Believe it or not, but Italians LOVE their football.
Whilst we have been in Italy, we’ve seen towns & cities come to a complete standstill, all for the love of the game. Calcio, football, soccer – whichever – Italians will do almost anything in pursuit of supporting their national game. It’s not uncommon to see more people upon the streets cheering their local team (or national team during the tournaments) than you’ll find for any other public event More than concerts, considerably more than any political event in the calendar (a subject that angers most if not all) & you might even be able to suggest that more people could be found in the streets praising faith in Pirlo than in any god, Catholic or otherwise.
So Italian pride is marked upon shirts, buildings, faces & songs. Everywhere you go there are reminders that come kick-off, the world is going to pointed in one direct – the TV.
During our time in Pisa we’d been lucky enough to watch some football with our Couchsurfing hosts. Football fans for the most, even those who weren’t addicts knew more than a layman about the game. We watched one game if not both of the two games played each day, including the England games (which we’ll not dwell on shall we?), so when it came to Italy against Croatia we knew the tension was going to be high, the expectation low, but the red-hot passion clear to be seen evaporating into the air above Pisa & its tower. We’d agreed on our usual deal of coming back from our adventuring in time for the first game of the day’s schedule, today it was Italy play Croatia followed by Spain versus Rep. of Ireland. Big news.
However, when we did begin to walk through the streets back from the train station to our hosts flat, we came upon something I’d personally never experienced in the UK.
Walking through the Piazza where the market had been a few hours before, we came across rows & rows of people seated and standing watching one solitary TV screen fixed above a small bars door (who was fortunately still open selling bottle upon bottle upon bottle…).
Good business sense from somebody you could definitely presume, but from the feeling in the square, it was more than that. It was red-hot Italian passion. Standing up shouting, screaming & complaining. Everything you expect from standing in the football ground with your friends & comrades beside you but on broken stone-clad streets.
But Italians don’t always dream. Sometimes, they can see it all coming.
So, long into the match & impatience was filling the ground of people. Dread. Fear. A knowingness that this was not going to be their day. Attacks broke down, the ball was lost & Italy were found to be missing something.
So the tension is building. There are only three games in this group stage, fail to score in just one & it could be an early shower for one team.
So the tension builds. Not that you could tell from Franca’s expression.
The minutes pass and hope is becoming a daydream. A memory of tournaments past.
33 Minutes. Cassano drags a shot wide of the post, missing but inch upon inch.
37 Minutes. Marchisio has a shot saved, twice!
37 Minutes. Balotelli is fouled on the edge of the box.
38 Minutes. Andrea Pirlo, Captain for Italy steps over the ball.
38 Minutes. Howard Webb, the referee, blows his whistle. Pirlo runs up…
…and this happens:
Bedlam & Bedlam. Cheering & Shouting. Swearing & Cussing. Kissing & Hugging.
Beer, water & wine fall around everyone like a summer’s rain as plastic glasses somersault through the air.
Eventually calm decends from the madness & people proceed to the bar to replenish their own drinks & the drinks of friends & strangers they’ve knocked over in the preceding mayhem.
45 Minutes. The referee blows for half-time & the crowd cheers at their first half success. Meanwhile, we beat a hastey retreat back to the flat to celebrate the impending success.
Unfortunately, Croatia’s Mandzukic has other thoughts on how everyone is feeling & in the 72d minute, collects the ball less than six yards out from goal & wallops the ball past a grounded Buffon taking the match to 1-1. The silence of frustration is deafening.
As the match finally comes to an end at the ninety minute mark it’s still all square at 1-1 leaving Italy an almighty challenge: beat or draw against reigning champions Spain for face an exit from the competition and a miserable plane journey home.
Italy & the Italians take football very seriously. Losing is not an option.
They make it through to the quarter finals where England await. For us, so does Rome.
England versus Italy in Rome? It’s the stuff ANGLOITALIAN dreams are made of.