When you want to give a definition of who the referee is, you can’t help but think of Concetto Lo Bello of Syracuse. The one who was the first since the fifties to trace a deep groove in the figure of the 23rd man on the pitch. The referee who, with his charisma and his way of being on the field from an athletic point of view, has shown that even the referee can be an athlete among athletes.
Concetto Lo Bello was born in Syracuse on 05/13/1924 and since he was a boy he has shown that he has important aptitudes for various sports from an athletic point of view. He began refereeing in 1944 and immediately stood out in the regional categories in his native Sicily, where he was called to direct all the most important and difficult matches.
Unlike his colleagues of that period, he moves a lot on the pitch, proving to have an athletic preparation equal to that of football players. In addition to his physical preparation, he highlights a strong personality that immediately differentiates him from his colleagues. Ten years later in 1954 he made his debut in Serie A and also in the major category he highlighted his charisma and talent so much that he became international in 1958.
In Italian football
In the space of twenty years between 1954 and 1974 Lo Bello was the absolute protagonist in the direction of the main races of the Italian championship, so much so that he was called the prince of whistles. His fame within the pitch was equal to that of the main protagonists of that period, from Rivera to Riva, from Mazzola to Suarez, from Sivori to Corso. Only one other referee in the history of Italian football subsequently achieved such a celebrity: Pierluigi Collina.
Over the course of his long career, there will eventually be 328 in Serie A, an absolute record number of appearances. Lo Bello demonstrated his great skill and authority and on several occasions he imposed himself with great energy in borderline situations, maintaining his role despite the criticisms he received from many quarters who accused him of delusions of protagonism. There were many clashes with various players but in particular with Gianni Rivera. In this regard, Gianni Brera said:
“Two roosters in a chicken coop cannot fit.”
There were many clashes between the two when Lo Bello met Gianni Rivera’s Milan. For this reason, given the hardness and inflexibility in the direction of the races that Lo Bello was given the nickname “The Tyrant of Syracuse”.
There are many matches in which Lo Bello rose to the chair to stand as the undisputed protagonist, such as when in a Juventus-Cagliari match in 1970, the decisive match for the championship, he awarded two very questionable penalties, first to Juventus and then to Cagliari. When in a Spal match he conceded three penalties against the Ferrarese so much that he subsequently underwent a tax investigation on the initiative of Minister Preti, a Ferrara fan.
Or when in Napoli-Juventus at Vomero he allowed five thousand Neapolitan fans to stay on the sidelines of the field, not making a fuss in the continuation of the direction of the match, he was so confident and authoritative on the pitch. Or when in the final of the Rome Olympics he expelled the forward Galic who insulted him with a word in Slav that he understood. Even off the field he was inflexible, when before a Bari-Cosenza they offered him five million lire to guarantee a draw he immediately denounced the corruptors.
He also became the protagonist when invited to Sunday Sports to comment on his decision in the Milan-Juventus match in slow motion. In fact, he didn’t give the Rossoneri a penalty and said to Bruno Pizzul:
“Now it will seem strange to you, but I tell you that the defender was smarter than me and this was a penalty kick.”
Even off the field, a demonstration of authority and transparency.
Also in the international field Lo Bello was a great protagonist, directing: 93 matches of which 34 between senior national teams, two Champions Cup finals, the Cup Winners’ Cup final, the Trade Fairs Cup final, the UEFA Cup final, the final of the Rome Olympics, the semi-final of a European and the semi-final of the 1966 World Cup in England. Speaking of this world championship, it must be said how divisive a referee like Lo Bello was.
He was the number one candidate to referee the final, but in the USSR-West Germany match he sent off the Russian Cislenko for a reaction foul. He paid for this decision much contested by the Soviets, who objected within the referee commission when the referee for the final between England and Germany had to be decided.
An insurer by profession, he also devoted himself to a political career, where he was appointed deputy for four legislatures in the ranks of the Christian Democrats and elected mayor of Syracuse in 1986. He spent a lot in his activity as a sports politician, so much so that in 1975 he was the proposer and rapporteur of the law relating to the construction of sports facilities in southern Italy.
In 2012 he was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame. In the field of refereeing, he won the Mauro prize, which is the main recognition for an active referee. The sports hall of Syracuse is named after him.
In conclusion, this is the story of Concetto Lo Bello, who stopped refereeing at the age of fifty, who died in 1991 at the age of 66 and whom his daughter remembers as follows:
“I like to remember him while in his black jacket he runs on the Eden field, with his whistle in his mouth and his long and elegant stride”
The referee who brought prestige to Italian football in the world, who was tough as a diamond, inflexible and impartial like a judge, respected and admired by all even in Heaven.