by Rocco Cammisola

Lazio won their first league title – Scudetto – in 1974, a team led by Tommaso Maestrelli beat Juventus to the title by just two points. On the pitch they played a high paced, attacking style that has seen certain members of the squad remembered as all-time legends. However, off the pitch they were an unruly bunch of prickly characters who failed to observe any sort of social standards.

English football fans may remember their encounters with Arsenal and, in particular, Ipswich in the 1973 UEFA Cup. Ipswich had wrapped the first leg up thanks to four Trevor Whymark goals before the angered Italians threw themselves into challenges, injuring three Ipswich players. It goes without saying that the return leg in Rome did not pass without incident, but Ipswich prevailed nonetheless.

UEFA reacted to these outrageous shenanigans by doling out a three-year ban for all European competitions, but was later reduced to just one season on appeal. Not that it mattered though; Lazio would miss out on the European Cup and wouldn’t reach similar heights for almost thirty years.

John Foot aptly described them as “a team of bad boys, self-declared fascists and gun-toting parachute enthusiasts. Lazio were armed and dangerous.” This was a team that thought itself so far above the law that members of the squad carried guns with them wherever they went – occasionally shooting them purely for the purposes of entertainment. This macho, hostile atmosphere wasn’t conducive to squad harmony and the factions in the squad hated and squabbled with each other so fiercely that the team prepared in two separate dressing rooms.

One member of the side who bucked the trend, for the most part at least, was Luciano Re Cecconi. He was the son of a farmer, born just outside Milan in December 1948. He began his footballing career at Pro Patria where he won a few Serie C titles before moving on to Foggia. At the Apulian side he won a Serie B title under coach Tommaso Maestrelli, and it was Maestrelli who brought Re Cecconi to Lazio in 1972.

Re Cecconi was a mediano – box to box midfielder – who made sure not to go against any of the clichés which typically apply to the role. He really did have iron lungs, a fantastic engine on him, covered every blade of grass and popped up late in the box for the odd goal as well.

Re Cecconi had an amazing ability to carry the ball – and his team mates – from one penalty area to the other and then, most importantly, making the correct decision when he arrived. He made one such run against Como in May 1976, inspired a two goal comeback and spared Lazio from relegation to Serie B.

“Every Lazio mediano, sooner or later, has to be compared to him [Re Cecconi]. He was the most generous, the most loved and, sadly, the most unlucky.” (Cristian Ledesma, Lazio vice-captain)

On the 18th January 1977, Re Cecconi, together with Pietro Ghedin, was accompanying a friend to a jewellers in Rome. Re Cecconi and Ghedin hung back while their friend was allowed in to the store; in the meantime Luciano explained what they were about to do to his friend. Once the door was open they followed their friend in and shouted “Hands in the air, This is a stick up!”

Re Cecconi had his face covered and his hands in his coat pocket, intimating the existence of a weapon. The jeweller, Bruno Tabochini, had been burgled recently and was prepared for such an event. Tabochini pulled out a pistol of his own. Ghedin gave up the ghost and relented when he saw the barrel of the gun pointing his way, wielded by the clammy hands of the jeweller. Luciano persisted, and the trigger was pulled.

Re Cecconi fell to the floor, but Pietro Ghedin thought that it was part of the joke. It was only when he saw blood oozing from his torso that he realised the seriousness of the situation. An ambulance was called and he was rushed to San Giacomo. It was too late though, and he died just half an hour later.

Tabocchini was arrested, but was never convicted of the crime. Luciano died aged 28, leaving behind a wife and two sons – one of whom was, until recently, haunted by his father’s death. Lazio failed to win any more major honours for over twenty years. His final words have been morbidly immortalised in the history of SS Lazio: “It’s a joke, it’s just a joke.”

Read more of Rocco’s truly excellent work on his blog, The Football Express, and follow him on Twitter @rcammisola.