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Art

Creative football

Under the shadow of the San Siro, in the only city to boast two European Cup-winning teams, we find a club in the lower reaches of Italian football who combine lofty ideals with high art

WORDS Sheridan Bird

It’s not unusual for a wonderful goal or an inch-perfect through ball to be couched in artistic terms. Luka Modrić’s outside-of-the-boot cross for Rodrygo against Chelsea last season, for example, could be compared to an inspired brushstroke by an old master; Mohammed Kudus’s recent missile into the top corner for Ajax at Anfield contained all the violent energy of a Jackson Pollock effort.  

But one collective of creatives in Milan go beyond glowing words: their actions literally combine football and art. At AS Velasca’s home matches, everything is designed by artists, be it the tickets, the kits, the captain’s armband the referee’s coin or the substitutions board. The only elements not to spring from an ingenious mind are the players and manager (although the president and founder Wolfgang Natlacen, 39, is an artist himself). 

Named after the famous Velasca Tower in the centre of Milan, the team play in the ninth division of Italian football. “I and four other founding members started from nothing in 2015,” says Natlacen. “We had the chance to buy the licence for an existing team but declined; we began at the bottom of the pyramid of Italian football. I’ve heard many different descriptions of what we are – a piece of conceptual art, a social sculpture – but to me AS Velasca is a work of art”. 

Home matches are played a mere 500 metres away from the legendary San Siro, home to AC Milan and Internazionale. And while Velasca might not be close to the ten European Cups that those clubs have won between them, they make up for it with a surfeit of passion. All collaborators, both on and off the pitch, offer their services for free; put simply, they do it for the love of football.

Tickets for every match are works of art for the Milanese club taking creativity on the pitch to new levels

One particular Saturday evening in September provides a perfect insight into the club, on the night they launch their new third shirts. The event doesn’t take place at a sports shop, bar or the stadium, but rather the studio of sculptor Nada Pivetta on a secluded street in northern Milan. Pivetta designed the tops, which pay homage to Italy’s 1982 World Cup victory and have deliciously chunky numbers. 

The majority of the squad – which boasts eight different nationalities, including an Argentine trequartista who is also a restaurant store manager – are in attendance. Some couldn’t make it for work or family reasons; it’s an amateur side, after all. Those who are there chat and relax amid the tools, installations and materials in Pivetta’s fascinating workshop (and each player is given a signed print when they receive their kit from the artist). There is plenty of prosecco, crisps and wraps, but Natlacen and his coaching staff remind the players not to overdo the fizz, conscious of having a game to play the next day. Art or no art, they are still athletes.  

Head coach Roberto Milani, a 47-year-old advertising seller, appreciates the creative direction of the club – but the pitch is his canvas. His philosophy mirrors his hero, who also happens to be the only man to have won four Champions Leagues from the dugout. “I choose the system that fits the players in my squad, not the other way round, like Carlo Ancelotti,” he says. “It’s no good insisting on a 3-5-2 if your players are better equipped for a 4-3-3. I love football, it’s my life at the weekend: my children play and I am boss of Velasca.” 

It should be clarified that Velasca is far from a pretentious initiative. “I wanted to bring art to a part of society that would not normally have the chance to get so close,” says Natlacen. “For many people that come to play for us or watch, we are their first experience of art. We have events at every home game; sometimes visual art, sometimes music. We have grown so much since 2015; we now have seven socios.” 

“I wanted to bring art to a part of society that would not normally have the chance to get so close”

One of the directors, Daniele Usuelli, is grandson and son to former Inter executives who worked with the Moratti family. The 41-year-old is an interior designer, but at home games he is in charge of the megaphone; his chants are a glorious mix of European football classics and light-hearted teasing of the opposition. At half-time you’ll find Natlacen selling (highly collectable) shirts from previous seasons for a very reasonable price, with all the proceeds going back into the club; Champions Journal bought the daisy-themed 2020/21 away top by South African artist Kendell Geers. Then, after the final whistle, the directors and coaching staff convene by Usuelli’s van for a meeting over a few bottles of beer.

There is only one rule at Velasca: “We don’t do things just because they are cool,” says Natlacen. “We do things that tell a story, describe a theme. We don’t do anything just to gain followers on Instagram or Twitter.” Nor do they chase celebrity fans; being a trendy, short-term distraction for VIPs is the last thing that Natlacen craves. He welcomes serious interest, however, which comes in the form of former Manchester United and Bordeaux striker David Bellion. The retired Frenchman, who scored in the 2004/05 Champions League, once described Velasca as an “extraordinary football club linked to art”, and noted that football takes “too few risks” in his native country.

Not only is the movement original, but it is also a dream for collectors. Tickets for each home game are limited-edition designs created by different illustrators; the shirts change every season and are reimagined by artists from around the globe. Natlacen goes to Paris regularly to work with apparel partners Le Coq Sportif; he is immensely proud that Velasca’s union with the French brand is the longest in Italian club history (it stretches to six seasons, overtaking previous associations with Inter and Fiorentina). 

The home and away shirts released this month reference the Greek myth of Icarus (the son with sun issues) and the jersey worn by Ajax in the 1973 European Cup final, which was also manufactured by Le Coq. The synergy between the Amsterdam pioneers and Velasca is clear in Natlacen’s mind: “They personified total football; AS Velasca represent total art.” Natlacen is a man of noble intentions. “We want more intimacy between the fans and players – more of a link between the players and directors too – and a continuing narrative. We want to recreate the football that you first fall in love with as a child.” 

It’s not unusual for a wonderful goal or an inch-perfect through ball to be couched in artistic terms. Luka Modrić’s outside-of-the-boot cross for Rodrygo against Chelsea last season, for example, could be compared to an inspired brushstroke by an old master; Mohammed Kudus’s recent missile into the top corner for Ajax at Anfield contained all the violent energy of a Jackson Pollock effort.  

But one collective of creatives in Milan go beyond glowing words: their actions literally combine football and art. At AS Velasca’s home matches, everything is designed by artists, be it the tickets, the kits, the captain’s armband the referee’s coin or the substitutions board. The only elements not to spring from an ingenious mind are the players and manager (although the president and founder Wolfgang Natlacen, 39, is an artist himself). 

Named after the famous Velasca Tower in the centre of Milan, the team play in the ninth division of Italian football. “I and four other founding members started from nothing in 2015,” says Natlacen. “We had the chance to buy the licence for an existing team but declined; we began at the bottom of the pyramid of Italian football. I’ve heard many different descriptions of what we are – a piece of conceptual art, a social sculpture – but to me AS Velasca is a work of art”. 

Home matches are played a mere 500 metres away from the legendary San Siro, home to AC Milan and Internazionale. And while Velasca might not be close to the ten European Cups that those clubs have won between them, they make up for it with a surfeit of passion. All collaborators, both on and off the pitch, offer their services for free; put simply, they do it for the love of football.

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Tickets for every match are works of art for the Milanese club taking creativity on the pitch to new levels

One particular Saturday evening in September provides a perfect insight into the club, on the night they launch their new third shirts. The event doesn’t take place at a sports shop, bar or the stadium, but rather the studio of sculptor Nada Pivetta on a secluded street in northern Milan. Pivetta designed the tops, which pay homage to Italy’s 1982 World Cup victory and have deliciously chunky numbers. 

The majority of the squad – which boasts eight different nationalities, including an Argentine trequartista who is also a restaurant store manager – are in attendance. Some couldn’t make it for work or family reasons; it’s an amateur side, after all. Those who are there chat and relax amid the tools, installations and materials in Pivetta’s fascinating workshop (and each player is given a signed print when they receive their kit from the artist). There is plenty of prosecco, crisps and wraps, but Natlacen and his coaching staff remind the players not to overdo the fizz, conscious of having a game to play the next day. Art or no art, they are still athletes.  

Head coach Roberto Milani, a 47-year-old advertising seller, appreciates the creative direction of the club – but the pitch is his canvas. His philosophy mirrors his hero, who also happens to be the only man to have won four Champions Leagues from the dugout. “I choose the system that fits the players in my squad, not the other way round, like Carlo Ancelotti,” he says. “It’s no good insisting on a 3-5-2 if your players are better equipped for a 4-3-3. I love football, it’s my life at the weekend: my children play and I am boss of Velasca.” 

It should be clarified that Velasca is far from a pretentious initiative. “I wanted to bring art to a part of society that would not normally have the chance to get so close,” says Natlacen. “For many people that come to play for us or watch, we are their first experience of art. We have events at every home game; sometimes visual art, sometimes music. We have grown so much since 2015; we now have seven socios.” 

“I wanted to bring art to a part of society that would not normally have the chance to get so close”

One of the directors, Daniele Usuelli, is grandson and son to former Inter executives who worked with the Moratti family. The 41-year-old is an interior designer, but at home games he is in charge of the megaphone; his chants are a glorious mix of European football classics and light-hearted teasing of the opposition. At half-time you’ll find Natlacen selling (highly collectable) shirts from previous seasons for a very reasonable price, with all the proceeds going back into the club; Champions Journal bought the daisy-themed 2020/21 away top by South African artist Kendell Geers. Then, after the final whistle, the directors and coaching staff convene by Usuelli’s van for a meeting over a few bottles of beer.

There is only one rule at Velasca: “We don’t do things just because they are cool,” says Natlacen. “We do things that tell a story, describe a theme. We don’t do anything just to gain followers on Instagram or Twitter.” Nor do they chase celebrity fans; being a trendy, short-term distraction for VIPs is the last thing that Natlacen craves. He welcomes serious interest, however, which comes in the form of former Manchester United and Bordeaux striker David Bellion. The retired Frenchman, who scored in the 2004/05 Champions League, once described Velasca as an “extraordinary football club linked to art”, and noted that football takes “too few risks” in his native country.

Not only is the movement original, but it is also a dream for collectors. Tickets for each home game are limited-edition designs created by different illustrators; the shirts change every season and are reimagined by artists from around the globe. Natlacen goes to Paris regularly to work with apparel partners Le Coq Sportif; he is immensely proud that Velasca’s union with the French brand is the longest in Italian club history (it stretches to six seasons, overtaking previous associations with Inter and Fiorentina). 

The home and away shirts released this month reference the Greek myth of Icarus (the son with sun issues) and the jersey worn by Ajax in the 1973 European Cup final, which was also manufactured by Le Coq. The synergy between the Amsterdam pioneers and Velasca is clear in Natlacen’s mind: “They personified total football; AS Velasca represent total art.” Natlacen is a man of noble intentions. “We want more intimacy between the fans and players – more of a link between the players and directors too – and a continuing narrative. We want to recreate the football that you first fall in love with as a child.” 

It’s not unusual for a wonderful goal or an inch-perfect through ball to be couched in artistic terms. Luka Modrić’s outside-of-the-boot cross for Rodrygo against Chelsea last season, for example, could be compared to an inspired brushstroke by an old master; Mohammed Kudus’s recent missile into the top corner for Ajax at Anfield contained all the violent energy of a Jackson Pollock effort.  

But one collective of creatives in Milan go beyond glowing words: their actions literally combine football and art. At AS Velasca’s home matches, everything is designed by artists, be it the tickets, the kits, the captain’s armband the referee’s coin or the substitutions board. The only elements not to spring from an ingenious mind are the players and manager (although the president and founder Wolfgang Natlacen, 39, is an artist himself). 

Named after the famous Velasca Tower in the centre of Milan, the team play in the ninth division of Italian football. “I and four other founding members started from nothing in 2015,” says Natlacen. “We had the chance to buy the licence for an existing team but declined; we began at the bottom of the pyramid of Italian football. I’ve heard many different descriptions of what we are – a piece of conceptual art, a social sculpture – but to me AS Velasca is a work of art”. 

Home matches are played a mere 500 metres away from the legendary San Siro, home to AC Milan and Internazionale. And while Velasca might not be close to the ten European Cups that those clubs have won between them, they make up for it with a surfeit of passion. All collaborators, both on and off the pitch, offer their services for free; put simply, they do it for the love of football.

Tickets for every match are works of art for the Milanese club taking creativity on the pitch to new levels

One particular Saturday evening in September provides a perfect insight into the club, on the night they launch their new third shirts. The event doesn’t take place at a sports shop, bar or the stadium, but rather the studio of sculptor Nada Pivetta on a secluded street in northern Milan. Pivetta designed the tops, which pay homage to Italy’s 1982 World Cup victory and have deliciously chunky numbers. 

The majority of the squad – which boasts eight different nationalities, including an Argentine trequartista who is also a restaurant store manager – are in attendance. Some couldn’t make it for work or family reasons; it’s an amateur side, after all. Those who are there chat and relax amid the tools, installations and materials in Pivetta’s fascinating workshop (and each player is given a signed print when they receive their kit from the artist). There is plenty of prosecco, crisps and wraps, but Natlacen and his coaching staff remind the players not to overdo the fizz, conscious of having a game to play the next day. Art or no art, they are still athletes.  

Head coach Roberto Milani, a 47-year-old advertising seller, appreciates the creative direction of the club – but the pitch is his canvas. His philosophy mirrors his hero, who also happens to be the only man to have won four Champions Leagues from the dugout. “I choose the system that fits the players in my squad, not the other way round, like Carlo Ancelotti,” he says. “It’s no good insisting on a 3-5-2 if your players are better equipped for a 4-3-3. I love football, it’s my life at the weekend: my children play and I am boss of Velasca.” 

It should be clarified that Velasca is far from a pretentious initiative. “I wanted to bring art to a part of society that would not normally have the chance to get so close,” says Natlacen. “For many people that come to play for us or watch, we are their first experience of art. We have events at every home game; sometimes visual art, sometimes music. We have grown so much since 2015; we now have seven socios.” 

“I wanted to bring art to a part of society that would not normally have the chance to get so close”

One of the directors, Daniele Usuelli, is grandson and son to former Inter executives who worked with the Moratti family. The 41-year-old is an interior designer, but at home games he is in charge of the megaphone; his chants are a glorious mix of European football classics and light-hearted teasing of the opposition. At half-time you’ll find Natlacen selling (highly collectable) shirts from previous seasons for a very reasonable price, with all the proceeds going back into the club; Champions Journal bought the daisy-themed 2020/21 away top by South African artist Kendell Geers. Then, after the final whistle, the directors and coaching staff convene by Usuelli’s van for a meeting over a few bottles of beer.

There is only one rule at Velasca: “We don’t do things just because they are cool,” says Natlacen. “We do things that tell a story, describe a theme. We don’t do anything just to gain followers on Instagram or Twitter.” Nor do they chase celebrity fans; being a trendy, short-term distraction for VIPs is the last thing that Natlacen craves. He welcomes serious interest, however, which comes in the form of former Manchester United and Bordeaux striker David Bellion. The retired Frenchman, who scored in the 2004/05 Champions League, once described Velasca as an “extraordinary football club linked to art”, and noted that football takes “too few risks” in his native country.

Not only is the movement original, but it is also a dream for collectors. Tickets for each home game are limited-edition designs created by different illustrators; the shirts change every season and are reimagined by artists from around the globe. Natlacen goes to Paris regularly to work with apparel partners Le Coq Sportif; he is immensely proud that Velasca’s union with the French brand is the longest in Italian club history (it stretches to six seasons, overtaking previous associations with Inter and Fiorentina). 

The home and away shirts released this month reference the Greek myth of Icarus (the son with sun issues) and the jersey worn by Ajax in the 1973 European Cup final, which was also manufactured by Le Coq. The synergy between the Amsterdam pioneers and Velasca is clear in Natlacen’s mind: “They personified total football; AS Velasca represent total art.” Natlacen is a man of noble intentions. “We want more intimacy between the fans and players – more of a link between the players and directors too – and a continuing narrative. We want to recreate the football that you first fall in love with as a child.” 

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