Throughout history, Roma have seen dozens of hometown players come through the ranks. Many, like Francesco Totti or Giuseppe Giannini, go on to fulfill their potential.
Others have the chance taken away from them, for various reasons – whether that being the club forced to sell them, as happened with Alberto Aquilani, or a more tragic end like that which met Mario Forlivesi 75 years ago today.
A son of Rome, Forlivesi was born in Italy’s capital on 5th February 1927, a matter of months before the merger of Roman FC, Alba-Audace and Fortitudo led to the formation of AS Roma.
Forlivesi was born north of the River Tiber, on Via Flaminia, just a seven-minute drive from the club’s current home, Stadio Olimpico. During his playing days, though, the club were based at Stadio Nazionale del PNF – on the other side of the Tiber, but still particularly close to his birthplace.
While the chronology suggests a deep connection to the club, his father, Remo Forlivesi, had actually represented Lazio as a reserve goalkeeper, before the outbreak of the First World War. For Mario, though, there would only be one club – Roma.
Mario Forlivesi era un ragazzo di 18 anni, la promessa più luminosa della Roma e dell’Italia. Otto gol in sette partite.— Mattia Zucchiatti (@Mzucchiatti95) February 5, 2020
Ma Mario non riuscirà ad avere più di 18 anni. Il suo viso resterà sempre quello di un ragazzo. Un male lo strapperà alla vita e alla Roma. pic.twitter.com/jpCHaPBjpZ
Following the merger of the three clubs into one, the individual academy systems were kept separate, as a breeding ground for talent for the unified first team. It was through the ranks of Fortitudo where Forlivesi would learn his trade as a teenager, soon developing an eye for goal.
In 1943, Roma took the decision to integrate him into their first team. It has been suggested that it may have been at the advice of the club’s first ever captain, Attilio Ferraris, who retained a good relationship with Guido Masetti, his old goalkeeper teammate and Roma coach of the time – first at youth level, then for the senior team.
Following the departures of key players such as Miguel Angel Panto, Renato Cappellini and Aldo Donati, fresh legs were needed for the inaugural Campionato Romano di Guerra (Roman War Championship). Just 16 years old at the start of the season, Forlivesi represented the next generation.
After impressing in the youth ranks – he had scored a brace on his debut for the juniors – Forlivesi was given a chance when Amedeo Amadei was suspended for an away match on 15th January 1944 at Avia. And his impressive form continued to senior level, as he scored on his first appearance.
The 80th-minute opener helped Roma on their way to a 2-0 win. It was a goal which set things in motion for the weeks ahead. Soon, he would be the talk of the town.
In his very next appearance, Forlivesi scored a four-minute brace in a 5-2 home win over Alba Roma. And he made it three games in a row with at least a goal when, on 20th February, he followed up Ermes Borsetti’s opener in another 2-0 away win, this time at Vigili Del Fuoco Roma (the city’s team of firefighters).
Forlivesi’s potential was soon obvious. Hailed for his instinct, dribbling, shooting and agility, the only thing lacking was physicality – a completely understandable critique for someone so young playing in a senior championship.
The 17-year-old’s positive aspects were outweighing the negatives, though, with Forlivesi continuing to go beyond and work hard for his teammates, as well as demonstrating good decision-making. That instinct would serve him well when he reached another landmark in his promising career.
On 26th March came Forlivesi’s first and only hat-trick. In front of around 4,000 fans at Stadio della Rondinella, a venue once used by Roma when Forlivesi was just two years old, he opened the scoring against Trastevere. After further goals from Enzo Cozzolini, Borsetti and Naim Krieziu, Forlivesi grabbed the last goal of the first half to put Roma 5-1 up at the break.
The 17-year-old went on to complete his hat-trick with the last goal of the second half as well, after Cozzolini had added a sixth. That 7-1 win was Roma’s second biggest of the competition, after captain Amadei had netted five in an 8-1 triumph over Elettronica back on Boxing Day.
Roma had gone into the match with a team viewed by some as too youthful, but Forlivesi’s treble showed that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. And he was looking like the full package.
Forlivesi was by no means a first team regular yet, though, with the likes of Amadei and Krieziu clearly more established. The youngster only had chance for one more goal that season, opening the scoring in a 1-1 April draw at MATER.
It was not a great day for Roma, as it saw Lazio overtake them into first place. With just four games remaining thereafter – none of which Forlivesi featured in, due to Amadei’s return from suspension – Roma would not recover in time. Fortunately, the Giallorossi won the four-team tournament that followed, beating Tirrenia in the final.
Forlivesi had already suffered at the hands of Roma’s rivals in the youth ranks that season, for whom he continued to juggle action. Identified by the opponents as Roma’s most dangerous player in the last game of the youth season, Forlivesi was marked out of the game, battered and bruised. It was the only way to stop him.
Things ended on a more positive note for the senior team the next season, as the Second World War approached its conclusion. Roma won the second Campionato Romano di Guerra, but not before they had tragically lost Forlivesi.
Just under two months since his 18th birthday, with the world at his feet, Forlivesi was taken down by a sudden bout of meningitis. He passed away on 29th March, 1945.
It was the second tragedy to strike the family in a matter of months. Mario’s father, Remo, had died from a fall at the age of 56 in June 1944.
Forlivesi had been ill with bronchitis shortly before his final appearance for Roma, a goalscoring cameo in a 2-0 win over Trastevere on 11th March 1945, once again taking advantage of Amadei’s absence.
Appearances that season had been limited, but he continued to develop in the youth ranks, and his physicality – the only criticism leveraged against him to that point – had improved.
His physical health, though, was not in peak condition, and there were concerns about his wellbeing when the bronchitis struck. It has been suggested that the meningitis that would kill him a couple of weeks later was already in his system at that point.
Forlivesi’s cousin, Vilma Forlivesi, was one of the first to be concerned about him. Younger than her relative, not to mention the fact that he was an athlete, she grew curious when she found him so out of breath after beating him in a race.
Vilma’s sister, Luciana, wanted to help ease Mario’s condition by preparing one of his favourite dishes, but by the time she returned to his room, her cousin had passed away.
It was a tough blow for the family, and the fans of the club he had been making great strides for. He had been so healthy before that the news came as a shock.
The city came together to mourn the tragedy, with Roma and Lazio standing together at the funeral in a rare, yet touching act of unity. He was laid to rest at the Verano Cemetery, in the Bassopiano Pincetto section – very close to where Ferraris, the first man to notice his potential, would be buried three years later after his own untimely demise at the age of 43.
Youth sports teams were also in attendance, including Fortitudo, where Forlivesi’s journey had begun – only to be curtailed long before its potential could be fulfilled.
Who knows what Forlivesi could have achieved had his life not been cut so short? With eight goals in seven games for Roma, he is the only player in the club’s history to have a goals-to-games ratio greater than one.
Admittedly, the quality of football in the Campionato Romano di Guerra was notably lower than that in the nation-wide Serie A. However, you can only score against what’s in front of you, and Forlivesi was certainly able to do that.
Amadei left Roma in 1948, emerging from the War as captain before passing the baton on to Sergio Andreoli. But had things continued on their previous trajectory, perhaps it could have been Forlivesi who became the flag-bearer leading Roma into a bright new era.
The youngster could have been the new hope for Roma following Amadei’s departure, in the same way that Totti picked up the baton from Giannini in the 1990s. Alas, it was not to be.
Over the years, Forlivesi’s name may have slipped from the memories of the footballing world. But Roma fans have a way of remembering their heroes. Whether that be Giuliano Taccola, another striker who died young while playing for the club in 1969, or Agostino Di Bartolomei, the captain of the early 1980s who lost his life 10 years after leaving the Giallorossi – Rome’s sons will not be forgotten.
And neither should Mario Forlivesi.