Italian Soccer, Anyone?

Juventus plays at Allianz Arena in Turin, Italy
Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

Italian football—what we call “soccer” here in the states—seems to be such an integral part of Italian life that I’ve made attempts to understand this world on and off for many years. In the last few months, as the 2016–2017 soccer season has come to a close, I’ve been posting trivia questions about Italian football for the Conversational Italian! Facebook group.

We’ve had lots of fun talking about the most famous and one of the oldest Italian soccer teams—Juventus, from Turin, Italy. We also have at least one Roma fan in the group! I’m hoping to hear from many more soccer club fans as the news continues to unfold when the new season starts in August of this year. 

Because our recent discussion has centered on Juventus, here are a few fun facts about this team:

Juventus was founded in 1897 by a group of male students from an elite school in the city of Turin, the Liceo Classico Massimo d’Azeglio. The Latin word for “youth” is “iuvenis,” and is where the name of this team comes from. For years, I wondered why the letter J starts the name of this famous Italian team when “J” doesn’t exist in the Italian language. It turns out that the name was translated from Latin into the dialect spoken in the Piedmont region of northern Italy at the time, which does use the letter J.

Over the years, the team has been called by many nicknames. Perhaps the most famous is “Vecchia Signora,” which means “Old Lady” in Italian. I’ve heard many explanations for this, but the most plausible seems to be that it is a reference to the history and greatness of the team—the team is like royalty over in Italy, and “signora” means “Mrs.” and “royal lady.” Of course, this name can also be taken ironically because the team includes young men.

Juventus, the most successful Italian soccer team of all time, plays in the top Italian football league, which is the Serie A League. The winner of this league is awarded the Scudetto (“little shield” or “coat of arms” of the Italian tricolors worn on the uniform the next season) and the title Campioni d’Italia (Champions of Italy), along with a trophy called the Coppa Campioni d’Italia. In the 2016–2017 season, Juventus made history with their sixth consecutive Scudetto. They went on to play in the European Champions Cup but did not win a European title this past season.

For a summary of the 2016–2017 Serie A soccer season and the players who made it all happen, see the Football Italia website.

Serie A games will start up again on August 20. A week-by-week schedule of games to be played is also found on the Football Italia website.

Below is a short list of some important Italian words to know if you want to start following Italian soccer.  

How many more nicknames for the different Italian soccer teams do you know? Please reply. I’d love to hear! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

If you need a travel companion to Italy, remember my Conversational Italian for Travelers pocket phrase book, “Just the Important Phrases,” on and Learn Travel

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel


Soccer players at Allianz Stadium
Juventus soccer players at Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy

Calcio = Soccer or Italian Football

la palla soccer ball
il pallone soccer ball
la rete net used for the goal
l’allenatore coach
il giocatore soccer/football player
il calciatore soccer/football player
il portiere goal keeper/goalie
l’arbitro referee/umpire
la gara competition
fallo di mano foul for using one’s hands
fallo di reazione retaliatory foul
fallo da ultimo uomo last man foul
fallo a gamba tesa studs-up tackle
la scorrettezza foul play/rudeness
scorretto(a) improper/rude
l’insulto insult
il cartellino giallo yellow “caution” card is given for improper play, hand foul, or unsportsmanlike or rude behavior
l’espulsione expulsion from a soccer game occurs if a player receives two yellow cards
il cartellino rosso red “expulsion” card occurs for a serious foul using violence, a retaliatory foul, a last man foul, insults, or when two yellow cards have been received