by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
The Milan Cricket and Football Club was founded on 16 December 1899 by six expatriate Englishmen in the Fiaschetteria Toscan tavern on the Via Berchet, Milan. The formation of the club, now known throughout the world as A.C. Milan, was reported in a single paragraph of the Gazzetta dello Sport who noted that the ambition of the club was “to spread the game of football and to play cricket as widely as possible.”
The major influence behind the creation of the club was Herbert Kilpin, a 26-year old who had previously played football in England when he appeared in defence and midfield for the long defunct Notts Olympic team. He had moved to Italy in 1891 to work for Edoardo Bosio, an Italian-Swiss merchant who had links with Nottingham’s lace business. In that same year Bosio formed Internazionale Torino, which is believed to be Italy’s first football club, and, after making the move to Italy, and played for this team, Kilpin became the first Englishman to have been recorded as playing football abroad for an official team.
After having moved to Milan in 1897 to work for the Nottingham Lace Company Kilpin regularly played informal games of cricket and football with other expats in the city, but what was needed was a properly run club. On that night of 16 December, while having a drink with two of his workmates, Samuel Davies and David Allison, who he regularly played cricket and football with, Kilpin spotted an opportunity to get a club off the ground in the name of wealthy businessman Alfred Edwards, who was also drinking in the bar with two other businessmen, Nathan and Barnett. Alfred Edwards was an engineer and industrialist who had become very wealthy working for the Pirelli Company, but more importantly he was known as a keen sportsman having organised a number of cricket matches on a pitch he had prepared on his land. Kilpin, Allison, and Edwards approached the three to inquire if they would be interested in funding the setting up of a sporting club. The three agreed and the Milan Football and Cricket Club was born, with Edwards the club’s first President and Kilpin its manager.
The club’s first game took place on 11 March the following year with a side that included six British players; Kilpin, Davies and Allison, as well as Hoode, Lees, and, Neville. Lining up along side them were Italians Cignaghi, Torretta, Valerio, Dubini and Formenteri. Before the game Kilpin selected the colours for the new Milan side. In opting for the famous red and black stripes, which have been the team’s colours throughout their existence hence their nickname Rossoneri, which literally means “the red & blacks” in Italian, Kilpin is reported as saying, “We are a team of devils. Our colours are red as fire and black to invoke fear in our opponents.”
The Milan team won that first game 2-0, beating local rivals Mediolanum, for whom Kilpin had previously played. Allison, who was named as captain for the game, became the first player to score for Milan, and Kilpin added the second. The victory was rewarded with the presentation of the newly formed Medaglia del Re (King’s Medal) Trophy. The next year they tasted even greater success when they won the national title, ending Genoa’s dominance of the previous three seasons.
Despite being one of Italy’s leading sides A.C. Milan have never forgot their roots. They had dropped cricket from the club’s name in 1919 to be called simply the Milan football club, with the English spelling of Milan being retained. However, in 1939, under the fascist regime of Mussolini, the club was forced to adopt the Italian spelling of Milan and change its name to Associazione Calcio Milano. In spite of that, the end of the Second World War and the demise of the fascists saw Milan changing its name back to the Anglicised spelling, in recognition of their beginnings, but retaining the A.C. to become the A.C. Milan which we are familiar with now.
For someone who helped found the club whilst drinking in a bar, it is apt that Kilpin is remembered as a person who was as fond of a drink as football, and legend has it that he would keep a bottle of whiskey handy during games in a hole that was specially dug behind the goals. Over nine seasons he only played 27 times, scoring 7 goals, but he retired a hero to the supporters of Milan. Unfortunately after his retirement from managing and playing for Milan in 1908 his drinking contributed to his downfall and he died in poverty in 1916 at the relatively young age of 46. Having no money he was given a pauper’s funeral and buried in an unmarked grave, but an Italian historian tracked the site down in the 1990s in Milan’s Municipal Cemetery. In 1999 A.C. Milan, wanting to honour one of their legends, paid for a new tombstone and had their founder reburied in the more prestigious Monumental Graveyard; and in 2010, after much public pressure, Kilpin was inducted into the main building of the cemetery where the tombs of the city’s most famous people are. It was a fitting tribute to the player who was never one of England’s greatest players and was described as cutting a portly figure on the football pitch, but in his own way left an indelible mark on the history of football.