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Two Countries Two Cultures One Euro 2020 Final And My Family Is Torn Apart

It takes a lot of longing and belonging to be a football fan.

As a fan, you crave not only for sporting glory, but also for your team to help you comprehend who you are and where you belong.

Thus Sunday’s final is both something most Anglo-Italian hybrid families have wished for and dreaded: it’s the big one, the game where we’ll have to choose between our home country and our adopted one, our spouses and our siblings, our English parents and our Italian children (or vice versa).

Being a hyphenated nationality is becoming increasingly frequent in times of widespread migration.

My two brothers and I each brought a new nationality to our family’s gene pool.

At the time of the previous census, there were around 600,000 Italians in the UK (not just in England), and approximately 30,000 Britons (not just English) in Italy.

Love stories and offspring are almost as much a part of life as death.

This week, after speaking with dozens of children of Anglo-Italian couples, you realized that the binary choice of Italy or England on Sunday nights is actually a highly nuanced spectrum for many.

“I class myself 70% English, 30% Italian,” says my buddy Sam DAmbrosio, while Maria Bellini says she’ll be pulling for “51% England, 49% Italy.”

Some children are assimilators (who fit in with their native country), while others like being unique (and yearn for a distant, ancestral homeland).

The youngest youngsters prefer to support the favorites (whatever they are), while some – usually middle schoolers – commit the sacrilege of supporting both sides.

Teenagers crave for the best party, therefore our two girls want Italy to win since the scenes will be on the crazy side (as I recall from the 2006 World Cup victory).

Not everyone is perplexed.

My wife, Francesca, is a fan of Italy, but I wish England would knock the Italians off their thoroughbred high horse.

And, based on my unscientific survey of every Italo-English family I know, there is a lot of decisiveness, usually in Italy’s favor.

It’s not simply a matter of rooting for the favorites; it’s also a product of the fact that Italians enforce patriotic loyalty in football with significantly greater vigor.

“Supporting England would have been considered as a type of treason in our house,” Bellini adds, “and two Britons I spoke to last week were astonished by Italian vociferousness.”

One had a nine-year-old Italian niece, who was typically extremely sweet, inform him that if England won, she would rip out his toilet.

Another family, who lived outside of Ferrara in northern Italy, was threatened by their frequent bartender, who threatened to blow up their home.

Last Wednesday, England fans gathered outside Wembley Stadium before the team’s semi-final match against Denmark.

When you’re a hybrid, however, nationalism is frequently less restricted. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Having dual nationality means football is “less about my tribe versus the globe and more a celebration of togetherness in difference,” as philosopher Julian Baggini wrote to me last week.

Because of this duality, you must frequently exercise restraint and respect.

For the final time, DAmbrosio is debating whether to fly his ceremonial Italian flag in his Wiltshire village.

“But I don’t want to insult anyone,” he says.

With Italian and German ancestry, Mark Oden, the founder of the Neapolis church in Naples, says his family is “pondering how to applaud delicately for England in the middle of a lot of Neapolitans.”

There are divided loyalties, then, but I get the impression that most of us are tired of them.

It’s almost as though football has returned to being a game post-Covid.

The general consensus is that this championship has been a lot of fun.

After all of the anguish, lockdowns, and isolation, football has become a little less tribal, and the winner has become less significant than the fact that we can now enjoy the rebirth of fans, not football.

Yet, Brexit has injected a new thorn in the game’s side.

Italians living in the United Kingdom, like many other ethnicities, have been victimized by a virulent kind of anglocentrism in recent years, and much of the Italian support at Wembley will be fueled by a deep sense of resentment.

As a result, many Italian commentators are framing the match as “Europe” vs “Brexiteers,” which is a little odd.

“We must win for Europe,” an Italian grandly wrote to me yesterday.

Of course, the grudges date back decades.

“God curse the English,” was a slogan popular during Mussolini’s reign that is still murmured now and then.

Also, the English have a lot of misconceptions and insults against Italians.

In fact, the most outspoken hybrids frequently reject one side of their lineage because they believe it has rejected them.

Paolo, who was born in England to Italian parents, recalls being “the butt of every Mussolini while Dolmio joke” at school, and Charlotte Tosti recalls being “the butt of every Mussolini and Dolmio joke.”

Because I felt rejected by English people, I never considered supporting them.

That was always Italy first.” The funny thing about this final is that many roles are flipped.

The reputation of Italian footballers has always been that they are defensive, skilled at “drawing the foul,” and capable of lulling and dulling the opposition until a fantasist’s surprising feint and twist won them a 1-0 triumph.

Italians are already saying something similar about England’s current squad.

England’s style of play has long been defined by pace, energy, toughness, and a swarm attack – all of which are now hallmarks of Roberto Mancini’s squad.

The Euro 2020 final will put Tobias Jones and his Anglo-Italian family’s national allegiances to the test.

Such role reversal is even more clear in the status of the countries themselves, as photographed by Tobias Jones.

More than 20 years ago, when I first went to Italy, the country’s prime leader was a womanizing, corrupt thug with far-right leanings.

Today England has its own slightly more liberal version, while Italy’s Prime Minister is a blend of seriousness and gloom.

The philosophical divide between Rome and London has never been bigger in my lifetime.

When Boris Johnson argued that the British were “freedom-loving” because they couldn’t control the Covid second wave, Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president, gave him a diplomatic slap: “We love freedom, too,” he declared, “but we also worry about seriousness.”

Notwithstanding the occasional enmity, the relationship between Italy and England in football is one of mutual generosity and influence: the English were the ones who introduced the modern game to Italy, founded “Genoa Cricket & Athletic Club” in 1893, which eventually became Genoa Cricket and Football Club, Italy’s oldest side.

Notts County’s non-colours are black and white, thus Juventus wears those colors.

My son, like many players in Italy, must still address his coach as “mister.”

Of course, the Italians quickly became far better at the sport than we were (England has only beaten Italy eight times out of 27).

They invited coaches from Hungary, Sweden, Argentina, and England to work with their top squads.

While England only won one World Cup and one European Championship in 1966, Italy won four World Cups and a European Championship.

Italians have come to regard our footballers as headless chickens, full of blood and thunder but lacking in tactical acumen.

Our toothless, ball-butting brutes – Mark Hateley or former Leeds, Manchester United, and Scotland star Joe Jordan – were occasionally imported, but their preferred English-speaking imports were Welsh (John Charles) or Irish (Liam Brady).

As a result, over a century after acquiring “our” sport, Italians repaid the favor in the 1990s.

Several came to the Premier League to practically teach us how to play the contemporary game: Gianluca Vialli (Mancini’s best friend), Gianfranco Zola, Paolo Di Canio, Roberto Di Matteo, and Mancini himself were first players for, and later managers of, English clubs, along with Carlo Ancelotti.

Other foreign trainers helped us improve as well, but it was the Italians who seemed to continually win awards.

On the terraces, there was a similar reciprocity.

The ultras, Italy’s most fervent, often fanatical followers, were obsessed with English fandom, notably our hooligans, and took numerous songs and icons from them.

When the Saints Go Marching In, You’ll Never Walk Alone, and God Save the Queen are still staples on ultras’ playlists.

Similarly, English fans are becoming more interested in Italian ultras, with a desire to recreate their fireworks, dancing, and carnivalesque loudness.

The most visible part of Sunday’s final is that both teams are sincerely respected by the countries they represent.

Notwithstanding the constant disputes and invectives in Italy, this team has been lauded like no other since 1982.

The majority of this is due to their playing style, which includes their aggression, teamwork, and flair.

“Mancini has made the national team look like a club side, all fighting for the same cause,” writes Richard Hall, publisher of The Gentleman Ultra football blog and top writer for Football Italia. “Mancini has made the national team look like a club side, all fighting for the same cause.”

The football has been good, and the triumphs have been impressive, but it’s about more than that.

In an era when the great English gift to sport, fair play, appears to be in short supply in public life, the players have insisted on it off the field, urging children to have the minimum necessities like food and books.

Some have chastised England for taking the knee, but they have articulately explained why they are doing so.

Far than being the embodiment of tiny Englandism, they appear to be the polar opposite of it.

“Whereas Italian football is closed like a hedgehog,” Andrea Pettinello, the host of the podcast Il Calcio Inglese, argues, “England is a symbol of openness and welcome.” He points out that eight of England’s likely starting 11 are hyphenated nationals, much like my kids.

It’s a welcoming atmosphere that extends to the studios, where sharp and feminine football analysts like Emma Hayes (Anglo-American, sort of) and Alex Scott (Irish-Jamaican-English) are, in some respects, the tournament’s stars.

As a result, this final looks to me to be a celebration of that hyphenation.

It’s “the emigrants final,” as one Italian acquaintance puts it, a game that will remind us both of where we came from and what we’ve left behind.

That is as true for Italians in England as it is for all of the Italo-Brazilians, Anglo-Jamaicans, and Anglo-Saxons on the pitch.

Supporters are often devoted to their teams, but this is a game for those of us who aren’t always sure where we fit in.

Tobias Jones is a Parma resident.

“For the Italian football fan, the referee is always corrupt, unless proven otherwise,” he writes in his prize-winning book Ultra: The Underworld of Italian Football, published by Head of Zeus.

What has to be determined is how he is or has been corrupted, for whom, and why.

There are a plethora of conspiracy ideas floating about…

“All Italians feel England rigged the 1966 World Cup,” according to John Foot, author of Calcio: A History of Italian Football.

“When they come to Italy and see a toilet, they exclaim, ‘Look, a basin for the violin!” says Beppe Grillo, comedian and founder of the Five Star Movement political party.

“VAR was implemented to decrease controversies, but instead, they have multiplied – probably because we Italians like to stoke them,” Donna Leon, mystery author “When an Italian tells me there’s pasta on the plate, I look under the sauce to see if there’s any.” Massimiliano Allegri, Juventus manager “When an Italian tells me there’s pasta on the plate, I check under the sauce to see if there’s any.”

“They invented the smokescreen,” said Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager. “English football is developing; it is no longer what it was.”

From a mental standpoint, they want to win at any costs and in any way possible, even if it means taking risks.

In Italy, on the other hand, victory is achieved by neutralizing the opponent.” Gianfranco Zola, former player and manager in Italy and England “Who is blind is blind, and who is deaf is deaf.”

“Who has no sense of taste is English,” writes Italian novelist Marco Malvaldi.

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