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Joe Jones
Joe Jones

Tom Gordon Savage: The Nottingham man who brought the black and white stripes to Juventus (Part 1)

Over the next few days, Pride of Nottingham will be publishing Andy Black's account of his journey to discover more about the identity of Tom Gordon Savage, the Nottingham-born man who famously requested for a number of Notts County shirts to be sent to a fledging Italian football club by the name of Juventus over a century ago.

Here is part one, where Andy first notices the discrepancy between the established records identifying the man as John Savage and a handwritten note penned by one Tom Savage, and how research into another Nottingham football pioneer, AC Milan founder Herbert Kilpin, led to the first lead about the man responsible for Juve's black-and-white stripes, and soon developed into establishing his family tree and tracing his descendants.

When it comes to football clubs, few are bigger or more famous worldwide than Italian outfit Juventus.

The vertical black and white stripes on their shirts are emblematic of the club itself, and those with a bit more in-depth knowledge of the history of football know that a man from Nottingham, an expatriate living in the Northern Italian city of Turin, was responsible for this design being imported, given to and duly adopted by the Bianconeri (white-and-blacks).

According to the history books, "John Savage" had requested that the shirts be sent over from Nottingham to Turin in 1903; he was approached by the Italian club, whose name is Latin for "youth", to source properly-made football shirts from Britain after the pink shirts they wore faded in colour as the season went on. He got in touch with some people from his home city, and a shipment of Notts County shirts was duly sent across Europe to Juve.

In the Juventus museum, there is a photo of a postcard which also shows the handwritten message on the reverse sent to a friend. The message reads:

Dear Varetti,

Please accept many greetings from me and my family, your devoted Tom Savage.

P.S. Have you seen the next football game that will be played in Saluzzo next Sunday for a silver cup?

This message is signed Tom Savage, not John. So why is he known as John? It also left me wondering many other questions - what happened to him and his family? What were their names? Were there any more children? Did they stay in Italy?

I started to search the internet in May 2016 for any information on "John Savage". After two nights of research, a different name kept popping up: "Herbert Kilpin", who became a distraction as Kilpin played football with Savage in Turin from 1891 and went on to co-found a football club in the nearby city of Milan which eventually became AC Milan in 1899.

I approached Nottingham City of Football to ask who I should approach about having a plaque placed on Kilpin's birthplace - 191 Mansfield Road, Nottingham.

They put me in contact with Robert Nieri, who was finalising a book on Kilpin's life, so it made perfect sense to team up with Robert to achieve this long overdue memorial to this Nottingham man.

On the 22nd October 2016 a Nottingham City transport bus was named "Herbert Kilpin" in presence of his great-great-niece Helen Stirland. The plaque is due to be mounted later this year.

I intended to start my research into the life of Savage once Kilpin's plaque was mounted but about nine weeks ago I received an email from Roger Stirland, the husband of Herbert Kilpin's great-niece, Helen,  which included many documents on Savage.

I met Roger at the bus unveiling outside Kilpin's birthplace. His research had revealed that John Savage was actually Tom Gordon Savage - born in Lenton, Nottingham on 18th February 1867, and died at the Nottingham City Hospital on 23rd April 1951.

Roger had discovered that Tom married his wife Sarah Mallet in Turin and they had two sons both born in Turin - Ettore Savage, on 16th February 1891, and Richard Savage, on 20th December 1892.


My wife, Lisa, searched the two sons' names on the internet and found them both listed on a family tree named Mallet with their parents. I messaged the owner of the tree and within a few hours I received a reply from one Bob Mallett in Canada - he copied in Mary Cassidy, another member of the Mallet family, living near Turin.

Mary proved to be another very useful contact and by her own admission loves a challenge after I explained that I was wanting to find a living relative of Tom Savage. By now another week had passed and with now Roger and Mary working on the case they quickly found many descendants from the marriage of Tom and Sarah.

Roger continued to research Tom's siblings' tree just in case there was not a direct relative to contact. Mary is connected to Tom's wife Sarah in her family tree and was able to locate a relative that knew Tom's granddaughter,  Athalie Savage.

Athalie is the only child of Richard Savage, Tom's youngest son. Ettore married but had no children so the only hope was that Richard's line continued to the present day. The research shown that Athalie married and had two children, Anna and Alasdair.

Mary's cousin wrote an email to Anna who said that they knew each other as young children from school. The research confirmed that both Anna and Alasdair married and, between them, another four direct descendants were born - Anna with her daughter in Oxfordshire and Alasdair in Cape Town, South Africa.

I had agreed that it would be best to wait for a reply to the email sent to Anna to see if contact could be made with the family.

In December 2016 I had chosen to watch Juventus play at home in Turin on 23rd April 2017 with some other Notts County fans. Once a year I arrange for a group of Notts fans to travel to Turin to see Juve play and in return the Italian Magpies come to Nottingham to see Notts play. This has happened since the friendly match to open the new Juventus Stadium between the two clubs in September 2011.

It wasn't until the 24th March that I realised that the date of the game was the 66th anniversary of Tom Gordon Savage passing away. With this in mind I decided to search for Anna, Alasdair and their children on social media.

To see how the story ends, read part two of the feature by clicking here.

Share your thoughts about this feature by signing up to the website, visiting the forum and joining in the chat with hundreds of fellow Notts County and Juventus fans.

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this is brilliant!

i really like how the two sets of fans have forged friendship and i know that @Chris is one of those that are proud of the friendship. it was also good to see @weymouthPIE having made the trip. it all seems very surreal mind, juve honoring us and continuing to form a friendship.

it gives us hope that we might one day play them at meadow lane.

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This really does provide such a great insight into Tom Savage and of course the connection between us and Juventus. I am proud of the bond we share, I am aware not all are but it makes football that little bit different (in a very special way). I'll eagerly look forward to the next additions.

I'll publicly thank @Andy Black for all his effort with writing and helping PON with this.

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