Watching the big game with the Italians

Monday, 25 June 2012



The last month has hosted the European Football (Soccer) Championships. England and Italy both qualified from their respective groups, and played each other in the knockout stages last night. I watched it here, in Italy, outside a small, lakeside bar.

Most of the seats had been taken up by the time we arrived, and the owner had prepared a huge vat of complimentary pasta for the grand occassion; it was only the quarter-final, but the Italians have always had a certain respect for the English national team that isn't shared by many other European nations.

The game kicked off and a couple of older Italian ladies rushed into their seats behind us, one of them complaining that somebody had stolen her Italian flag.
The game started fast, with both sides having good moves saved by their goalkeepers. The Italians kept possession and built up their attacks slowly, prompting the (mostly male) spectators to explode with huge, collective moans of disapproval each time the attack ended in failure.
"Dai dai dai daidaidaidai! Dove cazzo Vai??"
(Go go go gogogo! Where the fuck are you going??)

When living in another country I'm usually keen for their national sports teams to do well. The majority of Italian football spectators, however, are not only ingracious in defeat, but positively indignant about any imperfect action. Insults flow fast and heavy, mostly aimed towards their own players:

"Coglione !" (Dickhead!)
"Testa di Cazzo !" (Fuckhead!)
"Ma Vaffanculo !" (Go get fucked in the ass!)

The majority of the insults were reserved for Mario Balotelli, not just because of his flawed genius, but also because he's the only black player on the Italian team. Balotelli chased indivdual glory throughout the game, to the detriment of the team effort.
Each time this happened, a group of men in the corner of the bar would shout "Balotelli di merda !" - more a critique of his skin colour than of his footballing ability.

The owner of the bar took offence.
""Hey! I don't want that kind of racist shit in my bar! If you're Italian it doesn't matter if you're black or white or red. If you want to be racist fuck off to Switzerland with all the other facists."

"Have you seen my flag?", asked the lady behind us, who had also been shouting at Balotelli.
Her friend removed the cigarette from her wrinkled mouth and chipped in: "Did you know he's adopted? He's not really Italian, they should take him off the field."
"Siiii. I can't believe somebody stole my flag."

The first half came and went without any goals, the sun fell behind the mountains and the outside lights were turned off, leaving only the glow of the widescreen TV. The crowd were showered with mosquitos and flies.

The second half kicked off.
The women seated behind us, who had appointed themselves to the position of unknowledgeable, fervent armchair critics, sprung into life again, and began to piss me off.
"Vai Italia! Tiratelo fuori il negro! Noi vogliamo Di Natale!" (Come on Italy, take off the nigger, we want Di Natale!)
"Si si, grazie, Mussolini" I replied, sieg heiling towards her face.
She let forth a rapid cackle of Italian and then went back to wondering (aloud) where her flag had gotten to.

As the second half wore on, England became less ambitious and sat deep in their own half, frustrating the Italians. Despite the fact that we were sat outside, the air was permeated with cigarette smoke. The few Italians who didn't smoke bit their nails, instead.

A man sat in front of us turned to ask me for a favour.
"Questa Ragazza...", he began, pointing to one of a group of sunburned Dutch girls to my left, "Can you ask them in English if they would like a drink? She's very nice with the platinum hair, tell her I'll be the one who buys her drinks."
I tapped the girl on the shoulder.
"This man likes you." She glanced towards his leering face, looking concerned.
I continued. "He says he'll buy you all the pepporoni pizza you can eat if you spend the night with him."
She looked over at him again, terrified. He raised his glass and smiled.
"Tell him I have a boyfriend please."
"Ok, I will."

The game continued into extra time, with England becoming increasingly penned into their own half. "Dai cazzo Andrea!" the Italians shouted, again and again, calling on their playmaker Andrea Pirlo to conjure up some magic and unlock the English defence.

The game proceeded to a penalty shoot out, which England deservedly lost, Ashley Cole's shot being saved by goalkeeping legend Gianluca Buffon. The crowd erupted with angry joy and ran forwards to slobber at the TV. The women behind us stood up on their chairs, dropping wine and cigarette ash onto a white labrador puppy.

"Brava Gigi! Grande! Who is the one who always saves us? Buffon! He's the only one who has the balls to take the football into his hands!"

Half of the spectators ran to jump into their cars and scooters, presumably neglecting their bar tabs in the process. One gentleman pulled up a few seconds later on his superbike, and revved it aggressively in first gear until smoke (and the smell of a burnt-out engine) rose up from the hot concrete. He then accelerated off towards a triumphant, fiery death in the tunnel that runs to Lugano.

Drunk motorists careered back and forth along the road, honking their horns and waving flags out of the windows with the type of misplaced zeal that usually follows a military coup. The woman who lost her flag snatched one up from a nearby table and staggered into the road to join them.

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