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Hitman Blissett and the ‘mafia’ offer he couldn’t refuse

Former AC Milan star recalls his San Siro adventure, and reveals why his Italian job lasted just one season, despite being an 'amazing experience'

29 June, 2017 — By Tom Foot

Luther Blissett, in AC Milan strip, failed to adapt to Italian football

FOR groundbreaking football hitman Luther Blissett, the story of his big money transfer to AC Milan 35 years ago was like a scene straight out of Hollywood’s The Godfather movies – minus the violin cases.

It was a deal that Blissett, the first black footballer to score for England, recalls concluded in a dimly-lit backroom of a Savile Row tailors.

The legendary Watford net-buster was reminiscing at the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgravia, Westminster, on Monday night, at an event chaired by former Hampstead School pupil Professor John Foot, whose book Calcio documented the history of Italian football.

Blissett recalled the Hornets had been stunned by an Italian offer they simply couldn’t refuse.

Back in 1983 the £1million offered for Blisset’s services was a staggering sum.

And no less surprising was that Milan club president Giuseppe Farina had asked for a special meeting with him and the then Watford chairman Elton John.

Recalling the “weirdest encounter of my life”, Blissett said: “It was almost like a scene from The Godfather.

“There was myself, Elton John, Graham Taylor, and a few others.

“We walked down into the tailors and we were walking through all these racks of suits all half-made, as you’d expect, in a tailors. And at the back there was a little room.

“We get in there and there is Mr Farina sat there – so Italian – coat over his shoulders, and his dark glasses sat on the table next to him.

From left: Luther Blissett, Marco Delogu and Prof John Foot

“It was really one of those mafia scenes. If there was some violin cases there, you really would have thought something was about to go down.

“It transpired that the reason this meeting was organised was because Mr Farina had wanted to meet Elton John.

“He completely ignored me. I said hello and then after a few minutes I was out of there.”

The player, originally from Willesden, made the switch to the San Siro, but was sold back to Watford the following season for £550,000 after failing to adapt to the Italian defensive game.

He said it often felt like teams had “forgotten there was a goal at the other end of the pitch”.

And he added: “But although the football didn’t work out, it was the most amazing experience.

“It is an astonishing thing to walk out at the San Siro, it is the most incredible atmosphere.”

Blissett said that he shouldered horrific racism in the English leagues – “mainly from opposition players” – and was surprised to find that during his time with AC Milan racism did not exist in Italy.

Racism would become a major problem for Italian football in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the event also heard.

“It’s all to do with immigration and economic issues”, Blissett, now 59, added.

Talking about life off the pitch in Italy, Blissett said he’d lived in a beautiful villa outside Milan and that the culture “suited me” because their footballers didn’t get smashed at weekends.

“They could have a proper conversation rather than that drunken nonsense that went on in England,” he said.

“In Milan there would literally be one bottle of beer for each person that lasted an entire evening.

“In England, one bottle of beer was what you drank when you walked to the bar.”

Italian Cultural Institute director Marco Delogu was also at Monday night’s event, which was organised to discuss The Lord of Milan, a book written by Robert Nieri about the founder of AC Milan, Herbert Kilpin, an Englishman from Nottingham.

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