Verona mourns the loss of one of its favourite sons, Roberto Puliero
Roberto Puliero is a name that few outside Italy will be familiar with, but in Verona he is a revered figure of mythical renown. That much was clear yesterday afternoon, as thousands of Veronese flocked to the ancient Cattedrale di San Zeno to bid a final farewell to a true eccentric and one of the city’s favourite sons. For in the brash and often shallow world of football punditry, Puliero was a profoundly cultured man, a rare breed of razor-sharp intellect and unbridled passion. Urbane, eloquent and artistic, he was a nonconformist whose unmistakable commentaries provided the distinctive soundtrack for generations of football fans.
Tim Parks, in his seminal work, A Season with Verona, offered the following evocative portrait of Puliero:
“a highly cultured man, warm, liberal and charismatic… his broad, wrinkled mobile face is the result of years of extravagant mimicry and clowning. He wears his fuzzy hair long and absolutely unkempt. His voice, strained with overuse, rich and nasal, with dialect intonations and generous with emotion, is absolutely distinctive, immediately seductive.”
To really understand that rare outpouring of public grief and admiration that was on display in Piazza San Zeno yesterday, you have to go back to the mid 1980s. For northern Italy, it was a period of financial boom. After the devasting “anni di piombo”, a decades long wave of domestic political terrorism, a peaceful calm had returned to the streets and piazzas of Italy. With oil prices low, people even spoke of a “new economic miracle.” Domestically, life was simple, revolving around the three great pillars of Italian society: family, church and football. After going to mass on Sunday morning, families would gather together for the traditional Sunday lunch. Afterwards, they would tune in the radio and listen to the live football commentary. This was the era of the 3pm kick off, before the advent of satellite television played havoc with the regular Sunday afternoon kick-off times. It also coincided with a golden age for Hellas Verona. It was the era of Elkjær, Briegal and Bagnoli and the miracle of 1985, and it was the unmistakable voice of Roberto Puliero that emanated from the wireless on those halcyon Sunday afternoons. For generations of football fans, Puliero’s voice will forever be associated with that miracle.
A few messages from social media illustrate Puliero’s impact on a generation of football fans:
“Really hard to find the words, a feeling of emptiness in my throat today, as rarely happens. Farewell Roberto, thank you for all the moments of joy you gave us as a child with your unparalleled way of communicating the most beautiful game in the world. You will live forever in the heart of all Veronese.
Rest in peace.”
“Today we said farewell for the last time to a great Veronese. Personally, I have never inhaled the sense of community in this city so deeply as on this occasion. One of the boys with the blue and yellow scarf.”
At a time when life in Italy is once again tinged with political, social and economic uncertainty, the passing of Roberto Puliero provided a moment to reflect on a simpler age. A time when, on glorious Sunday afternoons, miracles sometimes happened.