Our research to-date suggests that Paul Peter Capelli, who played at Saracens between 1906 and 1912 was, indeed, “Il nostro primo giocatore Italiano”….our first Italian-heritage player! As we will read, he served with distinction both on and off the field at Saracens during these years, before going on to join the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. But how did ‘PP’ come to be in London just after the turn of the century, and what brought him to the Saracens rugby club in these early years?
Paul Peter Capelli was born c. 1878 in Dublin, where his Italian-born father Giovanni worked as a waiter. It seems that whilst in Ireland, Giovanni met and married his Irish wife, Kate; they raised both PP and his brother Ernest (b. 1883) before emigrating to London. Here, a new sister, Adelina, was born in Spitalfields in 1885, and a younger brother, Enrico, was to follow in 1887, born in St.Pancras. By the time of the 1891 Census, the family was occupying a house in Great Portland Street, Marylebone, where PP’s final two siblings Italia (b.1889) and Blanche (b.1894) both spent their early years.
By 1901 the family had relocated to Camden Square, St Pancras, although the three Capelli girls were studying as boarders at the St Joseph’s Convent School in Hendon – not much further from Allianz Park than a Charlie Hodgson or Owen Farrell touch kick! Paul Peter, by now 22 years old, had secured employment as a Distillers Clerk, and was renting a room in Low Cross Street in East Finsbury.This career was, it appears, to occupy him through until the outbreak of the war in 1914.
It must have been at around the time that the Saracens Football Club moved to a ground behind the ‘Cherry Tree’ Public House, Southgate, in 1904 that Paul Peter Capelli joined Saracens. The Club’s 50th Anniversary ‘Outline History’ by ORG Williams, published in 1926, records the new club location as being “the venue for ablutions and for many happy evenings“. Clearly, it was a good time for new recruits to the Club to socialise and quickly make new friends and acquaintances.
Although no original membership records survive from this era, PP Capelli is recorded as being awarded his ‘A’ team Saracens cap in the 1905-06 season.This was a great honour in a difficult season for the ‘A’ team, who recorded good wins against Hammersmith ‘A’, Wasps ‘A’ and Old Dunstonians ‘A’, but were ‘nilled’ by Catford Bridge, Richmond St Mary and Park House. Capelli’s side finished this season P 20, W 6, D 1, L 13, scoring 118 points and conceding 246.
PP appears to have successfully ‘survived’ the Club’s 30th Anniversary Dinner held with great formality in the Crown Room at the Holburn Restaurant on 9th December 1905, and in the 1907-08 season he relieved J.W.Jennings of the duties of Assistant Secretary of Saracens, following Jenning’s election to Club Captain. By the 1910-11 season, Capelli was serving as Assistant Hon. Treasurer for the Club, plus had been elected as Vice-Captain of the ‘A’ team. Working tirelessly with his captain JR Coulthard, Capelli appears to have made contributions to the team’s wins over London County Council ‘A’, Upper Clapton ‘A’ and L.C.C. ‘A’, but firm records of the remaining fixtures and results have sadly been lost. His rugby skills and obvious commitment to the Club, however, are not in doubt, and he was appointed to the prestigious role of Vice-Captain of the 1st XV in the 1911-12 season, helping secure the side 5 hard-fought wins out of 11 matches that year.
The 1911-12 season appears to be Paul Peter Capelli’s final one for Saracens.He does not appear in subsequent surviving records nor team photos. His decision to hang up his boots may be linked to his family’s relocation to Shepherd’s Bush, where he is recorded as living at Giovanni’s new commercial venture – a Boarding House at 43-45 Uxbridge Road. PP, still working as a Distiller’s Clerk, may well have been required to support his parents’ efforts in caring for the 20 or more paying boarders at this property….rugby at Saracens might have been the necessary sacrifice for this clearly committed Club member and family man. Early in 1913, PP married Clotilda Simona from Edmonton, Middlesex.
PP Capelli had played a number of key roles for Saracens for more than 7 full seasons in the years preceding the outbreak of the First World War. To find out more about his wartime experiences, you can follow his story as we uncover more details on this website…