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  • Writer's pictureDag Jenkins

President Series: Fortunato Ballerini


Source Lazio Wiki

Onorato Fortunato Ballerini was born in Sant' Angelo a Lecore (Florence) on October 26, 1852.

 

He was the son of a bourgeois Tuscan family. His family then moved to Rome to follow various businesses and Fortunato started to mix with some of the Roman middle and upper classes.

 

These young men were dedicated sportsmen and had a passion for running, gymnastics, swimming, rowing and mountain climbing. Ballardini by now was no longer a young man but was still a keen runner and climber.

 

Lazio were formed on January 9, 1900 as Società Podistica Lazio (a running club) and were the brainchild of Luigi Bigiarelli and a number of these young athletes. The club chose the colours of the Greek flag in honour of the first modern Olympics in 1896.

 

In 1901 one of the members, Bruno Seghettini, introduced a new object, a football. It was an absolute novelty for Rome and Lazio called up an assembly among their members to organise a football section. The president was Giuseppe Pedercini. Lazio officially started playing football on January 6, 1901.

 

Meanwhile, Bigiarelli had emigrated to Belgium, but on October 20 1902 Lazio's destiny crossed paths with a bizarre character. A middle-aged man in elegant clothes and carrying an umbrella lined up for a 100 km walking competition, his name was Fortunato Ballerini.

 

The young members of Lazio, including Tito Masini, Sante Ancherani and Guido Baccani, were so impressed that when he crossed the finishing line, they approached him and asked if he would accept the role of president of their club.

 

Ballerini however politely declined as he was already involved and too busy with the Gymnastics Federation, of which he was administrator.

 

A couple of years later he finally accepted, on May 29 1904. He agreed in a "trattoria" (old style restaurant) in the Prati area where a few months later he would kiss the Lazio flag.

 

Meanwhile Ballerini was pursuing a career in the Ministry of Justice but the authorities did not approve of his passion for sport and so he never reached the highest levels.

 

Lazio however flourished, almost doubling the number of their athletes. Under Ballerini's leadership Lazio started participating in numerous sporting competitions.

 

One of Ballerini's achievements was obtaining the use of the playing field of Parco dei Daini in central Villa Borghese Park. Here Lazio challenged the young Scottish, Irish and English student priests and refined their skills.

 

Lazio became the shining light of Roman sport activities. In 1912 Ballerini was re-elected as president. An episode in 1913 again showed his leadership qualities. During a friendly against Audace in the Parco dei Daini, a shot by star centre-forward Sante Ancherani accidentally hit a noblewoman in the face. Unfortunately for Lazio she was the wife of the Prefect of Rome Police, Angelo Annaratone. Lazio were banned from playing in the park but then in 1914 Ballerini cleverly obtained building permission for the Rondinella ground in the Flaminio area and in the meantime to train and play at the Farnesina area plus new facilities for the rowing and swimming sections.

 

In 1913 and 1914 Lazio went close to winning the national football league but were defeated by Pro Vercelli and Casale.

 

In 1915 the war stopped all football leagues. Lazio had qualified for the final versus Genoa but the game was never played. The Scudetto was handed to Genoa as they were considered to be superior... a huge injustice that Lazio are still trying to rectify today.

 

As said, the First World War interrupted all sporting activities but Ballerini conceded the Rondinella area to grow vegetables for the war effort and also opened the club’s headquarters to assist the children of soldiers sent to the front.

 

Lazio's reputation rose as did that of Ballerini. In 1916 Ballerini was awarded the "Commenda della Corona d'Italia" (an order of merit award bestowed by the King) and in 1921 Lazio as a club was recognised as a "Moral Institution" for their social, cultural and sporting merits.

 

This recognition would six years later prove crucial in Lazio's history.

 

Meanwhile, however things were changing in sport and there were divergences on the direction clubs like Lazio should take. Ballerini was a staunch defender of amateurism while others were for a more professional and modern approach. Ballerini, faithful to his Olympic ideals, in 1922 reluctantly resigned. The next president was Enrico Guamei.

 

Twenty years of presidency came to an end. Lazio had grown from a few lads on a park bench in Prati to a sports club with over 4,000 athletes in all kinds of disciplines.

 

A year after his resignation Lazio again went close to their first national football title but lost, this time to Genoa on the pitch.

 

His work and guidance proved crucial, as mentioned, in 1927. The fascist regime and Benito Mussolini decided that Rome as the capital should have one strong football club to compete with the dominance of the northern teams. Lazio's uniqueness as a moral entity added to the intervention of high-ranking military officer Giorgio Vaccaro managed to avoid Lazio joining the number of local clubs which merged to become A.S Roma. Lazio remained fiercely proud and independent also thanks to Ballerini.

 

Ballerini continued to follow his passion for sport. At 69 he swam in the river Tiber in December with other Lazio athletes in a yearly swimming event. At 81 he was still mountain climbing in the Dolomites and running. A true sportsman, in the best Lazio tradition.

 

Ballerini died in Rome on September 19, 1940.


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