10 Jul 2021 | Football, Reflections, Sport

The final (part 1)

So it’s finally going to happen. The two faces of my personal Janus will turn towards each other in a literal face-off. Substance will stare-out style, head shall combat heart and gruel will oppose food. It’s England versus Italy. 

The final match of the Euro 2020 football competition will pit my Passport provider against my emotional centre and the artistic flair I have always craved. As a Londoner with an Italian name and an English voice, I have always felt simultaneously divided and conjoined. I seek resolution to this conflict and yet am grateful in the same bipolar moment for the gifts of mixed cultures.

I have always supported Italy in this kind of play-off but yet am not really sure why. I was raised and educated in England and have many great British friends. There is really not much that could make me anti-England except perhaps the nagging feeling that I have always felt like an outsider. I have an early childhood memory of me sitting alone on a bench in the school playground wearing a bright yellow Duffle coat. All the other 5-year-olds wore navy coats with tartan lining and I was the tortured one dressed like a bruised banana. It didn’t matter that this Italian made coat was of superior quality and made me look, according to my mother, ‘special’. As far as I was concerned, I stood out from the crowd I wanted to be a part of. I felt ostracised. Whether I was actually left out by the other kids, I cannot say. My own shyness might have held me back but the fact remained that I felt like I was on the fringes and if you feel you’re on the fringe, you probably are.

Despite the pain coming directly from my foreign name and the obligation to wear Italian clothes, I did not turn against the cause of the agony. Being half Italian began to have a positive effect. My identity got stronger and when I was eleven I bought an Inter football shirt and wore it to the games lesson at school. The teacher scolded me for not wearing the official school colours and the infamy that accompanied this rebuke brought along a sense of rebellion and the hitherto unknown feeling of being ‘cool’. I was starting to appreciate my foreignness and when I was 16, I realised that an Italian image had kudos. Around this time, I learned to speak Italian properly and when I used it in front of my English friends, it impressed them. 

During my late teens and early twenties, I spent a lot of time studying and working in Italy. I was well received and got on with people who often complimented my being English and in some cases openly declared envy for me having access to British values of fair play and for doing things properly. I could finally see I was blessed with the best of both worlds.

So as my two international teams prepare to do battle, I’m spreading my arms in a wide embrace in the hope that whatever happens, I shall feel like the winner. So long as it’s Italy.