What a birthday!
The Museum of Rugby Mud and Sweat in Artena celebrates its tenth anniversary with an exhibition that is unique in the world: an exhibition of the first All Blacks jersey from a game in Europe in 1905.
The jersey that came directly from the Palmerston North Museum (New Zealand) brought by the director of the museum Stephen Berg who inaugurated the exhibition and had to have a special permit from the New Zealand government to bring the jersey to Artena in Europe.
The jersey has a special meaning and was worn in the first tournament of the All Blacks in Europe.
It was 1905 and the New Zealand national team, which at that time was still called by the name 'The Originals', had travelled 40 days on a ship to reach Europe to play in the northern hemisphere.
The debut match had been in England with a selection of Devon and from the moment of their entry into the camp, everyone was amazed. In their black uniforms decorated with one silver fern, players began with the traditional Haka with which they launched their challenge and, yes, they presented as a compact group, with a single spirit.
The result of that match was 55 to 4 for the New Zealanders and that day their name changed to the All Blacks thanks to an article by John Buttery, a journalist of the Daily Mail. It is said that the original title was All Backs, dedicated to their positions in the field, but the printer edited the newspaper's print thought it was a mistake and that the journalist intended make a reference to the colour of the shirt.
From that moment onwards, the New Zealand team has universally been known worldwide as the 'All Blacks'.
The shirt that arrived at the Artena museum belonged to Jimmy Hunter, the shortest player of the team but still able to score 44 goals and with his teammates to win 35 meetings out of 36. Only Wales managed to win against the All Blacks.
This shirt was then purchased by the NZRM - New Zealand Rugby Museum of the All Blacks 15 years ago for 5,000 New Zealand dollars and has since become one of the legends of the nation. The museum is now the guardian of what is perhaps the oldest New Zealand tradition, the one about which the whole world knows and appreciates this country that is far from everyone and everything.
But the story of the arrival of this special All Blacks jersey in Artena starts a long time ago when Corrado Mattoccia, the director of the Artena museum that today is officially recognized by the Italian Rugby Federation, travelled to New Zealand to watch the matches and decided to go and visit the All Blacks museum in person.
With a friend of his, they drove for 14 hours to get to the museum and establish a direct contact and start a collaboration.
As a true collector, with over 1,800 jerseys and 15,000 objects from all over the world in the Artena museum, in the past 10 years Corrado has become one of the world's leading experts in counterfeiting of these products. The Artena collection has become a reference point to know the type of fabric, yarn, stitching that were used for the jerseys of each period and each country and Corrado is now called to verify the fakes.
His skill is such that he earned a letter of thanks from the All Blacks and this exhibition of 10 years of the museum is a thank you for what the museum is doing for this sport.
The exhibition of the Jersey of 1905
On the occasion of the exhibition some requests were made to the museum of Artena on the type of lights and microclimate that the hall had to use but this is not all.
The shirt is exhibited in the room dedicated to the All Blacks and to host it the architect Roberto Felici was called who created a true artistic installation.
The shirt is resting on a globe stylized like a stainless steel cage suspended in the sky, while on the floor was placed a large Cor-ten steel disc, that is covered by a patina (oxidation) that makes it look rusty.
The architect wanted to give different interpretations to his work: on the one hand the All Blacks as the centre of the world of rugby and the jersey placed at the center of this world.
This elegant world that preserves history is then reflected in the common world on earth, where all of us are – the place where there are the games that are played every day in various parts of the world, the sweat of children and adults, the cries of the fans and the beers of the third half.
Another key to understanding is that the world is suspended in space so also recalls the nearby Italian aerospace industry, Avio, which is one of the flagships of this territory. Here some parts of the Ariane are built, the European rocket that carries satellites into space.
'I enjoyed creating something that builds bridges between our countries. I am proud to have been called and for me this museum inside Palazzo Traietti in the historic centre of Artena is one of the best examples of urban regeneration. The historic centre of Artena has returned to flourish and to live", says Roberto Felici.
Now it is no longer unusual to hear foreign languages and have new visitors in the streets of the largest pedestrian centre in Europe, perhaps on the back of a donkey with which you can book visits to the ancient village from the museum.
The Artena Museum of Rugby
But how was this museum born and how does it manage to fill 600 square metres of a historic Artena building?
It all started 10 years ago in Corrado Mattoccia's garage: there is always a 'number one' in every collection. Corrado brought a jersey of Mirco Bergamasco to his son and decided to display it to his friends - particularly passionate friends who gradually become involved in the passion of Corrado and started to follow him in his 'follies'. They are the ones who made the first frames and they started to organize dinners to support the museum.
They have been seen every week and for years they put in their efforts in order to build their dream. Friday dinners have become an appointment for many and the rugby museum's 'third half' stand is practically present at every local event to raise funds for the museum.
A special mention goes to the chef Ubaldo Mattozzi who is also the carpenter who made almost all the furniture. By now he is so good that he has practically become a chef while he involves his wife in the evenings because between his work and the voluntary efforts for the museum he would not be able to see her. But everyone is served at the table: from Corrado to his sons and his wife Simona.
Without this commitment they would not have been able to move from a garage to the world's largest museum dedicated to rugby.
And today about a thousand people a month visit the museum and here have come to visit players from the national teams of New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, England and Wales.
Major newspapers like Repubblica or glossy magazines like Glamor dedicate inserts to them while on the radio they tell the story of Corrado Mattoccia and his dream.
But it does not end here, and while I'm at the museum he writes to the secretary of the mayor of Tokyo who has already reserved a stand at Toyota and one in Tokyo at the upcoming world rugby in 2019.
Let's celebrate with the whole group of friends of the museum, send him something to keep growing and bring more and more tourists to Artena, and if you have an old shirt of a rugby player you can send it. And if you once played, share your memories with this grand museum.
We will continue to participate in Friday dinners.