There are many things that the small, Western European nation of Italy is known for, great food, excellent wine, tourism and soccer. All of those things are things that help make Italy stand out as a country, but the last two are probably the most important. Many people every year get a chance to go to some of the more famous destinations in Italy such as Milan, Napoli, or Rome. However, mention the Abruzzo region and tourists are likely to look back quizzically. The region is typically prized by neither Italian natives nor foreigners on holiday, yet that is exactly where author Joe McGinniss traveled for his novel “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro”. Castel di Sangro is a small town within the Abruzzo region, and the reason McGinniss was there was for soccer. The famous American writer had visited the small town to see about a sporting miracle performed within the town, writing in his small leather journals details about his visit and frequenting the local market, filled with everything from fruit to handmade bags, to get a real feel for the town.
The sporting miracle that happened in the town was performed by the local soccer team. In Italy soccer leagues are arranged into a hierarchy of teams, with Serie A being the best with the biggest, richest teams and foreign players and Serie C2 being essentially the lowest a team can go and be even generously considered professional. Based on their performance each season, teams are either sent to the league below or brought up to the league above. Being from such a small and largely decrepit town, Castel di Sangro had started in something even lower than C2 and nobody expected them to do anything good. But, the team slowly rises through the ranks and eventually comes to play in Serie B, the second highest league in the land and was now playing with the big boys. To an American, this would be the equivalent of a minor league baseball team winning a few championships in a row and suddenly having to play teams like the Red Sox and the Phillies.
While visiting this seemingly magical town, McGinniss is treated to an amazing array of characters including the team coach who knows only a few words of English, and uses his small knowledge of the tongue to describe himself as a bulldozer. Also in the outlandish cast is the team president, Gabrielle Gravina, who only works for the soccer team in attempt to get him a position in the government, dreaming of working with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Finally, perhaps the most interesting person of all is the team’s reclusive old man owner Signor Rezza, who has made his fortune in the infamous “construction business” in Napoli, located in the southern portion of Italy. Along the course of the season McGinniss forms bonds and goes through a massive amount of tragedy with the team in their struggle to simply stay alive in the Serie B and not get sent back down to a lower league, and in the process truly finds out what Italy is all about as a country.