“It’s a football podcast about the fans of the game and why they love the teams they do — think Anthony Bourdain in a soccer jersey.” And it was with those words from Salvatore Bono that I instantly became hooked on his podcast, Curva Mundial.
“Curva Mundial” was born out of lockdowns, depression, anxiety and thinking the world was going to end at any moment,” Sal tells us. “During the pandemic, my mental health slipped and my wife got concerned, I finally started seeing a therapist and as you can tell, I am a people person, so taking people away from me is like taking a soccer ball away from Mbappe, it doesn’t go over well. After a year in therapy, which I am still doing, I came up with the idea to do a podcast. I had been kicking around the idea of doing a soccer travel show but since we couldn’t go anywhere, I opted for a podcast.
“We’ve had guests like Dave Rowntree of Blur, Peter Hook, Rowetta, and Glen Matlock of Sex Pistols and I’m currently recording season 7 which will launch in early 2024, but I release about 3 seasons a year with 11 episodes per season to signify 11 players on a pitch. I call it my Starting XI.”
With the infectious Sal Bono as its captain directing and orchestrating the conversation like Pirlo in his prime, discussing a variety of captivating topics with a range of incredibly interesting personalities, the podcast is effortlessly enjoyable. A big part of this is down to just how absurdly engaging Sal is.
He has an almost palpable love of football, music, and a deep appreciation for life and culture and hearing the stories of those he speaks to. He is also able to turn the conversation from football to civil rights, mental health and well-being and equality, which makes for great listening.
Born in Long Island, he remains a resident of New York. His love of football was passed to him by his Italian father, and eternal grandparents, who are from Sicily. Like so many of us, it was Italia 90 that stole his heart and made him fall forever in love with the beautiful game. Toto Schillaci would become his idol and AC. Milan would accidentally become his team. It is a love affair which remains to this day.
Sal speaks with a great deal of passion when it comes to football. He comes alive and his eyes sparkle when discussing it. He has an addictive personality that draws you in and when I ask him if there was any moment in football he could revisit and witness, what would it be? It’s not just a quick one-word answer, it’s an exciting array of answers. “It would have to be Italy winning the World Cup in 2006 and seeing that and then also watching World Cup 90 and 94, I would also go back to either Cruyff’s infamous “Turn” game or Maradona winning in Mexico 86.”
He is also open-minded an pragmatic when it comes to other issues and talking points which are sparking debate within the modern game, such as the current spending power being exhibited by teams in Saudi Arabia. “Honestly, I am fine with it. What is the difference between Saudi doing what China did a few years ago? Every country deserves a good league and they have the money to do it — Have fun.
“While I don’t agree with their stance on human rights and how they treat journalists, it also shows hypocrisy in action when so-called Western countries take issue with Saudi having a wealthy league. Messi is playing in a state where local governments are banning books and trying to erase Black history, as well as disrupting and endangering the lives of LGBTQIA+ folks in Florida, yet no one had an issue with him playing here.”
Sal originally set out to be a filmmaker but ended up taking a job in TV news in 2006. “Some of the highlights of my career have been interviewing folks like Dr Anthony Fauci and doing a story of my grandma and how she lived in a cave in Sicily in World War II.” Ever since he began his career he has been working his way up, even becoming an Emmy-nominated reporter in the process. Not bad really.
It’s his work though as an independent music journalist that really caught the imagination. Interviewing the likes of Yoko Ono, Mike D of Beastie Boys, Henry Rollins, Glasvegas, and La Roux. Speaking with established artists such as The Cribs, Andrew W.K. and Incubus. “Music is like oxygen to me, I need it. Full Stop.”
Music like football pulses through Sal. He’s a well-known name throughout the music scene and is admired for his wealth of knowledge, and his searingly honest and insightful reviews. It’s a subject that he could speak for hours on. The big question is though…and this is the kind of hard-hitting journalism you’re looking for here. If he had the chance to fulfil his life ambitions as a footballer or rockstar, what would he choose? “This is hard but I’m gonna say soccer player and the reason is because rockstars have to constantly create or keep up a reputation and essentially play a character. Whereas a football plays for a certain number of years and then can live their life.
“As a kid, I would have easily said rockstar and would have wanted to be Dave Grohl, now, I am like, let me be Christian Vieri who is living like a real-life James Bond. He makes his investments, wears whatever he wants, attends anything and everything has a total blast at life. So yeah, soccer player, work your ass off until you are in your mid to late 30s then enjoy life and live off what you made and invest properly. No real job essentially.”
Throughout our chat, Sal is an absolute pleasure, as we talk about music, Curva Mundial, his love of football and the effect Italia 90 had on him. His memories of USA 94, the impact Messi will have on the United States, why Pirlo is a God and what it is that makes New York so special.
While everyone “wanted to be like Mike,” no one wanted to “Slay like Schillaci“
Long Island was a great place to grow up as a kid – you saw all four seasons, I grew up close to the beach, so I was always on the water. As far as soccer goes, what is interesting is that it felt like nearly every kid played soccer but none followed it. I was the opposite, I never played because I was terrible but followed it.
It was a strange juxtaposition to ask friends to watch a match when they had no idea who Manchester United or AC Milan were at the time. Mind you, I was born in the mid-80s and grew up in the 90s. So, in the 90s in North American sports, soccer was the last thing on everyone’s mind as Mike Tyson was boxing, Wayne Gretzky was playing hockey, Joe Montana and Dan Marino were all of America’s favourite NFL players and Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken, were dominating baseball but of course, Michael Jordan was playing basketball.
So the greatest of the greats were all in their prime in one decade. It was wild. So while everyone “wanted to be like Mike,” no one wanted to “Slay like Schillaci.” I wanted to be both, but sadly, never worked out because I am about as athletic as a tree stump.
Go to Sicily, eat all the food, hit every beach, drink all the wine and espresso
My Italian side is all of me. It is who I am. My father is from Sicily as are my maternal grandparents, so it is everything to me. The influence it had on me was so strong.
I tell everyone I was born with two things – a name and an Italian soccer scarf. I had no choice in what national team to cheer for and honestly, wouldn’t want it any other way. America has given my family so much but soccer/football / calcio (whatever you want to call it) is in the blood and blood in this case, runs thicker than water.
Sicily is an amazing place. Palermo has about the same traffic as Mumbai and is about as colourful and chaotic. Sicily is having a moment now thanks to “The White Lotus” and the latest Indiana Jones film being set there. It also has been shining outside Italy and Europe after influencer Chiara Ferragni and her husband Fedez had their wedding there in 2018 as did Thom Yorke during the pandemic.
People are finally starting to see the beauty of the little island my family is from and I love it. Go to Sicily, eat all the food, hit every beach, and drink all the wine and espresso — just don’t have a cappuccino after 11 a.m.
Anyone who watched Italia 90 knew it was a watershed moment and I truly feel bad for anyone who missed it
I think so many of us look back on Italia 90 so fondly, especially you and I because it was the first time we remember seeing anything like it. For instance, in my family, my mom loves hockey and is a big New York Mets baseball fan, so I watched the Islanders and Mets a lot but that was it when it came to her and sports.
My dad doesn’t have any patience or time for American sports but loves boxing, he will tell you Mike Tyson remains the greatest athlete he has ever seen do anything. However, even at 6 years old, I figured out the magnitude of the World Cup because suddenly both my parents are watching this and talking about it. My grandparents were obsessed with the idea that Italy was hosting the World Cup. My father’s brothers both went to matches in Rome and Palermo and I would think I could see them on TV.
Then Schillaci happened. See, I grew up in a very non-Italian neighbourhood – it was very Anglo-Saxon, Irish, and German and I was the only person with a very ethnic name. If all you know about me is my name, you know I am Italian. So everything is a giveaway.
I was viewed as an outsider by my friends and I brought the smelly lunches of Italian food to school and would get picked on and bullied for my name, how I dressed, and what I ate. If you saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” – I essentially was Tula as a kid! Then the world started talking about this dude Salvatore from Palermo – having the same name as the world’s most talked about athlete at the time was like the biggest confidence boost. It was like the kid in that awful movie “Last Action Hero” wanting to hang with Arnold Schwarzenegger so badly to stop the teasing he was facing then it happens.
Yet, looking back on it now, 33 years later, I think we have rose-tinted glasses because it was the last time football was played in its purest form because even if USA 94 was a flop and nothing came from it because it was played in America it had to be bigger, better, colourful, faster, trendier. Whereas Italia 90 was sold to the world as Maradona, Baggio, Roger Milla, new Europe, and by the way, Pavarotti will sing at the opening ceremonies. Not a pop star, not a popular band on the charts but the greatest tenor of all time. It doesn’t exactly scream “Sell this to the youth!” like things do today. However, because they were not trying to sell anything aside from the world coming together to play football it actually worked. It is crazy what happens when we simplify things.
Anyone who watched Italia 90 knew it was a watershed moment and I truly feel bad for anyone who missed it. As a kid I got to watch Jordan, Tyson and Italia 90. Good luck topping that!
Imagine England hosting a Baseball World Series and David Beckham is being chased by cops for the death of Posh Spice?!
I remember World Cup 94 very vividly and a lot of it, like most Americans who were alive, was because the weekend kicked off with OJ Simpson on a chase with the LAPD for the murder of his wife (allegedly…). Soccer finally gets welcomed to America on its biggest stage and it was overshadowed by a former American footballer’s off-field controversies – to give it context – imagine England hosting a baseball World Series and David Beckham is being chased by cops for the death of Posh Spice?!
So that was how the tournament started, but watching it and then seeing Maradona get taken off the field for drugs. Baggio put Italy on his back and got us to the final only to be the scapegoat for their loss, at 10 years old, I felt pain for the first time. It broke my heart to see the Divine Ponytail have his head down while seeing a sea of yellow Brazilian kits celebrate. I couldn’t watch Brazil for years and it wasn’t until 2002 when Ronaldo and Ronaldinho and a young Kaka took the stage in Korea / Japan that I could appreciate them again.
But USA 94 was a major push to make sure everyone under 20 knew this sport was being played in the world’s biggest and best stadiums and was the spark that launched MLS and now we have Messi in Miami. This all happens because of that tournament.
America put people on the moon and Messi coming feels like a Martian just arrived in South Florida. Arguably the greatest player ever is playing in MLS is massive, especially just months after winning a World Cup.
The reaction can be seen in ticket prices as Inter Miami matches went from being $25-$75 to now $300-$1,000. It is wild. Messi, like Pele before him, will be the greatest ambassador for the growth of this sport in America. This is a generational movement and he is the star of stars. Now, can someone get me a ticket, please?!
In theory, I should be an Inter fan
AC Milan will always retain my affection because I have spent too much money on merchandise to go and cheer for someone else. I truly despise the new ownership and so far hate every single transfer we have done since they sacked Maldini. But players come and go and Milan is forever.
But I fell in love with them by accident. After World Cup 90, I fell in love with Schillaci for reasons stated earlier, and after the World Cup he transferred from Juve and I had an uncle with broken English who I misunderstood and thought he said “In Milan” instead he was saying “Inter Milan.” So with that, I only knew Inter as Inter, not Inter Milano, so I took it as he said “In Milan,” meaning AC Milan. I would watch those games whenever they were on and would see the flying Dutchmen, Ancelotti, Maldini, and Baresi, and think, “Wow, this team is so good, they don’t even need Schilacci.”
Turns out, they didn’t even have him. He was at Inter and when he left to go to Japan’s J-League I learned that years later. I was stunned. In theory, I should be an Inter fan. However, sometimes you don’t pick your club, your club picks you. Mind you, before the trolls come out, this was all before the internet, smartphones, Google, etc. I turn 40 next year so the plan is to get to The San Siro.
Pirlo made football look easy which is the hardest thing to do
So Pirlo is a God to mel. He is my favourite player of all time. Pirlo makes everything effortless, for instance, in soccer everyone runs—he walked. Everyone wants to slam the ball, he chips it. He said practice and training are like masturbation, he played Playstation the morning he won a World Cup. I have a lot of anxiety and will never be that cool. So he is the polar opposite of everything I am in terms of disposition and style, so how can you not love it?
There was only one player who came close to him and that was Inesta. Many will argue the great Iniesta was better but he wasn’t as effortless as Pirlo. Pirlo made football look easy which is the hardest thing to do.
I was at Pirlo’s last game ever when he played for NYCFC, he didn’t play and I started a “We Want Pirlo” chant in Yankee Stadium. There will never be an equal.
If I could have witnessed any other player though, it would have to be Maradona or Cruyff. Beautiful magicians who I would have loved to see more of in their prime.
The 2026 World Cup just feels thrown together despite years of prep
I have a lot of feelings about North America 2026 – for starters, the cost is only going to be for the wealthy and football is the people’s game. I went to Lisbon this year and was offered tickets to see Sporting and Juve play a UCL knockout match for what it costs me to go to the movies in America – I couldn’t believe it! So, I have issues with how much this will cost people, especially those with kids. A parent shouldn’t have to remortgage their home to bring their kids to see a sporting event, even one as big as the World Cup.
While I am excited for it to be in North America, it isn’t spread out enough in Mexico and Canada, plus Chicago didn’t get a match. Chicago was where USA 94 opened. It all just feels thrown together despite years of prep.
I also just hope Italy qualifies this go around. It has been fun not having a horse in the race and watching a neutral but no Azzurri, no party. It will also be different given the expanded team format, so more countries will be in, I don’t think it will water down the competition but it will effect play for sure. I hope it also gives us more underdogs. Give me more African teams in a World Cup and I am happy.
Anthony Bourdain has always been a hero of mine
CURVA MUNDIAL was born out of lockdowns, depression, anxiety and thinking the world was going to end at any moment. During the pandemic, my mental health slipped and my wife got concerned, I finally started seeing a therapist and as you can tell, I am a people person, so taking people away from me is like taking a soccer ball away from Mbappe, it doesn’t go over well. After a year in therapy, which I am still doing, I came up with the idea to do a podcast.
I had been kicking around the idea of doing a soccer travel show but since we couldn’t go anywhere, I opted for a podcast. “I will bring the world to me” was my motivation. Anthony Bourdain has always been a hero of mine and I watched so much of his show in lockdown that I broke it down to the fact that his show was never actually about food and travel, it was about people. He pulled the wool over our eyes and made you think it was a food and travel show when in reality it was the greatest human interest show ever made. He used food and travel as a catalyst to talk to people from all walks of life – butchers in the barrio to top chefs in France and everyone in between. So, I thought, well, I will do this with football.
I am currently recording season 7 which will launch in early 2024 but I release about 3 seasons a year with 11 episodes per season to signify the 11 players on a pitch. I call it my Starting XI. Season 6 will come out at the end of August and I have Roo Oxley, Love and Rockets, Mike Peters of The Alarm, Ed Lay of Editors, and John Ludden on. So please stay tuned.
It has been rewarding because I get to meet great people, like you, and all the guests I have had, from Peter Hook and Rowetta to a gentleman in Iceland who loves Parma. I love a good juxtaposition so finding fans and talking about football, their life, their geography and world is the best.
The idea of the podcast is also to talk about things we need to talk more of like mental health, civil rights, and equality, and do it in a way that shows we really are more alike than we are different. Football is and will always be the greatest equaliser – kick a round object into something – you can be rich, you can be poor, but anyone can play. It is a lot like life.
Music sets the mood of my life and the tone of my day
Music is like oxygen to me, I need it. Full Stop. Going to a concert is my escape from the real world and real responsibilities, listening to a great band or record at home and breaking out in an impromptu dance party is the best. Music sets the mood of my life and the tone of my day.
Living in NYC, the legacy of its history is everywhere. I don’t live far from where Nas grew up so there are murals of him, you go to the Lower East Side and you can feel the music of The Strokes, Ramones or head over to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and you get the energy of TV on the Radio or Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
It is a hip-hop city just as much as it is a rock-and-roll town. It is also a place where everyone wants to come and play. The energy is unmatched. The venues are all great. The audience might be the worst because we have all seen everything but that is what makes or breaks a good artist – if you can impress a New York crowd, you are going places.
When you start off in your music career and I don’t care if you are a banjo player or a heavy metal act, everyone wants to play Madison Square Garden. It is a dream for any musician. No musician wakes up and says, “Ya know, I wanna play the KFC Yum Center in Louisville, Kentucky!” They wake up and say, “I wanna play The Garden!” So when an act comes to play there, you are in for a Hell of a show.
My favourite albums of all time are Achtung Baby” by U2 / “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles. Now, if I could witness any band/artist from any era dead or alive I’d have to say, The Beatles at Ed Sullivan, U2 during the Popmart tour, – Live Aid Wembley for Queen, Bowie, U2, – Nirvana when they recorded “Unplugged,” – The Clash in Times Square during their Bond’s run, – The Ramones at CBGBs the night Television and Talking Heads opened for them, and Beastie Boys during the Hello Nasty tour. (I take great delight in telling Sal, that I saw Beastie Boys in Glasgow during their Hello Nasty Tour)
New York is a city for the losers, the winners, the confused, the rich, the poor, the wild, the innocent, the hero and the villain
New York City means everything to me. It is the city where you can lose yourself and find yourself all on the same day. As I mentioned earlier, the energy here is unmatched. It is exhausting and survival of the fittest, it is also way too fucking expensive and gives you the ultimate reality check every day but if you can end a day in New York smiling at even the most simple thing like a sunset over Manhattan or watching a kid in Central Park scream “I am a demon!” (I have witnessed such an event), you figured this city out.
It is a city for the losers, the winners, the confused, the rich, the poor, the wild, the innocent, the hero and the villain. It is the city that gave birth to Biggie and Donald Trump. The city that gave us hip-hop and punk. The city that gave us Scorsese and Spike Lee. It is the city where Madonna, Marsha P. Johnson, Debbie Harry, John and Yoko, Jack Kerouac, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring fled to. It is a city of glitz, glam and pure trash and yet, we all come together somehow and make this metropolis work.
New York goes through phases and I am unsure of what phase it is in now but whatever it might be, she still speaks to all of us misfits who are here and those that want to come.
With thanks to the absolute gentleman that is Salvatore Bono.
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