Europe’s Champions: AC Milan 1962-63

WHILE Internazionale are credited with being the arch-exponents of catenaccio, the nerazzurri were not the first Italian side to adopt the defence-minded approach that squeezed the life out of Italian and European football. Inter’s stable-mates, AC Milan, were the forerunners.

Nereo Rocco, from Trieste, first used the system at Padova, where he led a modest team from Veneto to third place in Serie A. After success with Triestina, Treviso and Padova, Rocco got the chance to step up to the big time and was appointed coach of AC Milan in 1961.

As a player, Rocco’s time came just as Italy became world champions. He was capped just once in 1934, but the competition was fierce for a place in the national team. He played just 45 minutes of a 4-0 win against Greece, just enough to win the necessary accreditation to become a coach.

He got the call from Milan in bizarre circumstances. Gipo Viani, who had won the scudetto twice with Milan, in 1956-57 and 1958-59, suffered a heart attack and had to hand over the job to Rocco. During the next few years, Rocco competed head-to-head with Inter’s Helenio Herrera. Both were advocates of catenaccio, but they were very different characters. Both were certainly eccentric in their own way, but while Herrera was obsessive about discipline, both professionally and personally, Rocco was something of a bon viveur and would spend time drinking with journalists and other football people. He was almost a caricature, wide, stubby and ebullient.

He expected his players to adopt a strict approach and installed a near-totalitarian regime around his team. One player who fell foul of this was prolific goalscorer Jimmy Greaves, who was signed from Chelsea in 1961 by Viani and lasted just a few months. Rocco didn’t rate Greaves as a professional, although his goalscoring record couldn’t be faulted.

Greaves, and some of his contemporaries, found it hard to adapt to Rocco’s style, which included “retreats” that took players away from view before games. Rightly or wrongly, it worked for Rocco’s Milan and they became the first Italian club to win the European Cup. By then, Greaves was back in  London with Spurs. El Paròn (the master) had got his way.

The 1950s had been kind to AC Milan. They won Serie A four times and reached the final of the European Cup in 1957-58, losing to Real Madrid. The Milan side that lost in Brussels included Nils Liedholm, the Swedish forward and Uruguayan World Cup hero Juan Alberto Schiaffino, who had joined the club for a world record fee of 52 million Italian Lire.

When Rocco took over, he inherited a team that included some legendary names from Italian football. In defence was Giovanni Trapattoni, who would go on to enjoy a highly successful managerial career. He was considered to be the most loyal and consistent disciple of the Rocco way. He was never a creative force, but “Il Trap” as he was often known, had the task of winning the ball and delivering it to Milan’s play-makers. And then there was defender Cesare Maldini, father of Paulo, and like Rocco, a native of Trieste.

The star of the show and later to become the most talked-about player in Italian football was Gianni Rivera, dubbed the “golden boy” by Viani. Everyone had a view on Rivera, whether he was a luxury item, or whether he could play alongside this player or that player. He was signed from his home town club, Alessandria, in 1960 and by 1962 he had been capped by Italy. For the next 15 years, he was a pivotal figure at AC Milan.

While Greaves weighed in with his share of the goals in the early weeks of 1961-62, Milan’s main striker was José Altafini. The  Brazilian had been bought by the club in 1958 just before the World Cup in Sweden, costing 135 million Lire. He was barely 20 years of age.

Milan started the 1961-62 season with an emphatic 3-0 win at Vicenza, Altafini netting the first two of his 22 Serie A goals and Greaves also getting on the scoresheet. But then came two defeats, a 1-0 loss at Bologna and a home loss against Sampdoria. Rocco was livid with Greaves, who despite scoring Milan’s two goals, got involved in a fracas.

By the end of October, Milan were trailing the leaders by six points. Greaves was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £ 99,999 and Rocco signed Brazilian Dino Sani of Boca Juniors as his replacement. Milan seemed to gain fresh impetus and at the turn of the year, they were in third place, five points behind leaders Inter. Within a month, Fiorentina, Inter and Milan were all on 34 points. March 4 was a vital round of matches as Inter were beaten at Palermo and Milan beat Fiorentina 5-2. Milan were now a point clear at the top.  Both Inter and Fiorentina started to stutter and Milan stayed focused and consistent. On April 8, they clinched the title with a 4-2 win against Torino at San Siro.

Victory gave Milan the chance to make amends for their 1958 defeat in the European Cup final. Real Madrid were not the force of old and the big noise across Europe was Benfica, spearheaded by Eusebio, who had netted twice when the Lisbon eagles had beaten Puskas and co. in the 1962 final. Real went out early in the 1962-63 competition, so Milan and Benfica were seen as favourites to meet in the final.

Meanwhile, Milan’s grasp on the scudetto was slipping. As 1962 became 1963, Milan were five points behind Inter and four short of second-placed Juventus. It got worse, largely due to Milan’s penchant for drawing games – by the end of the campaign, they had drawn 13 of their 34 league fixtures. They recovered some ground towards the end of the season, but ended in third place, six points short of Inter.

But they had the European Cup in their sights. Milan beat Union Luxembourg 14-0 on aggregate in the preliminary round, with Altafini scoring no fewer than eight. Ipswich Town, Turkey’s Galatasaray and Scottish champions Dundee were all beaten on the way to the final, where – true to form – Milan lined-up against Eusebio and Benfica. The holders, Benfica, had a stress-free road to Wembley, beating Sweden’s Norrköping, Dukla Prague of Czechoslavakia and the Dutch side from Rotterdam, Feyenoord.

Only 46,000 turned up at Wembley to see the final, leading some commentators to complain about the lack of interest among English fans. But the press sang the praises of the two teams, who displayed excellent footwork and ball control, which was a far cry from the clumsiness of the game in Britain. One of the reasons that the crowd was lower than expected was the kick-off time, 3pm on a midweek afternoon.

Although Milan seemed nervous at first, Rivera dictated the game at the Empire Stadium, creating several chances for his team-mates, while Maldini, Mario David and Trapattoni stifled the Benfica’s forwards. Against the run of play Eusebio, demonstrating speed and power, accelerated past two defenders and gave Benfica the lead. Torres should have extended that advantage. Milan struggled for a while, but the game really swung their way when Benfica’s Mario Coluna was fouled by Gino Pivatelli and left the field with what turned out to be a broken foot. This was the turning point of the game.

Rivera sprung to life and set-up two goals for Altafini, who had endured a disappointing afternoon up until then. The goals were enough to give Milan the trophy. Benfica, meanwhile, were so distraught that they almost forgot to collect their runners-up medals.

Rocco departed Milan in 1963 but had two further spells with the club. In 1962-63, Inter won Serie A and embarked on a three year period where they took catenaccio to a new level. Some say Rocco was the inventor of the Italian version of catenaccio, but he had one burning desire – to win at all costs. His approach set the theme for an era, one that would not end until the start of the 1970s.

Everton and the “golden vision”

TODAY, players’ nicknames lack imagination. There are no “Black pearls”, “Nijinskys”, “Maradonas of the Carpathians” or “Ghosts” (for the uninitiated, these players were: Eusebio, Colin Bell, Georgi Hagi and John White). In the 1960s, Alex Young of Everton was dubbed “The Golden Vision” – a near-celestial nickname.

It was Tottenham Hotspur’s double-winning captain, Danny Blanchflower, that coined the phrase in tribute to Young. Ironically, it was Young’s Everton that took over from the fabled Spurs team in 1963 as the best team in the land. The team, managed by Harry Catterick, was the product of the so-called “school of science” (yet another nickname), a tag that was given to the club in the 1930s by the legendary Steve Bloomer, who described Everton’s football as “scientific”.

Fifty years ago, Everton’s fast and incisive methodical style was enough to win the 1962-63 Football League title, something that is almost unthinkable today. Interestingly, Everton also had a nickname they probably didn’t want – “the cheque book team”, a reference to their spending spree over the previous year before their title triumph.

Catterick’s camp

Harry Catterick was a former Everton centre forward, but due to the second world war, he had to wait nine years to make his Football League debut for the club. He went into management in 1951 with Crewe and then onto Rochdale and Sheffield Wednesday (1958-1961) before being appointed in charge of Everton in 1961. He succeded Johnny Carey, who was famously sacked in the back of a taxi by the Everton chairman. A relatively quiet man, compared to his Liverpool counterpart Bill Shankly, Catterick didn’t even like his team being featured on TV because it gave away trade secrets. How would he cope today? Catterick’s first full season, in 1961-62, saw Everton finish fourth, one place higher than in 1960-61. It was the start of the best spell the club had enjoyed since lifting the title in the 1938-39 campaign.

The Golden Vision and his team-mates

There were a host of well-known players in the Everton squad, but the name that most Goodison regulars will recite when you talk about 1963 is Alex Young. It was Catterick’s predecessor that signed him from Hearts in 1960 for over £ 40,000. A Scottish international, his elegant style and goalscoring prowess drove Everton to the title. His partnership up front with Roy Vernon was key – Vernon, a wayward Welshman, scored 24 goals in 1962-63, many with his favoured left-foot. He was a difficult character to manage and could often be seen smoking in the tunnel before taking the field. Eventually, Catterick disposed of him because of his off-pitch antics and penchant for betting shops.

Gordon West and Brian Labone both had long careers with the club and also played in Everton’s 1970 title winning side. West, a large but surprisingly agile goalkeeper, was signed from Blackpool and in in any other era, would surely have won more than his three England caps. Labone, known as “Mr Everton” due to his long and passionate career with the club, eventually played for England although pulled out of the 1966 squad as he was starting married life.

Jimmy Gabriel also had a long career after joining Everton from Dundee in 1960. He served the club well but was edged out by an emerging generation in the late 1960s. Outside right Billy Bingham, an Irishman, went on to manage the club, but lost his place to Alex Scott, who joined from Rangers halfway through the 1962-63 season.

Scientific campaign

Everton kicked off the season with a 3-1 win at Burnley. They won their first four games before losing 1-0 at Fulham. Their second defeat, surprisingly, was at Leyton Orient. The first Mersey derby of the season ended in a 2-2 draw at Everton, with Johnny Morrissey scoring on his debut against his old club. He followed that up with a hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion. In December, Everton drew 0-0 at Tottenham in front of 60,000 people and maintained a two-point lead over their nearest rivals. The “big freeze” of 1963 caused them to stutter and when Catterick’s men lost to Leicester in February, Spurs were now in front. By the end of March, two successive defeats, against Arsenal and Sheffield United, sent Everton down to third, six points behind Tottenham. By mid-April, Leicester were top with 51 points, with Tottenham and Everton one point behind. Four days later, Everton went top after beating Spurs 1-0 at Goodison, thanks to a Young goal, in front of 67,650 people. With one fixtures remaining, Everton were five points in front of Spurs, but the north Londoners had played just 39 games. Everton beat Fulham 4-1 in their last game (a hat-trick from Vernon and one from Scott), while Tottenham lost at Manchester City. Although Spurs still had to play twice, they couldn’t catch Everton’s 61 points. Everton went through the entire season unbeaten at home, dropping only seven points at Goodison. They finished six points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and lost just six games in the league.


Everton’s team was an exciting combination and can stake a claim to being the best the club has ever turned out, although teams from the 1930s and the 1969-70 team could also be considered. The team managed to stay among the challengers for the next few years, until a new batch of young players (Kendall – Ball – Harvey et al) came on the scene. Golden vision? 1963 was certainly a golden year for Everton.

Photos: PA