‘Mad about football’ | Tackling the stigma of mental illness through calcio, cinema

Captain Carlo Strappaghetti emerges as one of the philosophers of the players’ situation, skewering the often false distinctions society enforces between the sane and the mad. “For me,” he says at one point, “the real madness is a completely normal life.” Of the team’s passion for its existence on the fenced-in, dirt pitch at Polisportiva Bufalotta, he is quoted as saying in Il Romanista, the daily newspaper covering AS Roma, that “ours is the true calcio: the dust, the mud, the goals with the ripped nets. It is above all the desire to be together. It is a healthy calcio—extremely healthy, yes, therapeutic. Because this calcio has saved my life, in the truest sense of the word” (quoted in Mauro Macedonio, “Matti per il calcio,” 17 Nov 06).

The lads of Gabbiano FC. (Copyright © 2006 “Matti per il calcio”)

As a film project, director Volfgango De Biasi and collaborator Francesco Trento says that Matti constitutes “an act of love for calcio.” During production, two video cameras recorded 12 matches that formed the regular season in the seven-team mental-health league. The film provides play-by-play for each match and, for the season-ending playoff, narration from Sky TV commentators for the 2006 World Cup finals, Fabio Caressa and José Altafini.

In 2006, Il Gabbiano went on to win a nationwide competition, with some 50 other teams of mentally ill patients having been created on Raffaeli’s model. On Jan 16, the film and associated book, along with Raffaeli and members of Il Gabbiano, will receive the 10th “Altropallone” award from Altri Mondiali, an umbrella group of peace-directed sporting initiatives, including the Mondiali Antirazzisti, or anti-racist World Cup. The award honors “actions for solidarity, for clean calcio, against consumerism in calcio and sport, against racism, for peace.”

While celebrating these successes and a reuniting of calcio with clean motives, Raffaeli and assistants likely will acknowledge the importance of staying power. Players and caretakers have worked more than 10 years for the recognition and must continue into the future. The filmmakers quote from Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano‘s own citation, in Las palabras andantes (1993), of Argentine director and poet Fernando Birri:

Utopia is on the horizon. I take two steps toward it, and it retreats two steps. I walk ten steps and the horizon moves ten steps further. However much I walk, I will never reach it. What then is utopia for? It is for this: for walking.


U.S. magazine Newsweek, in its online edition, features an interview with Santo Rullo, a psychiatrist who, with Raffaeli, has worked the last 14 years on developing “soccer therapy” (Barbie Nadeau, “Soccer as Therapy for Mental Illness,” Jan 18).

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