“I know, I will give these fake footballers names corresponding to key figures in the history of an illustrious European car manufacturer,” said nobody ever. Or maybe they did, because I think I may have stumbled across the most obscure, bizarre and downright pointless video game Easter Egg there is.
The scene, if it did happen, might have gone something like this. The game is about to go to press. All the players have been included, their names changed slightly as the developer doesn’t own the rights. Bekam. Ronnaldo. Shefshenko (it’s 1999). All that needs to be inputted are some names for the rubbish made-up footballers you get at the start of dream team mode, the ones you chop in for real players as soon as you get prize money.
“Don’t spend too long on it,” I imagine the team leader saying to the programmer/researcher/work experience kid in a semi-dark and near-empty office at 7pm on a Friday night. “Folk will use these players for all of ten minutes and then forget about them forever after.”
“O-kay,” the workie responds, hamming up the weariness in his voice to shoo everyone away.
The office clears. The lackey fishes a paperback out his rucksack, and swings his plan into action.
This is more than likely not what happened, but the end result is the same. Someone appears to have inserted, into a major computer game, a fake team where more than half the players are named after important people from the history of Alfa Romeo. Before I run through the team, though, allow me to explain how I came to discover this. Just so that you don’t think I’m completely crackers.
Pro Evolution Soccer – Pro Evo for short, PES for even shorter – is a long-running and well-known series of football games for consoles like PlayStation and XBox. The very first in the series, ISS Pro Evolution, came out in the late 1990s as a successor to the ISS Pro series. A particularly popular feature in these games is the Master League mode, in which you build a team from scratch and put them up against the world’s best. It’s fantasy football taken to the max, where Messi and Ronaldo play on the same team, Radamel Falcao scores goals and Arsenal win trophies. When you start out, though, you start from zero with a group of below-average made-up footballers that you trade in once you’ve scraped a few draws or wins. These made-up players are hopeless, and nearly everyone gets rid of them at the earliest opportunity.
I bought ISS Pro Evolution some time around 2001, and at the same time was reading a biography of Enzo Ferrari. I remember at the time being slightly amused to note that a few of the names from Ferrari’s formative years – Merosi, Jano, Farina – matched up to the names of the default players in my Master League team. Thinking this was either an entertaining coincidence or a little in-joke, I appreciated the reference, signed William Gallas, Willy Sagnol and Antti Niemi in their place, and forgot about the whole thing for the next fourteen years.
Hruska. Doing research for another post that will appear soon, I skimmed over the surname Hruska, skidded my eyes to a halt six words later, and reversed back up the line. For as well as being the designer of a rival to the car I’m currently writing about, Hruska was also a tough-tackling fake defender in ISS Pro Evolution that was ultimately too slow for Champions League football. Maybe there was something to this Pro Evo-car history thing.
Now the Internet has developed a lot in the fourteen years since ISS Pro Evolution came out, and with a few choice keyboard inputs I was able to pull up the names of the fake players from the game. It was a little reassuring at this stage to see there were other souls out there reminiscing over the glory days of Gobbato, Satta, D’Agostino et al. Subsequently punching a string of player names into Google with the additional keywords ‘Alfa Romeo’ sadly did not return a stack of hits on the Pro Evo – dodgy Italian saloon – HAARP conspiracy theory, but one result did catch my attention. It was a link to the Wikipedia entry for the Alfa Romeo 164, at the bottom of which were links to a large number of individuals. Individuals whose names matched almost perfectly with the Master League default team lineup.
A small amount of research later, I am very much convinced there is something to this – and even if there isn’t, I now know a lot more about the early years of the Italian purveyor of beautiful yet fragile machinery. So without further ado, let me present first of all the roster for the default ISS Pro Evo Master League team:
Merosi (GK), Colombo (GK), Jano, Otto, Ragnotti, D’Agostino, Chierichi, Hruska, de Silva, Pavia, Kittie, Lawson, Munari, Gobbato, Satta, Ricart, Alviano, Farina, Alen, Stella, Anser, Carlson.
Now, let’s examine each of these in turn:
#1. Merosi – Giuseppe Merosi – Giuseppe Merosi was the first chief engineer of the A.L.F.A. company, holding post from 1910 to 1926. He oversaw design and construction of the first vehicles and engines produced by the company that would become Alfa Romeo, and also took Alfa Romeo into motorsport – they won their first Targa Florio in 1923;
#12. Colombo – Giaoacchino Colombo – working as an Alfa Romeo apprentice under the tutelage of Vittorio Jano, Colombo was soon poached by Enzo Ferrari and developed a successful 1.5-litre V12 road engine. He returned to Alfa to mastermind Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio’s Formula One world titles, before moving on to Maserati and subsequently Bugatti;
#4. Jano – Vittorio Jano – Vittorio Jano replaced Merosi has chief engineer at Alfa, having previously worked at Fiat. Renowned for his talent at developing racing cars, Jano penned the P2 and P3 Grand Prix cars and established the Alfa tradition of small, light engines, leaving to join Lancia shortly before World War II;
#5. Otto – this one is a bit less obvious. The only name I can turn up is Otto Zipper, a Californian high-end car dealer who ran Alfas in Can-Am races in the 1970s. Another possibility may be 19th Century German engineer Nikolaus Otto, designer of the first internal combustion engine to burn petrol in a piston chamber;
#6. Ragnotti – Jean Ragnotti – this one is easy, and was one of the first that made me wonder if there was a car connection to the names. No Alfa link that I can see, but Jean Ragnotti’s efforts in front-wheel drive Renaults must make him one of the greatest rally drivers ever;
#3. d’Agostino – Pino d’Agostino – Pino d’Agostino was an engineer during Alfa Romeo’s Formula One exploits in the 1980s, developing a V10 engine intended for use in a Ligier. The engine was ultimately never raced in anger, but it was the first modern V10 intended for F1 – some feat considering V10s were still the power unit of choice well into the 2000s – and did find its way into the enigmatic yet wonderful 164 ProCar. Or…d’Agostino may also refer to Giuseppe d’Agostino, Head of Engines when Alfa 155s bossed the German DTM series in the 1990s;
#15. Chierici – Claudio Chierici – Alfa Romeo DTM team manager during the 1990s;
#2. Hruska – Rudolf Hruska – Austrian-born Hruska had a long and on-off relationship with Alfa Romeo. Having started out at Porsche pre-war, he found his way to Alfa Romeo and as Technical Manager had a hand in the Giulietta Spider and Giulietta Sprint. Following stints at Simca and Fiat, he returned to Alfa to design from scratch a new small car for the 1970s – the Alfasud;
#8. de Silva – Walter de Silva – Alfa Romeo designer – de Silva was Alfa Romeo head of design from 1986-1999, leading the sea change in Alfa design brought about with the 156, 166 and 147 models. He is now at Volkswagen after a long and varied career in the car industry;
#10. Pavia – this is another one with no clear link. The best I can find is that the Italian city of Pavia is the start point for the Pavia-Venice Raid, a boat race won on its first running in 1929 by an Alfa Romeo works boat;
#9. Kittie – no clear link to Alfa Romeo here…
#18. Lawson – again, no clear Alfa link. The closest I get is Geoff Lawson, Jaguar design director 1989-99;
#13. Munari – Sandro Munari – synonymous with an iconic Italian sporting brand, albeit Lancia rather than Alfa Romeo. Sandro Munari’s place in rally history is cemented thanks to his association with the stunning Stratos rally car;
#14. Gobbato – Ugo Gobbato – Gobbato was Managing Director of Alfa Romeo between 1933 and 1945. He was personally tasked with saving Alfa, then in financial disarray, from bankruptcy. A 1937 dispute led engineer Vittorio Jano to leave the company, and Gobbato was assassinated in Milan shortly after the end of the war;
#22. Satta – Orazio Satta Puliga – known as Satta for short, he like Merosi, Jano and Ricart was a Head of Design for Alfa Romeo. In fact, until the 1950s, these four men – all in the ISS Master League team – had been the only Chief Engineers/Heads of Design in Alfa Romeo’s entire history. Satta oversaw the regeneration of the company post-war, and on his watch some truly stunning cars were turned out – 1900, Giulietta, Giulia, Montreal among others. He then held senior management positions prior to his death in 1974;
#16. Ricart – Wilfredo Ricart – Spaniard Ricart was Alfa Romeo’s Chief Engineer for Special Projects from 1936. Claim to fame in his time at Alfa, as well as some wonderful cars, was a clash of personalities with one Enzo Ferrari – who felt Ricart got him fired from Alfa before the war!
#17. Alviano – Enrico Alviano was Head of Electronic Systems for Alfa Romeo’s DTM team…electronics and Italian cars do not always mix well, but Alviano clearly did something right as Alfa won the DTM driver and constructor crowns in 1993;
#19. Farina – Giuseppe Farina. Needs little introduction. The first-ever Formula One World Champion, winning motorsport’s most coveted prize in 1950 at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo;
#20. Alen – Markku Alen – Finnish rally driver at his peak in the 1970s and 80s, long-time holder of the record for most WRC stage wins. Like Ragnotti, Munari and Carlson, not an Alfa driver but a big name from European rallying in decades past;
#7. Stella – Ugo Stella – aristocrat Ugo Stella founded the Anonima Lombardo Fabbrica Automobili company in 1909, making him the founder of the company we know today as Alfa Romeo;
#9. Anser – no clear link here
#21. Carlson – Erik Carlson – great rally driver of the 1960s, famed for his exploits in the rock-solid Saabs of the day.
Out of the names above, I count twelve where the name of one of the ‘imaginary’ footballers matches a key figure from Alfa Romeo’s design and motorsport history. Plus there are another four that map onto rally drivers from the 1960s-80s.
The closeness with which these names match any Alfa Romeo history text you might read seems pretty conclusive to me that there was a rogue car nut involved in producing the first ISS Pro Evolution game. After all, surnames like Hruska, Gobbato, Merosi and Jano are not ones one would just imagine off the top of one’s head. There really can’t be many people out there with an interest in both football and the history of Italian car companies, so I do wonder if anyone else out there has spotted this strange but entertaining little Easter Egg. I also wonder if the responsible person was then deployed to work on Enthusia – another Konami product perhaps more suited to their rather comprehensive knowledge.
Even if the Alfa Romeo-ISS Pro name crossover is all pure coincidence, or just the result of someone picking up the nearest book to them and firing the names on the pages into the database, the assassinations, cross-Italy boat races, politics and sonorous V10s I’ve learned about along the way have made this little investigation worth my while. Alfa Romeo – a manufacturer with a history as tempestuous, passionate and downright fascinating as the cars they produce.
As always, all of the above information did not come from nowhere. I have linked directly to the relevant websites in the main text, but I think it is worth acknowledging again the sites I referred to for information on Alfa Romeo’s illustrious history:
And for the nostalgic discussion on ISS Pro Evolution and the default players – with the lovely phrase ‘the forefathers of the Master League’: