How cricket gave birth to one of Europe's most iconic football clubs - AC Milan
AC Milan is easily one of the biggest and most iconic clubs in world football. They have been crowned champions of Europe a staggering seven times and have won the domestic top division 18 times. They were the most successful club in the world with respect to international trophies with an astonishing record of fourteen European trophies and four World titles.
The club is also entitled to place a star on its jersey in recognition of the fact that it has won at least ten scudetti i.e. Italian league titles.
Over the years, many famous names have played in the iconic red and black of Milan. Right from Franco Baresi, Paulo Maldini and Marko van Basten to Kaka, Ronaldinho and Andrea Pirlo, there have been many stars who have donned the Milan jersey and won a large number of honors.
Players from all nationalities have played for this historic club – Italians, Brazilians, Dutchmen and many more. However, it is an Englishman who founded the club and laid the foundation for it to become a European superpower.
English history and roots
The origins of the club can be directly attributed to one person – Nottingham-born Herbert Kilpin. A lacemaker by profession, he moved to Italy in the 1890s to work in the country’s reputable textile industry. In Turin, he worked under textile merchant Edoardo Bosio, who founded Internazionale Torino – Italy’s first ever football club. Kilpin played for the same club for a couple of years, which interestingly made him the first Englishman to play abroad, before moving to Milan in 1897
In Milan, or Milano as the Italians call it, Kilpin resided with many fellow Englishmen. It was that fateful night of December 13, 1899, that Kilpin, much known for his drinking habits, sat in the Fiaschetteria Toscana tavern in Milan with his friends. Drunk and nostalgic, they reminisced about their homeland and the game of cricket and how terribly they missed it. As a result, in a moment of inebriated excitement, they decided to form the Milan Cricket and Football Club.
The first elected president of the club was Alfred Edwards, a friend of Kilpin from his Nottingham days, and a former British vice-consul in Milan. The cricket section was to managed by Edward Berra and Kilpin, who was arguably their most experienced man, would serve as player-manager of the football side.
Early years – Trophies and disputes
Under Kilpin’s able guidance, the club started off well and gained an early positive reputation across the peninsula. The first trophy that was won by the newly-formed unit was the Medaglia del Re (King's Medal) in January 1900 which was followed by winning three national leagues in 1901, 1906 and 1907. The first league title was hugely significant as it ended Genoa’s dominance, as they had been the only team to have won prior to 1901.
It is also worth noting that it was Kilpin who decided that the club would be the Rossoneri. The Englishman chose the colours red and black for the team’s kit and logo and is famously quoted as saying, “We’re going to be a team of devils. Our colours will be red like flames, and black like our opponents’ fear!”
There is another piece of history that is associated with Kilpin’s time at the club. In 1908, there was a strong dispute among the club’s executives regarding the team’s policy on the signing of foreign players. A few members split from the board and formed their own team.
Guess what was the name of the new club they formed? Yes, it was FC Internazionale Milano, which is currently known as FC Inter. The rivalry between the two teams is legendary and to date, the Derby della Madonnina is one of the most anticipated events in the European football calendar.
The club is visibly very proud of its English background. The logo of the club has seen many changes across the last few decades, but it has always included the English flag as a mark of respect towards Kilpin and his co-founders.
The club was forcibly renamed from Milan Football Club to A.C. Milano during Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, but immediately after World War II, the Milano was changed back to Milan as an indicator to the club’s English foundations, which is how we get to A.C. Milan.
Kilpin died in 1916 in obscurity and no one knew where he was subsequently buried. But as fate would have it, exactly 100 years after the club’s founding, an amateur historian and Milan fan Luigi La Rocca, after months of searching, found Kilpin's grave in the Municipal Cemetery in the city.
The club paid a huge tribute to its founder and captain by shifting his remains to the city’s revered Monumental Cemetery, where the city’s most illustrious personalities are laid to rest.
Kilpin’s name, to this day, resonates in the minds and hearts of the Rossoneri faithful and they still pay their respects to the man who founded the club that means so much to them.
In a Champions League game against Barcelona in 2013, a section of fans produced a giant banner of Kilpin proudly standing in the iconic red and black shirt, with the date 1899 and the message – “La Storia Siamo Noi,” meaning “we are history.” A wonderful tribute to the big, burly Englishman who loved the game and the city, and left an indelible mark on both!