When I moved house last year, I had only a handful of priorities. A nice area, a bit more room for the family and getting my satellite system in place so I could watch Italy win their play-off game with Sweden and have friends round for the World Cup. How fate - and my dish-fitter - would ultimately laugh at those plans.
So now, like millions of other tifosi around the planet, I face something I have never had to suffer before - the biggest competition of all being staged without my beloved Azzurri to cheer on. Only those in their late 60s at least will recall a similarly empty summer. It’s like football is holding its house party and all you can do is press your nose up against the window.
Among Scottish friends, of course, any sympathy is in short supply. They have had to endure this kind of torture many more times than I have. They have assured me, however, that such familiarity does not make it any easier to take.
I was brought up - like most of you - on La Nazionale being international heavy-hitters, particularly at the World Cup. We finished in the top four in four of the first five editions that I can remember. Then we went and won it again in glorious fashion in Berlin to complete my beautiful lifetime double - so far - with Spain ‘82. There were flops, of course, but not being part of proceedings at all was simply unthinkable.
Even in my darkest hours - up until now - we always at least made it to the tournament. In ‘86, despite being far from brilliant, our title defence went as far as the knockout stages. But perhaps the warning signs were there in our last two expeditions - failure to get out of the groups in South Africa and Brazil hinted at a greater malaise. Our tumbling ranking, a shrivelling supply of world class players and Giampiero Ventura did the rest. Sweden administered the killer blow and they didn’t even need Zlatan Ibrahimovic to do so. I shall be boycotting Ikea for a while.
After the upset and anger came realisation. The weeks we normally set aside for the intense form of torture and delight that only the Azzurri can provide would now be blank. It feels like reaching into the cupboard for your favourite bottle of grappa and finding that someone - probably you - has finished it. Despair, 100% proof despair.
The chances are that - due to logistics - relatively few Italians would have made the trip to Russia and it is not a nation renowned for a big immigrant community from the Bel Paese. So, most fans of the four times world champions would likely have been watching from home. These are special occasions for many of us around the world.
You see la partita - the match - is about a million other things apart from football. It is a chance to catch up with family and friends, share a drink or two and indulge in a gentle sfottò or two - poking fun at one another. There will likely be food before, during or after the game and the nice hit of a decent coffee - usually, but not always, at half-time. Then we suffer and celebrate together for 90 minutes or more before going our separate ways.
I have often hosted or been invited to such events and they consume the days before a tie in glorious fashion. You get the drinks in, prepare the food and deck the house with as much green, white and red as you can possible find. This summer, however, the flags will stay stuffed at the back of the cupboard and the latest Italy kit will remain on its coat-hanger in the wardrobe.
Others might measure it in financial terms - loss of revenue from food, merchandising and advertising and the likes - but for us fans dotted around the world it is a more emotional matter. An enormous global community has been left without a vent for its pride and passion for the first time in 60 years. There will be no battering out the Inno di Mameli like would-be Gigi Buffons for us on this occasion.
So the living room seats will be empty, the olives will stay at the back of the fridge and the coffee machine will not be required to go into overdrive. I could try to pick another team to support but, in truth, I know it would be a hollow exercise. I will try to fill out the wallchart, maybe, but I will always be looking for that missing name.
I can only hope that everyone connected with the Italian national team fully understands what they have done to me and millions of others, and are hard at work to ensure that it never happens again.
A World Cup without Italy is, for us, like having leftover pasta sauce in your bowl without a good hunk of bread to soak it up - a crying shame. We’ll get over it, maybe - we just need a year or two or three or four.
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