A Christmas Football Carol: the AC Milan v Christmas Stars saga

“Christmas brings out the best in people”. Perhaps, that was the main idea conceived at AC Milan headquarters in via Turati in early December 1992. Milan was at the time the home of one of greatest sides in European football. On the other hand, it hit the headlines as the epicentre of Tangentopoli, a huge bribery scandal involving prominent political parties. The image of Italy’s industrial capital city absolutely needed to be purified and AC Milan board decided to couple football and charity with a friendly match between the Rossoneri and a team made up of foreign crackerjacks. For the game was supposed to be held in late December, this special team would bear a particularly appropriate name – Christmas Stars.

The population of Somalia would benefit from the gate receipts of the odd friendly match. A dramatic civil war was still taking place in this corner of Africa, due to the succession to Siad Barre, the man who had taken the power thanks to a coup d’etat in 1969. The instability of the situation required an external intervention by the United Nations through the two UNOSOM operations, with a number of Italian soldiers participating in one of them.

It was in those days that Christmas Stars played AC Milan at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on 30 December. The game was mainly conceived for families, as tickets for children and women were available at very low prices. Although the match was live broadcasted on Italia Uno, one of the private television channels owned by AC Milan chairman Silvio Berlusconi, many football fans decided to come and the stadium was almost packed. Final gate receipts of 282m of Italian lire were collected, so that AC Milan could send more than 100 tons of foodstuffs to the children in the village of Baidoa.

Coached by Swedish master Nils Liedholm, Christmas Stars borrowed the greatest foreign footballers from AC Milan for the first half only, but the Rossoneri eventually won 4-2. French international Jean-Pierre Papin superbly finished a manoeuvre orchestrated by talented Dejan Savicevic and gave Christmas Stars the lead before half time. The real gap between the two opponents finally emerged, though. AC Milan soon shifted the score in their favour thanks to a dazzling 25-metre drive by midfielder Alberigo Evani and a goal by striker Daniele Massaro. Parma deep-lying forward Sergio Berti temporarily equalised, but Massaro struck again, subsequently emulated by Aldo Serena. The victory enabled AC Milan to end with a good result a year marked by joy and triumphs.

In the last quarter-of-hour of the game, manager Fabio Capello gave a chance to promising goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, son of former AC Milan legend Fabio. Foreigners of the Italian league such as Claudio Branco, Antonio Careca, Gheorghe Hagi and Claudio Taffarell formed a consistent part of the Christmas Stars team, where also a then young and unknown Brazilian striker Giovane Elber, at the time a player in the Rossoneri academy. All the footballers who took part into the game were reimbursed by Motta, the ice cream company that sponsored the event, which gave them a Cartier watch or a television set.

Milan, 30 December 1992


MILAN: S. Rossi (74′ C. Cudicini), Tassotti, Gambaro, De Napoli, Nava, Baresi II, Lentini I (64′ Serena), Donadoni, Simone (46′ Albertini), Evani, Massaro. Manager: Fabio Capello

CHRISTMAS STARS: Taffarel (46′ Casanova), Sivebaek (80′ Dubovski), Blanc (80′ Panadic), Boban (46′ Ginola, 74′ Rosenthal), Glonek (46′ Germain), Sabau (46′ Sforza, 74′ Berti), Savicevic (46′ Hagi), Rijkaard (46′ Sammer), Papin (57′ Elber, 74′ Oliveira), Gullit (46′ Detari), Careca (46′ Suker, 74′ Raducioiu). Manager: Nils Liedholm.

REFEREE: Trentalange

GOALS: 7 Papin, 50 Evani, 61, 85 Massaro, 79 Berti, 90 Serena

NOTES: attendance 40.339, gate receipts L. 282.782.000.

The idea turned out to be a successful one, as Milan families filled the stands of San Siro and helped the Somali population. Not surprisingly, Motta opted for a re-match between AC Milan and Christmas Stars to be played at Stadio Meazza on 29 December 1993 as a single-game final of the Premio Bontà trophy. The receipts would be destined to fundraising event Telethon and ticket prices remained low.

Once again, about 282m of Italian lire were gained and families enjoyed a 5-3 victory by the Rossoneri.

9-Tw-1993-13Despite being a friendly match, the game was significant for several reasons. It was the first match Gianluigi Lentini played as he recovered from a tremendous car accident which definitely conditioned his professional career. On a second note, it was also the time when Brigate rossonere, one of AC Milan’s most ardent groups of fans, booed Christmas Stars captain Ruud Gullit as he had moved to Sampdoria.

Savicevic scored the opener 15 minutes in the first half, but Mexican striker Hugo Sanchez immediately levelled. Savicevic proved to be the undisputable hero of the match, though, as he scored a brace and successfully fed midfielder Angelo Carbone for the second goal. Shortly before half time Papin drilled in, becoming the first player to score in a AC-Milan-v-Christmas-Stars series for both teams.

As the outcome was somehow already outlined, the second half coincided with 45 minutes of pure amusement. Belgian-naturalised Luis Oliveira netted for Christmas Stars, Alessandro Orlando led again AC Milan to a three-goal advantage and Morocco international Rachid Daoudi converted a penalty kick in the dying minutes. The game gave a juicy sample of the World Cup about to be staged a few months later in the United States. Christmas Stars featured Mexico’s flamboyant goalie Jorge Campos, Roumanian winger Ilie Dumitrescu, Swedish forward Thomas Brolin and Greek striker Nichos Machlas.

Milan, 29 December 1993


MILAN: S. Rossi (46′ Ielpo), Tassotti (73′ Sadotti), Al. Orlando, De Napoli, Nava, F. Galli, Lentini I, Desailly (46′ Panucci, 56′ Costacurta), Papin (46′ Massaro), Savicevic (66′ D’Aversa), Carbone. Manager: Fabio Capello

CHRISTMAS STARS: Campos (46′ Wilfred), Martinsen (46′ Rimba), Chamot (46′ Sabau), Gullit (35′ Sforza, 61′ Kalusha Bwalya), Sensini (46′ Lasas), Onopko (35′ Shin Hong Gi, 61′ El Khalej Tahar), Laudrup (61′ Daoudi), Dumitrescu (46′ Makanaki, 82′ Rapaijc), Sanchez (46′ Machals, 82′ Vlaovic), Rincon (46′ Brolin), Miura (50′ Oliveira, 78′ Stanic). Manager: Francisco Maturana.

REFEREE: Treossi

GOALS: 15, 34 Savicevic, 17 Sanchez, 27 Carbone, 41 Papin, 68 Oliveira, 70 Al. Orlando, 82 Daoudi (pk).

NOTES: attendance 42.569, gate receipts L. 281.533.000.

In the following year, Christmas Stars played even two matches for charity purposes, as a company named Sports Events took over the organisation of the friendlies. The special team was meant to play Roma at Stadio Olimpico on 28 December 1994 and, for the third year in a row, AC Milan at San Siro a couple of days later.

The atmosphere in the capital city was quite aloof, despite the plea by Paulo Roberto Falcao, the Brazilian holding midfielder who won a Scudetto with Roma in 1983 and coached Christmas Stars on that day. Just 25,000 people showed up at the stadium, this yielding 80m of Italian lire to be devolved to the city of Alessandria, struck by a dramatic flood, for the purchase of new school buses.

Before the RAI videocameras, Roma overcame their opponents 2-1. Following a series of goal chances, they eventually took the lead with a 20-metre shot by winger Francesco Moriero and briskly added a second courtesy of midfielder Francesco Statuto. Only late in the second half Croatian striker Goran Vlaovic scored for the Christmas Stars, who also fielded Kazu Miura, the first ever Japanese to play in the Serie A.

Rome, 28 December 1994


ROMA: Cervone, Annoni (46′ Colonnese), Benedetti, Statuto (46′ Piacentini), Petruzzi, Carboni (68′ Borsa), Moriero (46′ Maini), Thern, Cappioli, Giannini, Totti. All. Mazzone.
CHRISTMAS STARS 1st HALF: Ladic, Zeman, Balboa, Jovanovski, Štimac, Cruz, Oliveira, Ramos, Papin, Hong Myung Bo, Miura. 2nd HALF: Eriksson, Zeman, Balboa, Berger, Li Bing, Cruz, Kenneth Andersson, Dely Valdés, Harazi, Machlas, Vlaović. All. Falcão.
REFEREE: De Santis di Tivoli.
GOALS: 32 Moriero, 35 Statuto, 89 Vlaović. Attendance 25.120.

Two days later the game was staged at San Siro for the third consecutive friendly match against AC Milan. The event was promoted by car giant Opel, new official sponsor of the Rossoneri, and the income of gate receipts (180m of Italian lire) would eventually be allocated to Unicef. Liedholm curiously replaced his pupil Falcao on the Christmas Stars bench and called up the likes of Hristo Stoichkov, who had just won the Golden Ball, Hong Myung Bo, Tab Ramos and Marcelo Balboa to name but a few.

The Rossoneri, who worn an unusual yellow kit, ensured a one-goal lead at half time thanks to Croatian talent Zvonimir Boban. Back from the changing room, the match became definitely more lively and entertaining. Christmas Stars, who displayed a sky blue jersey sponsored by Italian-State-owned railway company Ferrovie dello Stato, found the equaliser as Ramos beat second goalie Mario Ielpo and even overturned the result with a goal by future Golden Foot winner Nikos Machlas. A superb scissor kick by young Paolo Di Canio seemed to save AC Milan from their first loss in the series of friendlies against Christmas Stars, but their hopes vanished in injury time. An inspired Machlas had the chance to celebrate the brace and his effort was slighlty deflected by Gianluca Sordo just into the net.

As it happens in many natal stories, the Christmas Stars saga had its happy ending. The last-gasp victory in Milan coincided with the last ever match played by them. Since then, Christmas Stars have always shone on tree tops and decorations. Not any longer on a football pitch.

Milan, 30 December 1994


AC MILAN: Rossi (46′ Ielpo), Panucci (70′ Coco), Maldini (54′ Tassotti), Boban (46′ Albertini), Costacurta (46′ Nava), Baresi (31′ Galli), Lentini, Stroppa (46′ Eranio), Melli (46′ Sordo), M. Orlando, Di Canio. Manager: Capello.
CHRISTMAS STARS 1st HALF: Tacconi, Arteaga, Kinder, Štimac, Kalitzakis, Balboa, Lardín, Stoičkov, Hélder, Asanović, Witschge. 2nd HALF: Ladic, Kinder, Hong Myung Bo, Kalitzakis, Zeman, Berger, Lupu, Ramos, Asanović, Li Bing, Machlas. Manager: Nils Liedholm.
REFEREE: Beschin di Legnago.
GOALS: 38 Boban, 70 Ramos, 73, 90+2 Machlas, 83 Di Canio.

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