Italian Immigrants and Footy

Recently, Carlton Footy Club announced that a favourite son – Stephen Silvagni – was back at the club as the general manager of list management and strategy.

My primary source of the news was The Age website and then the Football God seemed to send the Saints mad me to Carlton Football Club’s website on a purpose.  I was supposed to read about his playing career and career beyond playing, but what I read made me curious.

It is about connections between Italian-Australians and AFL footy.  I had not just started having interests in this subject. Actually, my curiousness of Italian-Australian footballers started when St Kilda player Leigh Montagna was on Morning Glory on 1116 SEN where Joey said that he spent several weeks off season annually in Italy and Spain.

Beforehand, I had learned that some people went on a holiday to seek their family roots through taking a diploma online course in tourism studies. For example, Irish Americans go to Ireland to seek their ancestors. Then my thought came up that Montagna would be an Italian-Australian.

I Googled and found that my thought was correct, even though the source was unreliable Wikipedia. Then I found that there were many past and current Italian-Australian players including Ron Barassi Sr., Ron Barassi Jr., Nick Dal Santo (North Melbourne) and Anthony Morabito (Fremantle). Over 80 Italian-Australian players are listed on the page.

Then I became a temporary historian of Italian immigrants to complete my writing. According to Italian Legacy website, between 1861 and 1985, over 29 million Italians left the home country to migrate somewhere else for a better life. One or two generation(s) of Italian family members identified themselves as people in the new countries rather than Italians, and their knowledge of Italian culture is limited to tastes for Italian food or appreciations of Italian cars, fashion or art.

These Italian immigrants changed the name and worked hard to fit in the community of the new country, I learned from the webpage.

Even they tried hard to settle down in their new home that I admire, I have learned sad stories of Italian immigrants.

Before 1914, only few Mediterranean settled down in Australia. As Italians were minority of European immigrants in Australia, they and Greeks were targeted for particular violence in 1920s and faced race tensions between Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Celtic, and Anglo-Latino. I had not known that such race tensions existed until I researched the subject in a book at a library.

Another surprising fact I found was that immigrants – even from England – had to be Australianised to settle down in Australia. It included that English immigrants watched footy (then VFL) matches in the winter. I guess that Italian immigrants have done the same. This history was dated in the 1920s.

Once again, I re-read the Silvagni’s article on, and the above fact matched what the content informs us. The connection between Silvagni and Carlton Footy Club can be sourced to 1924, when Silvagni’s grandfather “Jack” arrived in Melbourne from Northern Italy after having spent seven weeks on the boat.

Sadly, Italian immigrants were treated as enemies when World War II broke out. According to the Oxford History of Australia, German-born residents were rounded up in 1939 and Italian-born residents in 1940 – even though many of the Italians were known anti-fascists. Silvagni’s father, Sergio, told club’s historian and journalist Tony De Bolfo that Jack did not bother to take out Australian citizenship and was sent to an alien camp in Broadford for a couple months. Jack was lucky as many Italians had been rounded up for three or four years.

Jack Silvagni must have tried hard to settle down in Australia including being passionate of footy. I think that is why Sergio and Stephen Silvagni were great footballers and keep faith to Carlton, both the suburb and footy club.

As I have found there were many Italian-Australian footballers for the Blues, I wanted to know about history of Carlton as the Melbourne suburb. Indeed I have done some research on it.

According to City of Melbourne’s website, Italian immigrants chose Carlton as their final destination between the 1920s and 1950s. Lygon Street introduced an espresso machine in the 1950s launching the Melbourne love affair with coffee. Even though Italians are only four per cent of Carlton residents now, Lygon Street still has Italian influences filled with dozens of Italian shops, cafés and restaurants.

It is good to know about Italian culture in Carlton, but I still needed to get more information to gain knowledge of the subject what I had been curious. I have found an Italian Museum in Carlton called Museo Italiano and contacted them asking to help for my research. But I was told to wait for a while.

Then I emailed the Carlton Football Club because I thought that they would know about the connections between Italian immigrants and footy (I did not disclose them that I was a St Kilda fan. If I offended you, I apologise sincerely).

Thanks to a great work done by a club’s historian and journalist, Tony De Bolfo (I appreciate your wonderful explanation), I got information what I wanted to know.

As I have mentioned above, most Italians moved to Lygon Street in Carlton which is close to the club’s training ground, Princes Park (Visy Park). Most immigrants moved to Australia after World War II.

Then Carlton Blues boost the strongest links with the Italians in the competition. Totally 26 Italian origin players have/are playing with the Blues. These Italian-Australian legends include Ron Barrasi, Sergio Silvagni, Stephen Silvagni, Peter Beviacqua and Andrew Carrazzo. I guess that it is because VFL/AFL clubs have strong supporting in suburb bases.

And Tony made the link with the Italian Team of the Century website. I found that there are 148 current and former Italian-Australian VFL/AFL players. Wow!

As a bloke having grown up under the monoculture (however I do not think Japan is such a country nowadays because we have expats from other countries, although sadly number of expats is small), the subject is interesting. It is interesting to see and feel different cultures in a same city even in a same suburb!

Italian food is popular worldwide, but I hope I can get more real Italian food in Lygon Street in the near future.

But not only Italians make footy unique but also players with other origins, such as Nick Riewoldt (German heritage), Ahmed Saad (Egyptian heritage) and late Jim Stynes (Irish). AFL is such a unique and interesting sport.  I love it!!

About Yoshihiro Imagawa

Love, passion and pride are seen on the footy that is the biggest part of my life. 1. St Kilda Club member: I am a passionate and crazy Sainter. Just hope we will win the second flag soon, especially after Dogs and Tigers having ended long premiership draughts. 2. The Osaka Dingoes Player and Public Relations Officer: Player number 44 that I chose to honour Stephen Milne with my wish being like a small forward like him. Lenny Hayes' hardworking attitudes are adopted on my trainings and practices. Nick Riewoldt's great plays are in my player audiobook too. 3. Writing: Here on the Almanac and also on the World Footy News. My skills utilise on great footy websites.


  1. Great article and very well researched, Yoshi. You’re certainly setting the standard for Almanackers as the year rapidly draws to a close. I never knew that Ian Stewart (Cervi) was a member of the Italian Team of the Century. I assume that he – like John Kennedy Junior – had/has an Italian mother.

  2. G’day FitzroyPete,

    Thanks for your compliment on the article and I am fulfilled with having done a lot of research.

    I hadn’t known that Ian Stewart was an Italian-Australian until i visited the Italian Team of the Century website. I heard that he was a great player at St Kilda but sadly traded to Richmond.

    Also recently I have found that late Philip Hughes was an Italian-Australian.

    Different cultures are mixed in Australia, once again I realised.



  3. Perhaps, most interestingly Don Bradman is of Italian descent. His great grandfather came from Genoa. Bradman, a real Don indeed.

  4. I’m not much of a wog, but there’s a few others besides The Don and Phil Hughes i.e. Mike Veletta (who effectively got us over the line in the ’87 World Cup Final with 45 not out of 31 balls), De Venuto, Scuderi, Dimmatina, and Ted Dexter from England would also slot into an Italian cricket team of the century.

  5. G’day Magpie, JTH and DBalassone,

    Thanks for your information about Italian-Australian cricketers and the news article. It is good to know about these Italian-Australian sport legends.

    I hope Australians football (soccer) players perform very well in the world top level no matter what heritage they have. Now I wonder how Italian-Australians love the football.



  6. …..and how timely…our newest Test entrant…Joe Burns whose mum is of Italian heritage. Good luck to him on Boxing Day!!

    Italian Australians love footy as much as Australian Australians…in fact, some of our best players are Australian Australians..Goodes, Rioli, Franklin…too many to name!
    However, there is a special place for Leon Davis in Pieland.

  7. Thanks for reminding us about Australian Australian players, Magpie. These are good players. – Yoshi

  8. Thanks for that piece of info Magpie, I didn’t know that about Burns. And I concur with you about Neon Leon. I still think it’s one of the great footy stories how he went to the half back flank in 2011 and absolutely blitzed. I miss him. One of my all time favourites.

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