Of all the things I could imagine dating new friends, national pride wasn’t on the list.
As an Englishman who immigrated to Italy last year, I am deeply saddened that I will never be ‘Little England’. I am not an immigrant, I speak Italian wherever I go, I try as much as I can to understand the political and bureaucratic system, and I finally begin to recognize it, it is more complex than ours. I have been actively trying to Italianize the past 12 months.
Until this week, when a crazy football friend told me that “every player against England” – “Denmark was robbed with a fake penalty” and “the most disgusting feature at Wembley” was the Euro 2020 final.
So far, there has been no hostility between the two countries, with England and Italy on both sides of the Euro lottery. England is doing well, some people said to me at the beginning – I answered the compliments and we continued as usual.
As of our previous article, it was as if no one here saw England as a potential enemy. Here, football is still hyper-masculine – in my experience – I don’t have any friends watching the game – so Gareth Southgate’s general infatuation fever overtakes the Italian team and small school food expenses in general, Marcus Rashford’s campaign hasn’t been recorded.
Even when I went to Rome for England’s quarter-final against Ukraine, I was surprised to find that the capital was contained. In the arena, I was with some Italians, mostly among the Ukrainian faction in the crowd, but they didn’t really care who won. “I hate football,” my taxi driver said when I asked him if he was watching. After the match, I and a friend from Studio Olympico drove back to Piazza del Popolo, home of the official Ufa fan club, to open one bar and serve drinks from €10 (£8.60) to three tables of relatively British fans. Rest assured.
In fact, the only real reaction was in the hospital, where my friend and I took a fan. Less than three medical staff looked at him in his British shirt, then turned to us (interpreters) and pointed out that the little girl was drunk (she wasn’t). He didn’t even speak Italian and one of them was choking.
This time there may be a problem with being an English fan in Italy. Nobody looks at us as competitors, so nobody cares what this England team represents. During the time of David Beckham, John Terry and Wayne Rooney I was embarrassed and found a national team I was proud to support – for people who didn’t notice the change, we were still the same old England. For these hospital doctors, we can only be drunk thugs.
For the final, I will be one of the 2,500 fans who will watch Wembley live on the big screens at Piazza del Popolo. I’m not worried about the numbers: the joy of winning the semi-final for Italy on Tuesday was contagious and I think it would be a good thing no matter what.
Italy is already somewhat optimistic – even if all England’s talk of favoring Wembley is the basis for a good Italian defeat.
But this match painfully reminded me that everyone in the UK thinks they’re a fan, which isn’t nice. I hope England win on Sunday, but since the UK is abroad, it’s not just about the championship.
If we win, the world will be watching this England team and I hope it means that.