That poison lemon

Benito Lorenzi SCROLL TO READ STORIA N.1 / 110

The 1957-58 campaign wasn’t particularly significant for football in Milan. They were the years of Sivori and Boniperti and in 1958 Juventus were the champions of Italy after a long season with Napoli chasing at their heels. For Inter and Milan in mid-table, it wasn’t a year with any particularly strong emotions but it was already time for the derby in the fifth fixture of the season, which included a fiery atmosphere and a heated match.

Walking with the lemon in my hand, I saw that Cucchiaroni was stopped looking at the referee to his right and I instinctively took the lemon and put in under the ball.

The game itself wasn’t spectacular. It seemed to be a calm afternoon but at the start of the second half the referee Concetto Lo Bello awarded a contested penalty kick to Inter for a foul on Lorenzi who was already known as ‘Veleno’ for some of his misdeeds on and off the pitch during his last and memorable season with the Nerazzurri. With the lead, the Nerazzurri looked to defend but three minutes later contact between Pepe Schiaffino and Giorgio Bernardin in the box convinced Lo Bello to award a second penalty of the match, for Milan this time. While his teammates on the pitch surrounded the referee to ask for an explanation, ‘Veleno’ took the time to recoup his energy and half a lemon was thrown to him from the bench along with a bottle of water. The crazy idea was born there. While his teammates continued to protest, Lorenzi made the most of the disarray and he placed that half a lemon under the ball which had already been put down on the spot.

The Milan fans, Mother of God! They were shouting "the lemon, the lemon" and the ball missed the target by six metres. The match finished and we won 1-0. I flew off quickly because lots of the fans wanted to jump onto the pitch and I got to the changing rooms straight away.

Tempers were cooled and Cucchiaroni took the responsibility of taking the penalty, not noticing the yellow half-sphere below the ball. Noise rumbled from the crowd, someone shouted out “Tito, watch out for the lemon!” but Cucchiaroni was focused as he didn’t look or listen. He ran up to take his kick but the lemon made its impact and the ball finished in the stands, flying high over the bar after an unintentional chip shot.

Veleno stayed cool, he ran to celebrate and hug his teammates along with the goalkeeper Ghezzi and during the celebrations he kicked away the skin to destroy the evidence. Lo Bello didn’t realise and Inter won the derby but the ferocious protests of the Milan players, coach and directors started up immediately. Lorenzi snuck away with his head down walking quickly but in the tunnel, the showdown arrived close to the changing rooms. Grillo and Cucchiaroni arrived and a brawl broke out with punches and kicks flying relentlessly through the air. A practising catholic, Lorenzi would later speak out. “I confessed it all. I said ‘I did something that was wrong’ and the priest confessed to me that he was an Interista and that made me laugh.”

Benito Lorenzi

Benito Lorenzi arrived at Inter in 1947 for 12 million Lire from Empoli. For the Nerazzurri, he scored 138 goals in just over 300 appearances. A true idol of the fans, he was an unpredictable figure on the pitch and a devoted man off it, he also made 14 Italy appearances. The nickname ‘Veleno’ didn’t come from football but he received it as a child from his mother Ida for his liveliness.