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Lattes raised with Silvagni’s return

Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media  December 11, 2014 12:40 PM

Silvagni returns to Carlton Stephen Silvagni spoke to CFC TV about his return to the Club in the role of List Manager.

In Italian it’s “I pianeti sono allineati”; in English “The planets are aligned” . . . and so they are over Lygon Street today with the much-heralded homecoming of Stephen Silvagni.

At a time when this club’s first President of Italian origin presides, perhaps it was meant to be. Doubtless there’ll be lattes raised down the road this morning, for the Silvagni name is as synonymous with Carlton as Lygon Street itself.

The Silvagni-Carlton connection can be sourced to 1924, when Stephen’s grandfather, the northern Italian migrant “Jack” Silvagni, lugged his suitcase down the gangway and into a new life.

Jack had been at sea for seven weeks, and he eventually found digs in Carlton’s Canning Street - but not before he’d spent his first night in the new country sleeping beneath a pile of newspapers by a Moreton Bay fig tree in Melbourne’s Exhibition Gardens.


Sergio Silvagni's arrival in the late 1950s helped the Italian community connect with the Australian game. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Stephen’s father Sergio, the middleman in perhaps football’s most famous triumvirate of “Nicholls, Silvagni and Gallagher”, lived in the old single-fronted dwelling on Canning Street for the first 25 years of his life until his marriage to Rita in 1963.

A few years ago, in an interview with this reporter, “Serge” spoke of having to keep a low profile through tough times in post-war Melbourne.

“When the war broke out, a year after I was born, the Italians suddenly became enemies,” he recalled. "The Italians who had taken out citizenship here were all right but Dad never bothered, so after a while he was sent away to an alien camp in Broadford, where he lived in a tent and cut timber.

“I was only about four at the time, but I will always remember him leaving. He was lucky enough to be detained for only a couple of months; some of the Italians served three or four years . . .


Stephen Silvagni played 312 games for the Blues between 1985 and 2001. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

“Because the Italians were seen as enemies through the war, I had to be a very quiet and low-key kid, almost introverted. I just kept quiet and kept to myself, but playing sport was a way of assimilating. I started playing football at St. Thomas’ in Clifton Hill. I enjoyed it and it just went from there.”

Sergio Silvagni’s CV at Carlton reads as follows; 239 games for 136 goals from 1958-’71; Premiership player 1968 and ’70; best and fairest 1962 and ’68; leading goalkicker (40) in 1958; Captain in 1964; coach in 1978; Carlton Team of the Century ruck-rover; and two-time Victorian representative.

As for Stephen’s, there are uncanny parallels. 312 games for 202 goals from 1985-’01; Premiership player 1987 and ’95; best and fairest 1990 and ’96; Carlton and VFL/AFL Team of the Century full-back; eight-time Vic rep and seven-time All-Australian.

Today, the Silvagni name is as much a part of the Lygon Street vernacular as Borsari’s Corner. But it wasn’t always the case as Serge explained.

“I had some friends at Carlton who were playing in the thirds,” he said, “and on practice match days of a Saturday you’d have the thirds, reserves and seniors, and each boasted a squad of 50 players from which to select.


The Silvagnis. (Photo: Supplied)

“I was still a schoolboy attending Parade College when I went along to the Carlton ground to try out with my mates. I turned up at half-past nine in the morning to get a run with the thirds, but when the teams were named they said to me, ‘Son, run the boundary’.

“During the course of the game, a few other leftover players got a run, but at the quarter-time and half-time breaks they told me to keep running the boundary. It wasn’t until the third quarter that they put me on their gun full-forward, but I managed to blitz on this bloke.

“”In the end I discovered how lucky I’d been to even make it on the ground. The reason I hadn’t got the call-up earlier was because they knew I could play but they didn’t know how to pronounce my name.”