I am, like many of our regular readers on this website, an Italian who grew up in England. I have always identified myself as Italian, have an Italian passport, watch television from the peninsula with the aid of a satellite dish and naturally cheer on the Azzurri in any sport or Eurovision Song Contest. I am bi-lingual and bi-cultural, for this gives us the unique perspective of seeing both nations simultaneously as insiders and outsiders. This is why the idea of an Italy-England quarter-final is deeply frightening. We know what’s coming.
We’ve seen it so many times before and now it’s us in the firing line. Within minutes of the ludicrously lucky win over Ukraine, friends and co-workers were already texting Anglo-Italians with jokes about pasta, boring defensive football, match-fixing, pizza puns and switching sides in World War II. The media are even worse and it is not just reserved to the tabloids now. ITV presented the game with France by name-checking Waterloo and the Battle of Agincourt – you know, relevant, up to date references. You may say that all nations do this – I am here to tell you they do not. Italian media mention other football matches, but certainly not the Roman invasion of Britain or the fact we gave you aqueducts. Because that would be daft.
It’s really no better when the English get down to discussing Italian football. I wonder if we can place a bet on how long it will take articles or television intros to mention the dreaded c-word, even though catenaccio hasn’t been used since the 1960s. Of course the pundits will confidently state that Italy will shut up shop, park the bus, focus on the counter-attack and play negatively. We’ll probably see all that on Sunday, but mainly from Roy Hodgson’s team. When the Azzurri do it, that’s ‘negative,’ but for England it’s ‘determined, solid and gritty’. Also, time-wasting and diving is ‘cheating’ for Italians, but ‘clever play’ by the English.
These are people who are paid to watch football for a living. You’d think when going on to the television, radio or newspapers they would invest a little time in some research. Instead, I heard ex-Inter player Paul Ince tell radio listeners “Andrea Pirlo is good for his age.” He turned 33 last month! When did that become old? Oh, I forgot, Italy have an ‘ageing squad’ at all times, regardless of facts and statistics. It is just one of the many clichés we have to put up with when watching Italian football discussed in Britain.
Then there is the other issue that surely not only the Italians, but all non-English people in England will have spotted. It’s fortunate England rarely win anything, because they are really not good at handling success. Already the smugometer is off the charts, squeezing past Sweden and Ukraine with a large dose of luck and a big slice of cynicism for some reason has made them favourites for the tournament.
Pundits have been talking about a semi-final with Germany since Tuesday night, as if beating Italy were a foregone conclusion. I realise this isn’t the strongest Azzurri side in history, but I’ve got a newsflash for you – neither is it the best England team. The performances in the group phase showed little to be frightened of other than the pace of Theo Walcott and Hodgson’s remarkable luck. I even read that if the tie goes to penalties, England are certain to win because they have “such a strong goalkeeper in Joe Hart.” No mention whatsoever of Gigi Buffon, then? Good to know he merits so little recognition.
Most of all, my heart sank because if England do get the win, then we will literally never hear the end of it. And I am not misusing the term literally. Still banging on about 1966 at every available opportunity, the English react to success much the same way they do to the appearance of sunshine – strip to comedy shorts, get very drunk, go extremely red and lose all sense of proportion or decency. You’ve heard of sore losers? Those are the Italians with a conspiracy theory ready for every occasion. The English, however, are sore winners, rubbing people’s faces in their every tiny victory.
This blog may seem bitter to some of you, and I agree it probably is, but the other Italians in England will know exactly what I mean. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a dark few days or even years, so let’s remember we have each other. Forza ragazzi.