ARTICLES

A.C. MILAN:
A TEAM OF DEVILS
THE STORY OF FOUNDER
HERBERT KILPIN

Steeped in glamour, history and tradition, Associazione Calcio Milan, or AC Milan, as they are more commonly known, are the most successful club in Italian football and one of the most prestigious clubs in the world. The AC Milan we know today, is a far cry from the humble beginnings of the clubs founding father, Englishman Herbert Kilpin, who founded the Italian giants in 1899.

One of fifteen children, Herbert Kilpin, was born above his father's butchers shop in Nottingham in 1870. The football obsessed youngster founded his own youth football team aged 13, which he named ‘Garibaldi’, after the Italian Nationalist and wore the typical Garibaldi red shirts. 

After leaving school, Kilpin went to work in Nottingham's lace market district, as a warehouse worker, for local manufacturer and Philanthropist, Thomas Adams.

While working for Adams, Kilpin played football in defence and midfield for Notts Olympic and local church side St Andrews . It was while working at ‘the Thomas Adams Building’ that Kilpin met fellow football enthusiast, Italian Edoardo Bosio, who had discovered football while working in England as a textile merchant. 

 

Upon returning to Italy  and his native Turin in 1886, Edoardo Bosio had taken with him a black leather football, determined to share the game with his fellow Italians. He soon founded the Torino Football and Cricket Club, later known as Internazionale Football Club Torino.

 

In 1891 Edouardo Bosio hired Herbert Kilpin to work for him at his textile factory in Piedmont, Turin, where both men played alongside each other for Bosio’s Internazionale Torino. Kilpin was the first known Englishman to play abroad, he took part in the first two Italian Championships for Internazionale Torino, losing both the 1898 and 1899 finals to Genoa.

AC Milan founder Herbert Kilpin

 

“We will be a team of devils. Our colours will be red like fire and black to invoke fear in our opponents”

 

Herbert Kilpin then moved east in 1897 to Milan, continuing to work in the growing Italian textile industry, returning to Turin at weekends to play football. It was during his time in Milan, at the ‘Hotel Du Nord et des Anglais’ on the evening of 16 December 1899, Kilpin was drinking with some friends and colleagues who were complaining about missing playing Football and Cricket. And with Kilpin sick of travelling to Turin to play football each weekend, he came up with the idea of forming ‘Milan Foot-Ball and Cricket Club’.

 

Led by Herbert Kilpin, along with five other Englishmen and six Italians, the founding members, agreed to form a new club with each signing a quickly drafted agreement reading,

 

"I, the undersigned member state to set up a sports club which bears the name Milan Cricket and Football Club, which aims to disseminate the widest possible exercise of football and cricket".

 

The Founding Fathers of ‘Milan Foot-Ball and Cricket Club’ were Daniele Angeloni, David Allison, Charles Barnett, Giovanni Camperio, Samuel Richard Davies, Antonio Dubina, Alfred Ormond Edwards, Herbert Kilpin, Edward Nathan Bern, Alberto Pirelli, Pirelli Piero and Guido Valerio.

Herbert Kilpin in action for AC Milan

Kilpin came up with the idea of the now famous black and red vertical stripes, declaring “We will be a team of devils. Our colours will be red like fire and black to invoke fear in our opponents.”

Along with the black and red vertical stripes, the club crest included the red cross on the white of Saint Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan, coincidently similar to the cross of St George. The club also used the English Spelling of Milan instead of the Italian ‘Milano’. The spelling was briefly changed to ‘Milano’, which it was forced to use briefly during Mussolini's brutal fascist regime.

 

Founding member and ex-British vice-consul to Italy, Alfred Ormond Edwards, known for his diplomatic and political connections along with being a well-known member of Milanese high society, was invited to be the first club president. Shropshire born Edwards who was an engineer and industrialist, had made his fortune working for the Pirelli company and bankrolled the club at the start, enrolling the team in the Italian Football Federation in January 1900.

The experienced Herbert Kilpin assumed the role as player-manager, with Mancunian David Allison assigned the club captaincy, as he was the most senior player in age.

 

The new Milan football team were nicknamed the Rossoneri, which means ‘the red and blacks’ in Italian or "Il Diavolo Rosso" which means ‘the Red Devil’

The formation of the new Football and Cricket club was reported in The Gazzetta Dello Sport on Monday 18 December 1899, reading: "Finally! After many unsuccessful attempts, finally, the sports Milan will also have a society for the game of football. For now, although we cannot go ahead, we can, however, already ascertain that the members are in their fifties and that the applications for admission.

The aim was to build a Milanese team to compete for the Italian Cup

AC Milan Club President Alfred Edwards (Back row left), Herbert Kilpin (Third from left in striped shirt)

next spring, and the presidency has already made practical and obtained the vast Trotter club for training. The new company warns that anyone wishing to learn football will only have to go to the Trotter on the established days and will find instructors and playmates".

 

The Trotter Club, which was reported in the Gazzetta Dello Sport article, was a horse racing field in northeast Milan, located behind the old railway station and was a popular meeting point for English Gentlemen. In later years ‘the Trotter’ made way for Mussolini's new vast Milano Centrale railway station, which still stands today.

 

It was the Trotter field which was the venue for the first football game of Milan’s new football team on 11 March 1900, against Mediolanum for a Milanese derby. The “English team” won 2-0, a scoreline which historians disagree over, with some still claiming it to be 3-0.

The team for the historic first game included six Brits and five Italians in the starting line up, which read: Hoode (GK). Allison (C), Kilpin, Cignaghi, Davies, Dubini, Formenteri, Lees, Neville, Torretta and Valerio.

The new Milan football team were nicknamed the Rossoneri, which means ‘the red and blacks’ in Italian or "Il Diavolo Rosso" which means ‘the Red Devil’.

 

Two months later on 27 May 1900, in front of around 500 spectators, AC Milan won their first trophy, the Medaglia Del Re (King’s Medal), beating Juventus 2-0 at the Trotter field, with goals coming from Allison and Camperio.

The Medaglia Del Re only ran for three seasons, and with AC Milan winning the trophy in 1901 and 1902, they became the only team to win the now-disbanded competition.

 

The following year saw AC Milan win their first Italian Championship, beating Genoa 3-0 AET, with Negretti scoring two and star man Herbert Kilpin, who was now team captain, scoring the other.

 

The Italian Championship then consisted of three games, one qualifier, which saw AC Milan again beat city rivals Mediolanum 2-0, then a 2-3 semi-final victory away to Juventus, followed by the final at Ponte Carrega in Genoa, on 5 May 1901.

 

Supporters of the Rossoneri hailed Herbert Kilpin as ‘Il primo vero campione milanista’. The first true AC Milan champion. His image still adorns banners in the San Siro today

The first title success was celebrated by the club’s founders, players, associates and supporters at AC Milan’s headquarters, the Fiaschetteria Toscana on Via Berchet, Milan. 

The championship triumph was significant, as it broke Genoa’s dominance over the four-year-old Italian Championship, which had seen the Genoese win the first three titles until this point. Genoa’s dominance would continue as they would go on to win three successive Championship titles, after the defeat against AC Milan.

AC Milan would go on to win back to back titles in 1906 and 1907 beating Juventus and Torino, in respective finals. Surprisingly AC Milan would not win another Italian title until the 1950/51 season.

 

However, significant changes were coming to Italian football, which would have consequences for AC Milan and Herbert Kilpin. From 1908 the Italian league would split, with two championships played. The Italian Championship One was 'Campioni d'Italia' (The Italian Championship) for Italian players only, and the other Campioni Federali, (the Federal Championship), which allowed foreigners to participate.

 

AC Milan was a club divided and in disarray, as they had an English president, founded by British and Italians, with players from Italy, Britain and Switzerland. Yet the club had proclaimed itself as a club to the working class and blue-collar masses of the city.

AC Milan with their first Italian Championship 1901

Along with Genoa and Torino, Club president Alfred Ormond Edwards decided that AC Milan were to withdraw from the Federal and Italian Championship on 1 January, in protest at the FIF (The Italian FA), and would not participate in the 1908 tournament. The Italian Championship was won by Pro Vercelli, with Juventus winning the Federal Championship, later neither titles were recorded in either club’s honours listings. 

 

With AC Milan not participating in the Italian championship, club politics and age being a factor, Herbert Kilpin was forced to retire from playing football at the age 38 and leave the club he had founded, loved and became a footballing legend. After nine seasons and a total of 23 apps and 7 goals, Herbert Kilpin left AC Milan.

Supporters of the Rossoneri hailed Herbert Kilpin as ‘Il primo vero campione milanista’. The first true AC Milan champion. His image still adorns banners in the San Siro today.

AC Milan team 1907

Following the internal fighting, politics and power struggles at AC Milan, added with the pressure from the Italian FA over the banning of foreigners and the introduction of more Italian players being brought into the squad, the club was divided. At the Ristorante L’Orologio di Milano, on 9 March 1908 along with Herbert Kilpin, the British along with most other foreign nationals departed AC Milan. 

 

That same night a new football club was announced, they called it Internazionale Milano.

It was announced "This wonderful night bestows us with the colours of our crest: black and azure against a gilded backdrop of stars. It shall be called International, because we are brothers of the world." The newly formed Internazionale Milan was made up of a group of mainly Italian and Swiss nationals who wished to play football without any barriers.

AC Milan club president Alfred Ormond Edwards left the club in 1909, returning to Shropshire, England where died in April 1923, aged 72.

 

Due to its division and controversy, the Italian and Federal Championship system only lasted one season in Italy and was replaced by a regular Italian Championship in 1909. Internazionale Milan won their first title in 1910, winning the Italian Championship.

 

Following retirement, Herbert Kilpin still went to watch AC Milan, and would stand alone, watching the team he founded. Sadly Herbert Kilpin died on 22 October 1916 in Provincia di Milano, at the age of 46. It is said Kilpin’s fondness for whiskey and smoking probably contributed to his death.

 

During the centenary year for AC Mian in 1999, and after local historian Luigi La Rocca tracked down Kilpin's grave, the club paid for a new tombstone in the Monumental Graveyard. Kilpin was later inducted into the Famedio, the main building of the graveyard, where the tombs of the city's most illustrious personalities are laid to rest.

 

Following his death, La Gazzetta dello Sport paid tribute to Herbert Kilpin by saying “the pioneer of Italian foot-ball has died”.

Herbert Kilpin banner at the San Siro

Herbert Kilpin 24 January 1870 – 22 October 1916