (“how disgusting those players who blow their noses with their bare hands on the pitch!”) and then ‘declares’ facing the stand that he will put the ball into the net from the corner kick.
Said and done.
Victory for Padova and for Udinese no promotion to Serie B.
“That day 44,000 lire ended up in my pocket instead of 7 million … but can you imagine the satisfaction?” is Ezio’s amused comment to this day.
After his two seasons at Padova, Vendrame continued to play on the minor league pitches until 1981.
“Because I loved playing football. What I didn’t like was being a footballer” will be one of his signature phrases.
He will also try to be a coach, but above all he will do what Ezio loves to do more than anything else: live.
Living life to the full with his passions.
His guitar and his mouth harmonica, his books to read and poems to write, his good wine to drink and evenings with friends in the trattorias near him.
Ezio lives in a small rented house (‘I don’t give a damn about owning anything!’) and still goes to train the Sanvitese boys in his beat-up Volkswagen Golf.
For him, ‘the George Best of the Tagliamento’, life is perfect like this.
ANECDOTES AND CURIOSITIES
“I hate the holidays viscerally. On 23 December I lock myself up at home writing my poems and playing the guitar. I re-emerge after Epiphany. The weight of the holidays is unbearable for me,'” Vendrame recounts.
In 1969 he went on loan to Siena. He was coached by a ‘madman’: Volturno Diotallevi.
His training sessions are gruelling, so crazy is the hardness. Diotallevi is always in the front row to set an example, last to give in, long after boys 25 years younger than him.
Not satisfied with that, when the footballers return to their trees in the evening exhausted, he forces them to keep their rooms open to watch him run up and down the stairs.
Also in 1969, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, Vendrame decided to buy himself a ‘proper’ coat. It cost 70,000 lire. (the average salary of Italians in those days was around 120,000 lire a month). While walking through Siena he sees a gypsy boy asking for charity. Ezio doesn’t think about it for a second. The coat becomes the little Rom.
‘He was colder than me’ was Vendrame’s comment.
The meeting with the great Livorno poet and songwriter Piero Ciampi was, according to Ezio, what completely changed his outlook on life. A very strong bond of friendship was born between the two, and they spent a long time together writing poetry, playing music and composing … always with solemn drinks as a side dish!
Precisely linked to Ciampi is one of Vendrame’s greatest regrets.
‘The last time I saw him we argued furiously. He wouldn’t stop drinking and demanded that I stay up with him until dawn. Unfortunately the alcohol was out of control for Piero… but he is still the best person I have ever met’.
Another (small) regret of Ezio’s is that of having tunneled to his absolute idol in football: Gianni Rivera. “It was an instinctive gesture. He came towards me and had his legs open. Immediately afterwards I apologised to him… although when you open your legs too wide you always take a risk!
There is no shortage of doping in Vendrame’s stories.
“It’s 1973. We were going to play in Rome. We desperately needed at least a point to hope to save ourselves. A few hours before the game the doctor gave us all a small pill. He put it in our mouths with a great ritual, one by one, like one of those damned priests with a host.
On the field we were barely standing. We were very weak, almost sleepy.
Luckily Roma seemed to be in the same condition as us and the match ended in a horrible 0-0.
We went back to the hotel, ate and then went to our rooms.
In the early hours of the morning we found ourselves in the corridors, agitated and with a mad desire to run and jump.
The ‘bomb’ had gone off … albeit almost 10 hours later!”
Vendrame knows how to teach football, his boys love him (Ezio for everyone, not ‘Mister’) and they even win often.
Even if his unorthodox style as a youth coach has created quite a few problems for him over the years.
So much so that one day a parent of the Sanvitese boys came to the President of the Friuli club with a blank cheque in his hand. “President, you put in the amount. As long as that madman goes off to train somewhere else’.
For now Vendrame is still in place.
Of course it’s not too surprising if some parents who are a little less ‘open’ are a little taken aback by Ezio Vendrame’s ‘introduction’ speech to the new ‘brood’ of boys.
“My boys, the first thing you need to do is to flush your Playstations down the toilet and lock yourselves in that toilet with a good magazine of the right kind. When you get out there, fall in love as soon as you can with a pretty babe.
Because do-it-yourself sex is good, but sex with a girl your age is much better!”
This, ladies and gentlemen, was Ezio Vendrame.