Saturday, June 19, 2004

I watched Italy’s Euro 2004 game with Sweden yesterday at a friend’s flat, with other some English teachers. When Italy scored we heard car horns beeping in celebration. When Sweden got their freak equaliser we all, inpulsively and genuinely, cheered, before realising our faux pas. Yet all of us we following our instincts and supporting Sweden. Or, more precisely, supporting whoever Italy are playing. Indeed, when I saw another friend (who's been living in Italy for four years) later in the evening and asked “How are you?” he replied: “Lovin’ Scandinavia”.

But as we discussed, this is all the wrong way round. Surely we should be supporting Italy? Certainly we all felt that if we were living in Sweden we’d be supporting the Swedes. So what is it about Italy, or Italian football, that inspires such schadenfreude?

The consensus was the nature of the game here: prancing, posing, snide players backed by fat, arrogant, corrupt club owners. (Ironically I dare say a similar accusation could be leveled at English football; I don’t imagine we get much support from our immigrant communities.) Spitting at your opponents, as Italy’s big name centre-forward, Totti, did against Denmark, doesn’t help. And the sign and body language that is such an endeering part of everyday Italian life looks throughly out-of-place and pathetic on the football pitch: stop lying on the floor praying as if some imagined God is doing you an injustice; get up and get on with the game instead.

Meanwhile, I’ve thought of more points to add to the “Things I’ll miss about Italy” list: city bikes, living close to the town centre, and slightly more reliable weather than the UK. I can also add watching the football to the “Things I’m looking forward to in England” list: sadly it seems here that everybody watches it at home; a few car horns when Italy score is as close as it gets to a party atmosphere. Certainly there are few bars showing the games and if you weren’t interested in football you could quite easily not even know that the second biggest football tournament in the world is taking place right now. In contrast the pubs in England will be packed, and the better ones will feel just like being at the game. I’m not sure I’ll appreciate the proliferation of England flags that I’m told has sprung up all over the country, but that’s a fair price to pay for the potential festival atmosphere that will build if England progress through the tournament.

I fly home on Wednesday.

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