By Stephen Byrne
The Fifa World Cup begins in Brazil on 12th June and we will be looking at Rovers’ connections with all participating countries.
Whilst the Italians have been a dominant force in European football for decades, there has until recently been surprisingly little crossover between clubs in Britain and that country. Prior to the arrival of Gianfranco Zola and friends, precious few Italians played professionally in England.
The only Italian-born player to have represented Rovers in League football was Michele di Piedi. The tall striker was born in the Sicilian city of Palermo in December 1980 and, as a teenager, scored three times for Syracusa in the Italian division C2 in 1997-98.
After a spell in Norway, he joined Rovers on a month's loan from Sheffield Wednesday in February 2003 and played in 3(+2) League games without scoring. Di Piedi was with the Italian side AS Sora in the 2003-04 season, before a second stint in England.
From 2007, though, he has played for FC Nuorese, Castrovillari, Sapri, Vigor Lamezia, Mazera, Milazzo and Nardó.
Guy Ipoua, born in Cameroon in 1976, had played for Torino for six months in 1993, as well as for French and Spanish clubs, prior to his arrival at Rovers in August 1998. He scored three goals in 15(+9) League games before his career took him north and south of the Scottish border as well as to the States.
Ipoua spent the 2005-06 season with Hereford United, where his goals have helped the Bulls regain their Football League status.
Bill Dodgin, who was born in 1909, was a wing-half who played in thirty League games for Rovers in the 1936-37 season and was the Rovers manager between November 1969 and July 1972. Between his time as Brentford manager and his return to Britain, he was coach to Sampdoria from May 1957 to February 1958. He died in 1999.
Four Italian-born players have opposed Rovers in League football. Lorenzo Pinamonte (Brentford, 2000-01), Rolando Ugolini (Middlesbrough, 1954-56), Raffaele de Vita (Swindon Town, 2011-12) and Gianluca Gracco (Dagenham and Redbridge, 2012-13) were all born in Italy.
To this list may be added Italians who have opposed Rovers in cup competitions, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Arturo Lupoli and Alessandro Pistone.
Ravanelli was in the Derby County side famously knocked out of the FA Cup by a Nathan Ellington hat-trick in January 2002. "The White Feather" scored County's consolation goal.
Ravanelli was born in Perugia in 1968 and played for Perugia, Avellino, Casertana, Reggiana, Juventus and Lazio as well as clubs in England and France. He won 21 full Italian caps, scoring nine goals. Argentinian Luciano Zavagno was in the Derby side in 2002 and later played for Pisa, Ancona and Torino.
The Watford side that knocked Rovers out of the League Cup in August 2013 contained four Italian-born players and seven who have played professionally in that country. Amongst this number were two full Italian internationals, Diego Fabbrini, the holder of one cap, and Marco Cassetti, who has five full caps.
Four full Italian internationals have opposed Rovers, all in cup competitions: Fabbrini, Ravanelli, Pistone and Cassetti.
Willy Garbutt, an Englishman who played in Arsenal's 1-0 FA Cup win against Rovers in February 1907, was coach at Genoa (1914-27), Roma from 1927 and Napoli between 1929 and 1935.
After hiding in Italy during World War Two, he returned to Genoa in 1946. Known as "Mister English", Garbutt was a charismatic tactical visionary and legendary pipe-smoker, who led Genoa to three championship titles, the most recent coming in 1924. Born in 1883, he died in 1964.
William Bainbridge Kelly, born in Newcastle in 1891, played for Newcastle United and Manchester City before representing Watford in their 1-0 Southern League wins home and away against Rovers in the 1910-11 season; he spent the 1914-15 season with SS Itala Firenze of Italy.
William John Aitken, born in Peterhead in 1894, represented Port Vale, Newcastle United and Preston North End; he played in both Norwich City's games against Rovers in the 1926-27 season and spent the 1929-30 season with Juventus before moving to French football. He died in 1973.
George Raynor, who played in both Aldershot’s League games against Rovers in 1938-39, was manager of Juventus in 1954 and of Lazio during the 1954-55 season.
Roy Hodgson, now the England manager, was assistant manager at Bristol City when they played Rovers in April 1982, and managed Inter Milan from October 1995 to May 1997 and from May to June 1999.
Charlie Bell (1894-1939) was manager of Bournemouth against Rovers, 1936-39, and manager of Padova in 1927-28.
Les Lievesley, born in Staveley in 1911, was a wing-half who played seven times for Torquay United against Rovers between 1933 and 1937 and in both Crystal Palace's fixtures against Rovers in 1937-38. He died in the Superga crash of May 1949, an air disaster that claimed the lives of many footballers and coaches.
Remo Besagni, an Italian who was born in Finsbury in April 1935 and died in May 2011, was briefly on Crystal Palace’s books and managed just two League appearances in his career; one of these was in May 1953, when Rovers lost 1-0 to Palace at Selhurst Park.
Likewise, Pietro Mingoia, who was in the Accrington Stanley side for both 2013-14 fixtures against Rovers, was British-born of Italian heritage.
Some 36 opponents of Rovers down the years in League action have furthered their footballing careers by appearing for Italian clubs.