When a football legend parts from the game either through retirement or death, ink splatters as tributes are furiously written to consider the man’s style of play, his memorable moments on the pitch, his connections with his fans, and his contributions to club and country. Even for an almost legend, debates commence over whether the player had been underrated, if he should indeed be a member in the pantheon of the greats instead of simply a distinguished guest, or what flaws he might have had as a player or person that prevented him from achieving truly legendary status. In the event the footballing community loses one of its less prominent members, a mention is made by the club with thoughts going out to his family along with an announcement of the funeral arrangements and a generic line regarding the player’s statistical trace from yesteryear. Perhaps his old club wears a black armband for its next match, which makes many of the club’s younger fans ask, “Who died again?”
An incident of the later variety happened this past week, when French club Sochaux-Montbéliard announced the passing and funeral of World War II-era player Charles Castellani. Also known as Carlo (and certainly not the same Carlo Castellani for whom Empoli FC named their stadium after), this Castellani was a hometown lad for Sochaux and spent most of his years playing for Les Lionceaux during and after the war. With his Italian family having previously fled to the Franche-Comté region of France to escape Benito Mussolini’s increasingly fascist regime, Castellani was born in Montbéliard in 1924 and as a youth he began working for the Peugeot automotive factory in town. Here is where his link to the club begins, as the all-rounder Castellani was selected to be part of the factory’s football squad as a forward and made his debut in 1939. After having left the club in 1947 to play for Besançon, he married the sister of one his former Sochaux teammates in 1949 and raised a family of three. In the later part of his playing days he also suited up for local French side FC Porrentruy but had his professional sporting career ended with them in 1954 owing to a broken leg.
While Charles Castellani has been largely forgotten for his performances on the pitch, there is a football-related reason for highlighting his passing. Apart from seeming to be a good soul who had cared for his wife while Alzheimer’s blighted her final days until she passed October last year and leaving behind a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Castellani represents another little bit of something football has lost over time–a true works team comprised of a company’s employees. While Peugeot still retain a 99% ownership stake in Sochaux today, the French club that is preparing for an upcoming Europa League campaign in addition to another season in the top flight ceased being a works club some time ago. Other notable clubs across Europe, such as Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen in Bundesliga, PSV Eindhoven in Holland, Manchester United (in it’s green and gold days) in England and former East Germany cult favourite
Carl Weiss Jena Carl Zeiss Jena, all began as sporting teams begun by factory workers. What had started as an organized effort for blue collar lads to relax and let off some steam after many hours of toil either making car parts, airplane wings, and the like, has long since given way to increased professionalism in the game and companies either withdrawing their financial backing, going bankrupt, or relocating in this age of multinational corporatism. Additionally, other works teams might have succumbed to what some might consider a soul-less endeavour to cash in on its supporter base as the workers receded into the background of the club’s history. The Scottish example of Livingston–formerly works club Ferranti Thistle–attempted the later when it uprooted in 1995 with a nearly fatal result.
Some of the company names still pop up in the British league tables, from Vauxhall Motors FC and Cammell Laird to another Manchester staple AVRO, but often the primordial ooze from which these clubs evolved has long since solidified into a blank wall of forgetfulness. The munitions workers at Woolwich and those who hammered away for Thames Ironworks are still remembered symbolically and in song for Arsenal and West Ham United, but both these clubs detached themselves from their companies so long ago as relocation severed clubs from their working class roots or the hunt for glory chased away the factory’s involvement in the professional sides. Legendary players for these and other former works clubs are not remembered as those locals who had finished a long shift on the floor during the week to later score a brace on the weekend, but instead the greats are mainly those players whose sole duty to the club was to play football. What Mr. Castellani’s passing recalls is a more nascent time when football was a game played at the close of business rather than being just a business in its own right. This might explain why the business of football is largely at a financial loss–it was not intended to be a money-making venture by those who wore overalls more so than shin guards.
Forgoing a certain sense of romanticism here, Castellani’s time in football embodies a period in the game when those who played for a club side were amateurs, homegrown, and might have developed lasting friendships with their teammates rather than passing each other like ships in the night between transfer seasons. Further, their contribution to the game was only an aspect of the reputations they left behind. Not only did Mr. Castellani and others provide the perfect cross, made the save of the season, or score the match winner, but they were a part of the fabric of a club’s community and continued to weave their lives throughout that community even after the game might had passed them by. In short–they were all rounders. So, Charles Castellani, you will be missed by not only your friends, family, and the town of Montbéliard where you were spent most of your life both at work and at play.
You will also be missed, along with others of your generation, by football and the local legends it loses regularly long after the factories have been shuttered and wages are earned on the pitch and not on the production line.
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