This was the Anglo-Italian Cup. The initial version of the competition only ran for four years, but its participants included some of the biggest names in Italian football, such as Napoli, Juventus, Roma, Lazio, Fiorentina, Inter Milan, Sampdoria, and Cagliari.
Participating English clubs included Middlesbrough, Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Blackpool, Stoke City, Crystal Palace, Huddersfield Town, Swindon Town and Leicester City.
Leicester entered the competition in the close-season of 1972. One of the reasons for this was that City's chairman Len Shipman, who was also president of the Football League, was on the organising committee of the Anglo-Italian Cup.
The driving force behind the competition was Gigi Peronace, who had negotiated the very high profile transfers of the top English stars John Charles, Denis Law and Jimmy Greaves to Italy in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The competition format saw six Italian clubs and six English sides arranged into three groups, each containing two clubs from each country. The teams from each country which accumulated the most points met in the final.
Jimmy Bloomfield was Leicester's manager for their inaugural appearances in the experimental competition.
Two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw. However, in an attempt to encourage open and attacking football, the competition rules contained some interesting innovations. A point was awarded for each goal scored. Offside was restricted to the penalty areas. Also, in an attempt to encourage tactical innovation and at a time when only one substitute was the norm, five substitutes were allowed on the bench, any two of whom could be used.
Another innovation was to allocate pre-designated squad numbers to the players, abandoning the usual system of players wearing position-related numbers on shirts (1-11).
Bloomfield’s Leicester, who had just finished a respectable 12th in the old First Division, registered 15 players for the 1972 Anglo Italian Cup. They were Shilton, Whitworth, Nish, Cross, Sjoberg, Manley, Weller, Sammels, Birchenall, Tomlin, Glover, Fern, Partridge, Wallington and Farrington.
The star team in City’s group was undoubtedly the Sardinian side, Cagliari. They had recently emerged as an explosive force in Italian football, with a side studded with Italian internationals. These included Luigi Riva (who was considered to be one of the greatest strikers of his generation), winger Angelo Domenghini and goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi. All three had played in the 1970 World Cup Final against Brazil.
Cagliari won the Italian Championship in 1970 and had come desperately close to repeating this feat in a three-way fight with Juventus and Torino in the season which had just finished.
Also in City’s group were Atalanta. Like Leicester, they had been relegated from the top division in 1968/69 but they had bounced back two years later. Also like Leicester, they had strengthened their side with established first division players.
In City's case, these had included Weller, Sammels and Birchenall. Atalanta’s equivalent signings were midfielders Gianfranco Leoncini and Giovanni Sacco from Juventus and Ottavio Bianchi from Napoli. The other English team in Leicester's group was Sunderland, who famously won the FA Cup the following season.
Keith Weller was among several players to impress for City against Italian opposition.
On 1 June, Leicester lost their first group game 1-0 to Cagliari in the luxurious Santa Elia Stadium. The inspired goalkeeping of Albertosi kept Leicester at bay after a Jon Sammels own-goal had given the Italians the lead.
This set the scene for Leicester’s final three games in the competition.
On 4 June, in a thrilling goal feast in Atalanta, they were defeated 5-3. Keith Weller had given Leicester a half-time lead. The hero of the night, though, was Atalanta centre forward Luciano Magistrelli, who scored four goals in the second half.
He equalised on the hour. Jon Sammels put Leicester ahead a minute later. Three minutes after that, Magistrelli scored again. Then Bianchi put the Italians ahead for the first time, but Sammels netted his second to make the score 3-3. Magistrelli then struck another two in the closing minutes.
On 7 June, Leicester beat Cagliari at Filbert Street. The Italian giants did not play their World Cup stars. The Foxes were two up after 12 minutes. In the third minute, Len Glover finished off a good run with a perfectly judged cross which Weller headed in like a bullet.
David Nish got the second. He hit a low shot from 35 yards out which deceived the Cagliari’s reserve goalkeeper. Leicester badly needed to increase their goal tally to qualify for the final, but it wasn’t to be. Cagliari scored in the 58th minute, Leicester lost their earlier sparkle, and the final score of 2-1 meant that City would need to win their last group game by a big margin.
The Foxes faced players like Luigi Riva, one of the most admired stars in the game at the time.
They nearly pulled it off. On 10 June, Leicester hit Atalanta 6-0 at Filbert Street. Keith Weller scored twice, adding to goals from Len Glover, David Nish, Jon Sammels and John Farrington. The game had been in some doubt following torrential rain which left parts of the freshly reseeded Filbert Street pitch waterlogged. The ball threw up clouds of spray when it hit the ground.
In the end, it was all to no avail. Despite accumulating eight points in this match, word reached the ground that Blackpool had qualified for the final against Roma because they had scored 10 goals against Italian First Division side Lanerossi Vicenza.
Blackpool went on to lose the final 3-1 in Rome in front of a crowd of 40,000. Leicester’s foray into the short lived Anglo-Italian Cup was over.
Nevertheless, it had provided the Filbert Street crowds with a glimpse of some top Italian competition and the chance to witness an experimental off-side rule which was never adopted.
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