It was the summer of 1964, almost five full decades ago, but John D'Agostino remembers it like yesterday. The Sudbury Italia Flyers men's soccer team had already captured the Ontario championship, beating Windsor in two straight, before eliminating the Halifax Holland Schooners 2-0 in the Eastern Canadian semi-finals.
Playing the final in Montreal, the Flyers were in tough, facing the Montreal St Paul Rovers. "It was near the end of the first half," recalled D'Agostino. "Eddy Palladino scored, but the goalie challenged and broke his leg. Our players were upset and riding the referee."
Montreal would come back to score a pair, up 2-1 against a ten-man team with time winding down. But Ferrucio Deni would capitalize on a corner kick from D'Agostino, sending the contest to overtime.
Some eighty minutes later, with Sudbury down to just nine players after one more ejection, the game ended in a 2-2 draw. "In those days, there was no shootout," said D'Agostino. "We had to replay the game, and our management told them we play in Sudbury, or we don't play at all."
A 4-0 win in Sudbury would propel the Flyers to the Canadian championships in Vancouver, and though the team fell short, saddled with a 4-0 loss against a very powerful west coast side, the accomplishment would rest as the finest soccer result of any local team.
Come May 28th at the Caruso Club, players, families, fans and friends will get a chance to relive some of the memories as a gala evening celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Italia Flyers.
Thanks to the efforts of the late Eddy Palladino, the festivities will include more than just the blurried flashbacks of fifty years ago. "Most of the final game from Vancouver is on film," stated D'Agostino. "Highlights of the trip from Sudbury to Vancouver, and clips from the Eastern Canada final."
"It was all done by Eddy Palladino." And it was all done on 8mm film, only recently transferred over to CD format. For the members of the team who are still around and able to attend, the gala will bring back a special time indeed.
With a core of talent that was building chemistry, D'Agostino insists the 1963 version of the team might even have been stronger, thanks in large part to the level of local competition. "In 1963, we had a powerhouse," said D'Agostino.
"Not only the Italia Flyers, but in Sudbury in general. The teams were very competitive." Swept aside of the Northern Ontario championship due to a protest, the Flyers were back with a vengeance a year later, adding Alfred Sieber from Olympia to an already strong lineup.
Soccer, in Sudbury, was enjoying the height of its popularity. "There were stands on both sides of Queen's Athletic Field," recalled D'Agostino of the rematch with Montreal. "They were full, plus people standing all around the field. There must have been 2500 people easy."
"The atmosphere was electric." Despite the absence of their captain (Palladino), the Flyers made short work of the Montreal side. Vancouver, however, was not nearly as hospitable.
"They were much better than us," acknowledged D'Agostino. "But we played on a terrible field, all sand. It was like a bull ring. But the fact is that they were better."
For the current generation of local soccer talent, the build-up to this team is difficult to comprehend. Organized youth soccer leagues, either in Canada or in Europe, where much of these future stars developped, was non-existent.
"This is after the war," said D'Agostino. "There were no methods of going from town to town to play. I had no coach in Italy. I learned all the basics on the streets," he continued. "A pickup game was always on, and the older kids watched over the younger kids. That's where I learned to play."
His story is mirrored by the vast majority of those who went on to form the base of the Sudbury soccer community through the 1960's and early 1970's. The beautiful game was part and parcel of their everyday life.
"Look at Mario Zuliani," said D'Agostino. "He's a bricklayer, working nine, ten hours a day. He never missed a practice. They played because they loved the game."
And it's a passion that is sure to be rekindled come month end at the Caruso Club. Tickets are on sale for $40/person and can be obtained from either the Caruso Club, or any local member of the team.
The 1964 Italia Flyers included: Bruno Candusso, Valerio Cecco, Tony Cirillo, John Dagostino, Ferrucio Deni, Vittorio Fabbro, Giorgio Momoli, Eddy Palladino, Dario Petovello, Manuel Rocha, Alfred Sieber, Giuliano Taglialegne, Gabriele Tomassoni, Enzo Zuliani, Mario Zuliani, Enrico Trevisiol (coach), Carmine Santoro (manager), Luigi Deluisa (trainer), Mario Morassut (trainer), Ugo Crozzoli (president), Tino Cerri (vice-president), Dr Ricardo de la Riva (team doctor) and Lino Corradini (director).