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

The trailer from Matti per il calcio (Mad about Football), released in Italy in Oct 06. In Italian. (Copyright © 2006 “Matti per il calcio”)

Rome | Within the sometimes cynical culture of calcio in Italy, the 99-minute documentary Matti per il calcio (Mad about Football) offers respite from the latest calciopoli scandal: the dark dealings linking several of Italy’s major clubs to a pattern of match-fixing and referee seduction. “Una cura di calcio” says the headline above the film review in La Rinascita della Sinistra. The article suggests the benefits of football in treating the mentally ill and clinically depressed, but also wonders whether the members of Gabbiano FC, the subjects of the movie, recapture some of the joy and life-renewing power that football was meant to provide.

Gabbiano FC shows the professionals how the game should be played and in what spirit, rather than the other way around.

Francesco Rescigno, who writes the review for La Rinascita (1 Dec 06), begins with a quote from Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road (1957):

[T]he only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars….

The delay between production of 'Matti per il calcio' in 2004 to widespread release target=Football Tackles Schizophrenia and Depression,” The Guardian, Jan 8). Raffaeli emphasizes that football represents an external activity to individuals for whom unseen irregularities in the mind keep them sealed off from “normal life,” stigmatized and overmedicated within an institutional ghetto.

We were looking to organize something that strikes of normality, and we found in calcio an exceptional instrument for this idea. When I play with the men of Gabbiano I am not “in” their service, but I feel “at” the service of men who have found in calcio a space to be well. (quoted in Carlo Gubitosa, “Matti per il calcio,” Carta, 16 Nov 06)

No one expresses the feelings of liberation from confinement and low expectation better than the players. The biographies are extraordinary. Benedetto Quirino, 41, of whom the film’s website says that “he hears voices and speaks with them, voices that anger or alarm him depending on his state of mind,” received a university degree in psychology and hails from a wealthy family. But on the right wing for Il Gabbiano he has found some relief from the inside forces. “When you run out on the pitch, the voices stop,” Quirino says. “Your opponent is no longer inside you, he has come out and you can dribble around him and beat him.”

Sandro Faraoni plays in defense. Rotund and musclebound, he exhibits the physique of a former presidential bodyguard. He is also schizophrenic, but has taken up painting and poetry during his treatment and also studies the Tao. Marione Palomba, 43, a gifted center forward with a “phenomenal right foot,” but also a history of drug experimentation and severe schizophrenia, clearly runs the side in the footage available on a recent Repubblica TV feature (6 Dec 06). “When he plays with Il Gabbiano,” the film website says, “he is no longer in recovery.”

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