How Liam Brady sparked the bitter Juve-Viola rivalry — and forged lifelong friendship in the process

It's 40 years since Juventus and Fiorentina's Serie A title race went to the final day. Giovanni Galli still laments the Irishman's decisive say
How Liam Brady sparked the bitter Juve-Viola rivalry — and forged lifelong friendship in the process

On the spot: Liam Brady scores the penalty that won the Serie A title for Juventus in 1982.

As the Serie A season climaxes on Saturday, Fiorentina take on Juventus in the latest instalment in a fierce rivalry which has, at its heart, a title race from 40 years ago. Ireland legend Liam Brady had a major role in those events, and one man who witnessed it all is former Italian goalkeeper Giovanni Galli.

Galli was considered one of the world’s best keepers in his time and went on to win the Serie A title and two European Cups at AC Milan. While never managing to win a trophy with Fiorentina, he retains strong memories of the Scudetto that slipped away in 1982. 

The battle for the title went to the last day of the season, with Juventus away to Catanzaro and Fiorentina at Cagliari. The clubs were level on points and a play-off would be needed if it stayed that way.

“I remember it as a day of great expectations, with so many Fiorentina fans making the journey to Cagliari. We knew we had a more difficult game than Juventus because if Cagliari lost, they could be relegated. We had a goal disallowed for a foul on the keeper, which these days with VAR I’m not sure if that would have happened. At Catanzaro, the home side should have had a penalty in the first half, and then a penalty was awarded to Juventus, which was the correct decision.” 

That penalty for Juventus is where Liam Brady enters the story. The Ireland international had joined Juventus the previous season, after Italy reopened its doors to foreign players. 

“With clubs only allowed one foreigner, they went after the best," Galli recalls. Serie A at that time was the top league in Europe and everybody wanted to come to Italy. Liam truly was a world-class player.” 

A successful first season saw Brady finish as the club’s top scorer, and under Giovanni Trapattoni Juventus won the league. The 1981/82 season didn’t go quite as well, by Brady's own admission, but he did enough to keep Juventus on top for most of the season. His penalty had given them a narrow win over Inter and, with three games left to play, they were tied for top spot with Fiorentina. The days following that victory would bring Brady's world crashing down and leave his future uncertain.

From the following season clubs could sign an extra foreign player, and Juventus had already secured the signature of Polish star Zbigniew Boniek. Word spread that Michel Platini was also set to arrive, which would leave no place for Brady. When the club confirmed the news, Brady initially vowed never to play for them again. Once things settled however, he wasn’t about to let his teammates down.

Galli remembers Brady well. “Liam was always a great professional, at Juventus, and later with Sampdoria, Inter, and Ascoli," he said. "He had great technical ability and intelligence, not the quickest player but he could make the ball travel fast, he was one of the top players that arrived in our league in that period.” 

Fiorentina drew level again on the penultimate weekend after Juventus drew with Napoli. That game would be Brady's last home appearance for the club. The Juventus crowd bade a fond farewell, and visibly emotional, the Dubliner said the fans had been marvellous and he would never forget them. In the lead up to the final game, Brady was clearly still shocked by the club’s decision. By now fluent in Italian, he had settled into life in Turin, with his wife Sarah working at the local British school.

Even after that draw, he was still confident of success, whatever it might take: "Even if it goes to a play-off, we won’t let the title slip because we’re stronger than Fiorentina, who first need to overcome the away fixture with Cagliari who need a draw, the rest is up to us at Catanzaro."

Galli meanwhile would have been happy with an extra game to decide the winners. “We would have liked to have taken them on in a play-off," he said. "If Juventus had then shown they were stronger, it would have been fair that they won the league. To see it taken from under our noses like that, the bitter taste remains.” 

Talking to the Italian press prior to the last match, Brady admitted they’d be nervous at first but that would pass after five minutes.

“Maybe I’ll be more emotional than the others as it’s my last game for the club," he said. "The play-off? For the moment it doesn’t concern us, we need to worry about Catanzaro. I hope, however, to leave for Ireland with another Scudetto.” 

When the penalty was awarded, the Juventus players were unsure who would take it. Brady had been their regular penalty taker, but after the recent drama, he had told Trapattoni someone else should take over. That someone else, Pietro Paolo Virdis, had already been substituted, so Brady stepped up to take responsibility. He later admitted it wasn’t a great penalty, but the keeper went the wrong way, which was enough for Juventus to clinch the league title.

After the game, his teammates and manager would speak highly of his professionalism, but for Brady, he was just doing his job. With tears in his eyes, and clutching the match ball he had grabbed as a souvenir, he left with words of sadness, well wishes, and a threat. “I suddenly feel old and tired, and I ask myself, what did I do wrong? What more could I have done?" he said. "I won everything there was to win and can have no complaints. To Boniek and Platini, I wish them to win even more than me but only if I decide to leave Italy. If I stay, then Juventus will become my enemy and I will do all I can to get my revenge.” 

Sore point: The transfer of star striker Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina to Juventus added a fresh edge to the bitter rivalry between the sides. Pic: Alessandro Garofalo/LaPresse via AP
Sore point: The transfer of star striker Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina to Juventus added a fresh edge to the bitter rivalry between the sides. Pic: Alessandro Garofalo/LaPresse via AP

With the season over, many of his teammates, and Giovanni Galli, went off to win the World Cup in Spain. Brady left for Ireland’s disastrous South American tour and to decide his future. Despite plenty of offers to return to English football, he remained in Italy. His first league game for his new club Sampdoria, saw the newly promoted side beat the league champions.

For Juventus and Fiorentina, what followed was a rivalry which would only grow stronger over the years, from the transfer of Roberto Baggio, right up to the current season. To add even more of an edge to tonight’s clash, Fiorentina sold their top scorer, Dušan Vlahović in January to Juventus. For the fans, the meeting may evoke hatred and bitterness, but for Liam Brady and Giovanni Galli, their friendship is one which has grown stronger as time passes.

It was Brady who brought Giovanni’s son, Niccolò, to Arsenal, as a teenager, which saw the pair renew acquaintances. Niccolò went on loan to Bologna and made his Serie A debut at just 17 but was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2001.

Over the years, the former rivals have remained in contact. Next week marks the 20th anniversary of the charity which Giovanni founded after his son’s death. To mark it a golf event will take place in Florence, and Brady has accepted Giovanni’s invitation to attend.

As for tonight’s game, their former goalkeeper is quietly confident Fiorentina can get the result needed to guarantee them a return to European football, but admits it won’t be easy. 

“Fiorentina come into the match after a terrible defeat to Sampdoria, but this season they’ve always managed to recover for the games against the top clubs," he said. "Juventus have nothing to play for, but a game against Fiorentina won’t be taken lightly.” 

This game is all about the home side seeking a European qualification place, and a win would guarantee that. For the visitors, it will be the last Juventus match that some of the long-time core will be involved in, such as Giorgio Chiellini and Paulo Dybala. 

Leaving all that aside, this is Fiorentina versus Juventus, and it is never just another game. A lot of that is down to what happened 40 years ago, when Brady converted a decisive penalty, and Galli was left to rue what might have been.

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