Summer 1961. Renato Dall’Ara is approaching his 69th birthday. A large, energetic character from humble origins who made his fortune from knitwear, he has resided in Bologna since the First World War. He is also entering his 28th year as president of Bologna FC 1909. Married but childless, he pours all his time and energy into the club, continuing – even with his health declining – to oversee every aspect of its administration. He has already delivered one glorious era: four Serie A titles between 1935 and 1941, two of them under the great Hungarian coach Árpád Weisz. Now, however, it has been over 20 years since the Rossoblù have won anything, and some are questioning whether Dall’Ara’s thrift, in the face of rocketing prices and player salaries (Gazzetta dello Sport’s Bruno Roghi describes him as “attached to the budget as the drawing pin to the surveyor’s sheet”), is holding them back. Juventus, Milan and Inter have cemented themselves as the “big three” of Italian football, winning 11 of the previous 12 Scudetti. Helenio Herrera is preparing for his second season in charge at Inter, installing the discipline, meticulousness, and ruthlessness with which he will become synonymous. 

Despite the dominance of the mega-rich northern clubs, Dall’Ara, already the most successful president in Bologna’s history, is targeting more glory. To help with this, he has enlisted the wily 51-year-old manager Fulvio Bernardini. Nicknamed Il Dottore because of his air of intellectualism, economics degree and tactical intelligence, the Roman aesthete doesn’t fit Dall’Ara’s preference for pragmatism, but his achievements have caught the president’s eye. His Fiorentina side have been the only team to break the engravers’ routine during the Turin/Milan hegemony, lifting the 1955-56 Scudetto after finishing 12 points clear of Milan. A savvy character who is quick to play down his cerebral attributes, preferring to praise the “good feet” of his players, Bernardini had also taken La Viola to the 1957 European Cup final, where they were beaten by the Real Madrid of Kopa and Di Stéfano. He arrives at Bologna ahead of the 1961-62 campaign, promising that he will deliver the Scudetto within three years.

His blossoming squad, brimming with established and soon-to-be Italy internationals, means that this isn’t just bravado. The local hero Giacomo Bulgarelli, from the comune of Medicina, is a tenacious young midfielder, already widely seen as the soul of the team. He will spend his entire career at Bologna, making a record 488 appearances and having a curva named after him. The Friulian left-winger Ezio Pascutti is not as local but is equally committed, almost halfway through a 14-year spell at the start of Bernardini’s reign. He forms an effective partnership with another club stalwart, the diminutive Marino Perani.

Bernardini and the sporting director Carlo Montanari – who will be regarded as the first of his kind – look to supplement this homegrown core with affordable, promising talent. Harald Nielsen, a 19-year-old Danish striker who announced himself at the 1960 Rome Olympics, signs from Frederikshavn shortly after Bernardini’s arrival. This ends his international career, as the Danish FA only permits the selection of non-professional players. He enjoys a decent start in his first season, scoring eight times and gaining the nickname Dondolo – rocking chair – after an early appearance sees him disorientate Venezia’s Juan Santisteban with a spectacular, lingering feint. Bologna finish fourth, their highest position for six years, beating Roma and the eventual champions Milan along the way.

In the close season, the playmaker Helmut Haller is signed from Augsburg, replacing the Brazilian Vinicio. The stocky German, who will open the scoring in the 1966 World Cup final, enjoys the first of the six seasons he will spend at the club, given positional freedom and linking superbly with Nielsen and Pascutti. At times, the Rossoblù are inspired, putting four past Palermo, SPAL, Napoli and Sampdoria, and five past Catania. In October, fans at their Stadio Comunale home witness a swaggering 7-1 destruction of Emilian neighbours Modena, Nielsen and Pascutti both hitting hat-tricks. It is this performance that prompts Bernardini to say, of the football played by his team, "si gioca solo in Paradiso" (“it is played only in paradise”). Haller’s displays earn him comparisons with Juve’s Omar Sívori, one of the world’s best, although Dall’Ara goes further: “Haller is worth three times as much, because Sívori only has a left foot – Haller has two feet. And then he has a president like me.”

Despite hitting such celestial heights, even leading the league before Christmas, Bologna are also flaky. They labour to draws against weaker sides and lose to Roma, Fiorentina and Genoa, as well as home and away to Inter, Milan and Juventus. Herrera’s supremely organised – and talented – Inter team, who only concede 20 goals on their way to the first of three Scudetti under him, humble them 4-0 at the Comunale in December, a brace from the Brazilian winger Jair da Costa putting the game beyond reach before half-time. Bernardini urges a long-term view: “It’s a question of maturity… I first teach my players the fundamentals, then the tactics. It takes time for big goals.” The Rossoblù finish fourth again, but they have scored more than anyone in the division; Nielsen has 19, Pascutti 14, and Haller, in his debut season, eight. The goals against column, however, is not as impressive.

This is addressed in the summer, with the signing of the Italy international goalkeeper William Negri. The club has not had a consistent stopper for a while, with Enrico Santarelli, Paolo Cimpiel and Rino Rado all wearing the gloves during the previous campaign. Negri quickly justifies his purchase, keeping seven clean sheets in the first 11 games of the 1963-64 season. In front of him, the accomplished man-marker Carlo Furlanis and the club captain Mirko Pavinato operate either side of the libero Francesco Janich and the immovable Venetian centre-half Paride Tumburus. In midfield, the composure and experience of Romano Fogli offers further protection. Negri, Furlanis and Janich will play all 34 league games, Fogli 33. Although a shaky three-day period at the end of October sees the Rossoblù surrender a two-goal lead to Milan and suffer their first defeat of the season at Sampdoria, they truly click the following month. A 3-0 dismantling of Vicenza starts a streak of 10 consecutive victories that lasts into February and culminates in a hugely impressive 4-1 home destruction of Torino. Nielsen’s opener, coming at the end of an incisive move from deep, emphatically validates Bernardini’s assertion of his team’s heavenly credentials. A series of precise lay-offs and flicks leaves the Torino players chasing shadows, before the Dane arrives at the penalty spot in perfect time to receive Perani’s low cross from the right and hit a classy finish across the goalkeeper. By March 1964, having started the year in third, the Rossoblù are – with 11 games left – leading the league, on 36 points ahead of Inter (34) and Milan (33). Both their rivals, who have the burden of European competition, have had indifferent results. Milan have been beaten by Fiorentina and promoted Lazio, while Inter have lost to Vicenza, been hammered 4-1 at Juve and soundly beaten by their city rivals. Bologna fans, starved of success for so long, are starting to wonder – albeit in hushed tones – whether their team, still only defeated once, may be heading for its first title in over two decades. 

Then the bombshell arrives. On March 4, the Italian Football Federation (Federcalcio) announces that urine samples taken from five Bologna players (Fogli, Pascutti, Pavinato, Perani and Tumburus) following the Torino victory have tested positive for amphetamines. The league has been conducting anti-doping tests for a couple of years, with guilty clubs punished with relatively small fines and bans. This season, however, things are more serious. A new anti-doping commission, consisting of 20 doctors and 18 testing agents, have at their disposal freshly purchased, state-of-the-art gas chromatographic testing equipment; the hulking “FractoPav” machine, based at the Centre for Sports Medicine at Cascine in Florence. This complex device has been used for the analysis of 595 urine samples already this season, with Bologna players tested on four occasions. Every single test has come back negative, until now.

The commission chair, the pharmacology professor Pietro Niccolini, aware of the potentially seismic nature of this, has had the samples re-tested three times – this is why the announcement has taken over a month – but they have come back positive on each occasion. Dall’Ara is one of the last to learn of the charges, as he is in bed recovering from bronchial pneumonia. He is visited by the respected Stadio editor Aldo Barelli and his close friend, the Modenese businessman Piero Goldoni. L’Espresso’s Manlio Cancogni reports that the three make small talk about the weather before a nervous Goldoni, in one of the most masterful deployments of understatement in Italian football history, tells him “there is a small annoyance”.

The city’s reaction is noisy and immediate. The Emilian writer Renzo Renzi will report first hearing of the charges via a child in the street crying out in despair: “Pascutti, no! Pascutti, no!” That night, people fill the streets, the air thick with grievance and defiance. Guido Nozzoli, writing in Il Giorno, compares the atmosphere to the popular mobilisations of the late 1950s; hundreds of cars and motorcycles bearing rain-soaked red and blue flags stop traffic in the centre of the city. Horns, trumpets and sirens blare, people shout and sing at the top of their lungs, and the popular Forza Bologna song can be heard everywhere.

Public consensus is a conspiracy by the Milan clubs, aided by the Italian footballing establishment, to deny Bologna the Scudetto. Posters attesting to this quickly appear around the city. At Bar Otello on via Orefici, a hub for Rossoblù fans, gatherings are organised to protest against “Milanese abuses”. At one point, an angry mob in Piazza Maggiore, the city’s main square, even overturns cars with Milanese number plates. Local publications such as Il Resto del Carlino, their switchboards jammed, condemn the northern giants and the greedy forces that have enabled their underhand methods, designed to steal rightful glory from the provincial underdogs. The Milanese press, predictably, are more sceptical. La Gazzetta dello Sport refutes the allegations: “… Milan has nothing to do with it, the analyses are done in Florence, the Federation is based in Rome”, while Il Giorno is even more dismissive, sneering at the tribalism and provincial inferiority that has whipped up the Bolognese supporters, and describing the protests as an “outlet for economic worries” and a “substitute for political participation”. 

Bologna issue a statement of denial, pledging to appeal and defend their “prestige and sporting honour”, and raising the potential unreliability of the new testing method. Alfeo Biagi echoes this in Stadio, citing several studies linking it with a large margin for error. The club also raise another possibility in line with what many are already saying: that the samples have been tampered with. Bernardini protests his players’ innocence – “I asked them to swear. They have sworn on their children, on their wives…” – and also hints at wrongdoing: “you have no idea what they will invent to prevent us from winning the Scudetto… does it matter that the doctors in charge of the exams… were born under the were born under the po? Dall’Ara is unequivocal –  “Bologna is innocent” – and determined to defend his club from the “terrible accusation”. Players are warned that anyone talking to the press will face a million-lira fine. Nevertheless, a few quotes appear in Stadio. Bulgarelli is vague, but captures the conspiratorial mood: “how do you convince people that it’s not a manoeuvre? They’ve shot at us so many times now”. Nielsen is bewildered: “I know nothing. Not done exam. No one took anything.” Of the accused, Pascutti is defiant: “They won’t make us lose it!” while Fogli professes never to have taken anything illegal. 

Amid the delirium, a trio of lawyers who are also Bologna fans – Mario Cagli, Alberto Magri and Arrigo Gabellini – take matters into their own hands. On March 7, they bring a formal complaint to Dr Domenico Bonfiglio, the city’s public prosecutor. They hypothesise that the samples have been tampered with, requesting the immediate intervention of the judicial authorities and a second analysis. Bonfiglio upholds their complaint the next day, ordering the seizure of all materials relating to the case, including the sample vials. Bologna, who have appointed their own legal team, distance themselves from the lawyers’ actions. As a Federcalcio member, the club is bound not to take judgment from any other source on any dispute relating to sporting activity. If Bologna have instructed the lawyers, the repercussions could be serious; they could be expelled from the league. The club, keen to avoid any further rancour, issues a statement underlining its full acceptance of the Federation’s authority. Nevertheless, the actions of the lawyers and the prosecutor are significant; the case is no longer solely overseen by the Federation, but also the ordinary judiciary. 

On Sunday March 8, the Bologna police chief Vittorio Carpinacci travels to the league headquarters at Coverciano in Florence, where all samples and all documents relating to the case are kept, in order to seize them. These are not only the vials that tested positive at Cascine, but also a second set, which have not been tested; a league regulation dictates all samples must be split prior to analysis. Despite concerns from the Coverciano doctors over perishability in transit, the vials are taken to the University of Rome for re-analysis. The football, the only constant in the confusion, continues. Bologna scrape a nervy 1-0 win over Sampdoria in front of 30,000 at a snowy Comunale. Both Bulgarelli and Pascutti are sent off for retaliation following bad tackles, reactions which Stadio ascribe to the players’ “precarious psychological conditions”. A defiant banner in the crowd reads “La Mafia non è solo in Sicilia” (“the Mafia is not only in Sicily”). 

The club send a delegation of lawyers and anti-doping experts to Coverciano the following day, to take the samples for their own counter-analysis, but they are informed that the police have already seized them. Debate rages around the relationship between sporting law and common law; Il Giorno asks whether the Federcalcio can still impose sanctions if Bologna have not been able to commission their own re-analysis. Giulio Onesti, the president of the Italian National Olympic Committee, declares that the prosecutor’s actions have compromised the authority and integrity of sport, while the league president Mario Campana declares the investigation derailed. However, the Federal Court, the supreme legal body of the Federcalcio, rules that the sports judiciary must proceed with the case. Bologna’s legal team once again tries, at the league’s request, to gain access to the samples, this time petitioning the prosecutor, but this is denied. 

The Federcalcio, under orders but also keen to be seen to be in control, do not wait for the prosecutor’s investigation to end before issuing their judgment. When this arrives on March 20, it is thus based solely on the initial positive analysis, and is not good news for Bologna. The result of the Torino game is changed to a 2-0 defeat, and a further point deducted; a total loss of three points. Both Bernardini and club doctor Igino Poggiali are banned for 18 months. Some feel that this is lenient; suggesting that the league, if they had stuck rigidly to their regulations, could have banned Bernardini for life. Campana, when explaining the punishment, reportedly cites in mitigation the manager’s seven years as an Italy international. The five players are not banned, on the basis that they could have been drugged unknowingly. This is possibly diplomacy on behalf of the Federation; removing half of Bologna’s starting XI would hand the title to one of the Milan clubs and provide further fuel for the conspiracists.

When Dall’Ara learns of the punishments, he reportedly bursts into tears. Bologna announce their intention to appeal and the president – once he regains his composure – is unequivocal in once more alluding to underhand practices, telling Stadio that the punishment: “… hides something mysterious… it is necessary to shed light on things that are not very clean, which are possibly underneath.” Cruelly, the results of anti-doping tests administered to Rossoblù players after the Milan victory are released the same day. All samples are clean. 

The verdict leaves the press divided. Publications from Bologna and Bernardini’s home city of Rome are sympathetic, but Milanese newspapers such as the Corriere d’Informazione are keen to assume Bologna’s guilt, publishing taunting cartoons. The debate on jurisdiction continues. Although there is no precedent for the involvement of the legal authorities in a situation like this, some feel that the Federcalcio, by issuing their judgment, are showing a lack of respect for the wider justice system. For others, they are rightly re-asserting their authority.

Bologna’s first home game after the judgment – after a 1-0 win at Roma, during which Bernardini is caught using a walkie-talkie to convey instructions from the stands – sees Inter visit the Comunale on Easter Sunday. The game is dubbed La Pasqua di Sangue – “the Easter of blood” – the journalist Enzo Biagi writing that he has not experienced such a charged atmosphere in the city since the Italian Civil War. With many expecting violence, policing around the stadium is noticeably heavier, and flags and banners are banned from the stadium. Thankfully, nothing much happens; L’Unità praises the “air of village festivity”. Inside the ground, an officer carrying a walkie-talkie is accused, by a voice from the stands, of being Bernardini in disguise, to widespread amusement. A huge photograph of the banned manager bearing the legend Forza Ragazzi! – “come on boys!” – is hung from the Torre di Maratona, the stadium’s iconic centrepiece. Once the game starts, things proceed less favourably. Bologna are nowhere near their usual standard, missing Nielsen and the banned Pascutti, and diminished by events. They lose 2-1, Haller missing a penalty. Inter are now on 41 points at the top, four points clear of Bologna and Milan. 

The prosecutor’s office start interviewing anyone of interest; league officials, as well as doctors and agents from the anti-doping commission. On April 13, reports emerge that the experts appointed to carry out the counter-analysis have asked for – and been given – an extension for the delivery of their results. It is rumoured that this is because they have found the second set of samples to be clean. Pascutti, commenting on this, merrily declares to Stadio, “Of course! We are more than innocent!” An interview conducted by Bonfiglio’s deputy Pellegrino Iannaccone with Dr Pierpaolo Mangani, a cardiologist who undertook clinical observations prior to the initial testing, also reveals that no physical symptoms of amphetamine dosage were shown by the five players that day.

Despite attempts by the prosecutor’s office to play down these rumours – they still have still not received the official counter-analysis results – they gather pace throughout April. The negative status of the second set of samples, and Bologna’s likely exoneration, is becoming an open secret. Theories abound, most of them focus around a plot – did someone fraudulently introduce illegal substances into the original vials, or even replace clean samples with dirty ones? Supersport wonder about police chief Carpinacci, while Stadio allude to possible wrongdoing, or incompetence, on the part of the anti-doping commission doctors. Not everyone, however, accepts the tampering theory. In L’Espresso, Manlio Cancogni, while suitably cynical about the influence of the Milan clubs – “if Bologna had lost in Milan… no one would have noticed its players were ‘addicts’” – offers a different explanation. With doping widespread and clubs possibly escaping detection via advance warning of testing, has it simply been ensured that Bologna were not warned? Bernardini has irritated the Federcalcio with his air of intellectual superiority; maybe Dall’Ara, provincial and naïve, has not been wise to the scheme. On the pitch, Milan, having drawn with Atalanta and lost at home to Sampdoria, have dropped out of the title race, while Bologna stay in touch with Inter, racking up a string of victories. With three games to play, they are only separated from Herrera’s men by the three deducted points, a chance to go closer frustrated by a young Dino Zoff in a goalless draw at Mantova. 

At the end of April, the counter-analysis results – for both samples – are delivered to the prosecutor’s office. On May 4, at the start of a two-week fixture break, they announce that an “absolute lack” of illegal substances has been found in the previously untested Coverciano vials. Unsurprisingly, this casts a critical level of doubt on the judgment of the Federcalcio, who start to backtrack. Professor Venerando, president of the Sports Medicine Federation, claims that the initial analysis had provided clear evidence of tampering as it revealed quantities of amphetamine large enough to kill an ordinary human, and that their subsequent investigation into this had been derailed by the intervention of the judiciary. Stadio, rightly, wonder why this information has not been provided until now.

On May 16, the Federation – having now been availed of the prosecutor’s results – acquit Bologna of all charges. The three points are restored, and Bernardini allowed to return. In Stadio, Dall’Ara is dramatic – “absolution is only partial repair to the evil committed… a dirty trick, committed by people completely unrelated to my society” – but also views the judiciary’s intervention as crucial. He is right; the Rossoblù, level at the top with Inter, are back in the title race.  

Following Bologna’s exoneration, the rumours become more and more complicated and troubling. According to some, the Pposecutor’s team has, in the residue of the Cascine samples, found amphetamine traces that were non-metabolised – ie had not passed through human bodies. Explicit confirmation of the chemical inconsistency between the sample sets, if not the precise amphetamine levels, is revealed by Federcalcio president Dr Pasquale a few days after the acquittal. Desperate to put a positive spin on things, he also underlines the wisdom of the league’s precautionary “split the samples” rule. Bonfiglio and his team, by now convinced of tampering, try to establish the culprit, questioning both Pasquale and employees at the Cascine centre, but no conclusive evidence emerges. Despite the evidence pointing to wrongdoing, the trail is turning cold. Numerous doctors are subject to indiscriminate press speculation; one, from Florence, is shown by the public record to have deposited a large cheque from Milan. Another, former Bologna employee Dr Ottani, is explicitly accused by Livorno’s Il Telegrafo, but this is retracted when he threatens to sue them for 100 million lira.  

There are three games remaining. Bologna have a slightly kinder run-in than their title rivals, but the teams’ fortunes run parallel. Bologna draw 0-0 at Juve, Inter go goalless at Lazio, before the penultimate round of fixtures sees both teams win 2-0. With Italy still to implement a way to separate tied teams, talk turns to how the title may be settled; one suggestion is a one-off game at a neutral venue. Before the season’s final league game, Inter pull off one of the defining victories of the Herrera era, winning the European Cup in Vienna with a 3-1 victory against the five-time champions Real Madrid. Four days later, they show few ill effects of their excursions, Mario Corso’s first-minute opener starting a straightforward 2-1 home win over Atalanta. A first half Haller penalty, meanwhile, ensures that Lazio are seen off at the Comunale. 

A full-time pitch invasion starts with a trickle, but soon turns into a Bolognese army bearing banners and flags. A shirtless Fogli is chaired off. Farcical scenes briefly ensue, when an exultation delivered over the loudspeakers for a play-off (spareggio) with Inter is misheard by many as conveying the news that the nerazzurri’s final game has ended in a draw (pareggio). Pandemonium erupts, as people think Bologna have pipped the Nerazzurri to the title by a point. Dall’Ara slumps down into his chair in tears, quickly surrounded by concerned companions. When the actual results begin to crackle through on hand-held radios, confirming an Inter victory, normality is restored. Bologna are not champions, but level with Inter at the top, on 54 points. Despite their troubles off the pitch, the Rossoblù have been brilliant on it. They have kept 20 clean sheets, conceded more than once on only three occasions (impressive feats even in the era of catenaccio), and lost only twice, notching 22 victories from 34. Nielsen has finished as the league’s top scorer with 21 goals. The Dane will spend three more seasons at the club, briefly becoming the most expensive player in the world when he departs for Inter in 1967, before retiring from the game at just 29 due to a vertebral injury.

With no goal average or goal difference rule in place to separate Bologna and Inter (the Rossoblù would be champions on the basis of either of these), a lot of arguing ensues about how to award the title. At a hastily arranged meeting of league officials and journalists at the Hotel Jolly in Bologna, Gualtiero Zanetti, director of the Milan-based (and heavily partisan) Gazzetta dello Sport, suggests awarding the Scudetto to Inter and compensating Bologna by retrospectively awarding them the 1927 championship. This title was revoked from Torino due to match-fixing allegations, but the Bolognese Federcalcio president Leandro Arpinati, fearing accusations of bias, preferred to leave it unassigned rather than award it to his second-place hometown club. In the end, however, the oft-suggested solution wins out; the championship is to be settled in the most sporting fashion – a play-off game at a neutral venue, the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, on Sunday June 7.

The second seismic event of Bologna’s season takes place on June 3. Dall’Ara, now 71, has travelled to Milan, to meet with Inter president Angelo Moratti and league chief Giorgio Perlasca, in order to finalise the details of that weekend’s play-off. At the meeting, which reportedly becomes heated, the Bologna president collapses and is taken to hospital, where he later dies, five days short of 30 years at the helm. Even though Dall’Ara’s health has been failing for a while – he has spent much of 1964 bed-ridden – the reaction is one of stunned sadness. The man who is synonymous with Bologna FC 1909 is gone. For prominent fan Gino Villani, a well-connected haberdasher usually found conducting match-day crowds with a megaphone, the season’s events have been the catalyst: “Poor President, they made him die of a broken heart.” 

The players, by now preparing for the game at a training camp at the Roman seaside resort Fregene, are told. Janich is inconsolable, while Haller, comparing Dall’Ara to his own father, declares that he will not play for another president. Pavinato is accusatory: “They killed him!” Bernardini considers bringing them back, but is told by club officials to stay put and carry on with preparations. Although the Federcalcio are receptive to the idea of the play-off being postponed, the players – after a meeting with backroom staff – decide that they want to play, to honour their deceased president. As a result, the injured Pascutti and Corradi are the only squad members to attend Dall’Ara’s funeral on Friday June 5, at Bologna’s Cathedral of San Pietro, where specially erected barriers outside only just hold back the crowds. The atmosphere in the team training camp is strange; Bulgarelli will later report that Bernardini delivers the team talk on the morning of the game wearing one running shoe and one leather shoe. 

The play-off takes place four days after Dall’Ara’s death, on a scorching Roman afternoon. The sense of a uniquely pressurised occasion has been enhanced by Il Giorno’s Andrea Barbato, who has called the game Lo Spareggio del Miliardo  – ‘the Billion-Dollar Play-Off’ – referencing the 25,000 lira that 40,000 fans will each spend on travel, ticket and accommodation. The city comes out in support of its son Bernardini – “Fulvio nostro” signs hang in bar windows – although this is equally driven by anti-Milanese sentiment. Inside the Stadio Olimpico, Roman and Bolognese fans are united in their support, easily outnumbering and out-singing the Milanese. Inter are unchanged from the European Cup final but Bernardini springs a selection surprise, replacing the injured Pascutti with the reserve full-back Capra instead of Antonio Renna, a more established attacking player whose mazy, tormenting dribbles earned him the nickname il Garrincha dei poveri (“the Garrincha of the poor”). Capra’s selection is designed to draw Inter out and force them into playing a more attacking game, as well as neutralise the threat and invention of Corso. 

The game kicks off at 5.15pm. Early exchanges are slow and uneventful due to the heat. Milanese worries that the referee Concetto Lo Bello may favour Bologna due to the club’s recent upheavals quickly prove unfounded, when the moustachioed official cautions Bulgarelli and reprimands Pavinato for a wild lunge on the Spanish playmaker Luis Suárez. Both teams are nervous, but Inter are also tired following their European exertions and the denouement of the league season, blowing and chasing in the early evening sunshine. Bologna, wearing black armbands to honour their president, leave only Nielsen forward. The best chance falls to the Dane halfway through the first half, when he bursts into the box and forces the Inter goalkeeper Sarti into a reflex save with his legs. After the break, the Nerazzurri are more threatening, with Jair, Suárez, Sandro Mazzola and Giacinto Facchetti all registering efforts on goal. Generally, however, they remain subdued and superbly marshalled, with Negri never coming under any sustained pressure.

The breakthrough comes with 15 minutes left, after a scything lunge on Haller from the Inter captain Armando Picchi prompts a bad-tempered exchange between most of the two teams. Once Lo Bello calms things down, assertively shoving away a succession of protesting Bologna players, Bulgarelli lays the free-kick off to Fogli, whose low shot deflects awkwardly off Facchetti and pings into the bottom left corner. Nielsen seals it on 83 minutes, getting across his marker and prodding home following Fogli’s beautifully timed slide-rule pass. Inter, who have barely looked like scoring all afternoon, are done. Haller nearly makes it 3-0 at the death, firing inches wide after a winding, heavy-legged run from deep, but it doesn’t matter. Bologna have seen off the European champions to win their first league title since 1941. Bernardini, tarnished as a cheat three months earlier, jogs onto the pitch surrounded by photographers, his tie flapping behind him, and is chaired aloft by his joyful players. The Scudetto is a fitting tribute to their president, but it is not the last time the club will honour him; in 1983, the Stadio Comunale will be renamed Stadio Renato Dall’Ara.

In Bologna, the reaction is jubilant. After Nielsen scores, people who have been listening nervously on radios topple out into the deserted streets. Within 10 minutes, crowds in the centre are so dense that it is impossible to move. Although the horns and flags echo the protests three months earlier, the hugs and tears mark this out as a happier occasion. At Bar Otello, no one pays for a drink all night. The press give their verdict on an ugly, cagey game. For Il Giorno’s Andrea Barbato, it is a classic underdog’s victory, the Roman-Bolognese alliance in the stands prompting “a great anti-Milan party, a kind of revenge against those who always have the money and win”. Stadio’s Aldo Bardelli is impressed with how the Rossoblù have outthought Inter: “… the fantasy has prevailed. Bologna has more imagination, fresher inventiveness.” The influential Gianni Brera, in his novella-length match report in La Repubblica, is unimpressed with the condition of the Inter front trio: “Milani is not agile enough… darting in a triangle; Mazzola is empty to the point that he barely seems to hold up; Jair is battered and has no game intelligence.” He also notes that defensive hard-headedness has been key, and that had Bologna shown such a “cold, tactical determination” all season, they may not have needed a play-off. The accompanying notes reveal that Pavinato, Tumburus and Capra have tested negatively for illegal substances after the game. For the Bologna players and officials, it’s unlikely that such a regulation procedure had ever brought so much relief.

In 2004, Antonio Roversi – professor of sociology at the University of Bologna and lifelong Rossoblù devotee – will, in his introduction to Renzo Renzi’s Bologna Carogna collection of related press articles, report seeing a photo of an unidentified Bologna fan in his living room. All is normal – sofa, armchairs, and sideboard – except for the fact that in the middle of the room, along its entire length, is the goal in which Fogli and Nielsen scored. According to Roversi, the fan had shown up at the Stadio Olimpico with a shovel the day after the game, and – after negotiating its purchase – dug it out, put it onto his car roof, and drove home.

The following season’s European Cup embodies Bologna and Inter’s divergent fortunes in the years hence. Bologna are agonisingly eliminated by a coin toss at the preliminary stage following a draw with Anderlecht, while Inter win their second consecutive trophy. This comes via an ultra-defensive single-goal victory in the final against Eusébio’s Benfica, in which they spend much of the second half repeatedly passing back to Sarti in goal. Herrera’s men also ensure that normal service resumes in the league, taking the first of two consecutive Scudetti

With Bernardini departed for Sampdoria, the most significant Rossoblù win of the period takes place in a Florence courtroom, where – with typical Italian legal expediency – the doping case is formally closed in 1966, more than two years after the initial charges. Details of the almost comically questionable conditions at Cascine are revealed. The vials containing the samples which would test positive had not only arrived at the centre unsealed, but were also kept in an unlocked fridge, by a glass cabinet containing test tubes of amphetamines. In addition, the building was also undergoing maintenance work at the time and was unguarded, making access easier. The verdict concludes that the substances found in the five Cascine bottles were likely “fraudulently introduced”, but also that there were too many uncertainties surrounding the investigation to make it possible to ascertain exactly when, where, or how this may have been done. 

Subsequent years prove unable to fill these gaps. Despite the ruling of the court and the results of the counter-analysis, might Bologna still have been doping? Several players testify to the prevalence of the practice in Italian football during the 1960s and 1970s, and in 1999, the Turin magistrate Raffaele Guariniello begins an investigation into the high incidence of possible side effects, such as cancer, leukaemia and nervous system disorders, in players from this period. Evidence specifically relating to doping by Bologna, however, is flimsy. In 1998, Bulgarelli reveals to Gazzetta dello Sport that players were regularly given the stimulant Micoren to aid breathing, and that this stopped once testing became more stringent. However, Micoren was not illegal at the time. More intriguing is Der Spiegel’s report – from the season in question – that Haller had told friends the players were injected with an unknown substance before each game. However, no corroboration or further detail relating to this will emerge. 

Also unconfirmed, but more compelling, is evidence of underhand practices by others. Dall’Ara’s nephew Augusto reveals to Il Resto del Carlino that his uncle had reported an approach – in January 1964 – by three men offering him 30 million lira for his collaboration in a plot against Inter and that Dall’Ara refused, with the doping charges hitting a few weeks later. No confirmation of this approach, however, or anything linking it to the case, ever comes to light.

The most direct revelation comes in 1998 from Giampaolo Dalmastri – who replaced Poggiali as Bologna club doctor in 1964 – and would also seem to implicate the red half of Milan. In a live TV broadcast, the medic describes how, 30 years earlier, he had been talking to then-Rossoblù manager Gipo Viani about the scandal while travelling to Budapest, for the first leg of Bologna’s Uefa Cup semi-final with Ferencváros. Viani, who had been technical director of Milan in 1963-64, and the subject of much suspicion, had leaned across conspiratorially. “Everyone blames Inter for the doping case, but… I, on the other hand, happen to know Milan is involved.” This, coming from a senior employee of the club, would seem to provide the most compelling evidence. Given the contrast between the samples revealed by the prosecutor, was Viani alluding to their alteration? The prominent journalist Italo Cucci – who was working for Bologna’s Corriere dello Sport at the time and has written about the case in depth – certainly thinks so, believing that Viani enlisted the services of a well-known cycling team manager in order to ensure that the vials were doctored. Cucci also reports that, on confronting Viani with these suspicions in the mid-1960s, he was met with a non-committal response: “It’s better to talk about football.” 

It is here that the trail turns cold. With Viani succumbing to heart problems in 1969 and the other main protagonists now deceased, the definitive explanation is likely lost to time. What is clear, however, is the name on the 1963-64 Serie A trophy. While the role of luck and providence cannot be denied – Inter may well now boast one more Scudetto if the judiciary had not intervened, or the quality of the second set of samples, so crucial to the counter-analysis, had been compromised – this does not detract from the resilience, adaptability and talent shown by Bologna and their manager amid the most challenging circumstances, during one of the most dramatic seasons in Serie A history. But while the football played by Bernardini’s team that season may always belong in paradise, for Renzo Renzi, their place in the firmament is secured by the wider moral and cultural appeal of their triumphs: “This was a fight against the monopoly of the Milanese… the event has become the flag of the other Italy, the one that never has opportunities to win.”

With thanks to Italo Cucci and Alice Mocci