By Giancarlo Rinaldi
Not every child gets to see their father rolling around the living room floor with his two brothers. To the outsider, it might have looked like a fight that had got out of control as three grown men writhed around on the carpet. But what looked like aggression was actually ecstasy.
This was what growing up was like for me. There were not that many football games on television, even fewer involving Italian teams. So when the Azzurri played at a major championships it was a real occasion. A time for family, food and a few bottles of wine.
My grandfather, Nonno to me, brought his three sons up to be intensely proud of their Italian heritage. He vehemently refused to consider them to be Scottish, simply because that was the land of their birth. Jesus was born in a stable, he reasoned, but that did not make him a horse. They swallowed that Gospel and passed it on to my generation as well.
We became the defenders of the indefensible – nowhere more so than in Italian football. If the world viewed our game as negative and cynical, we went on a verbal counter-attack. And if results gave us evidence for our beliefs, so much the better.
Watching Italy play, I always got the feeling the players never knew how much it meant to us. For millions of emigrants and their descendants dotted across the globe, the Azzurri could send you to school or work with a spring in your step. Or provoke hours of abuse and ridicule. We wore the red-white-and-green with pride, no matter what the result.
But, I digress, we were busy watching my dad and his two brothers rolling around the living room floor. The cause, of course, was an Italy goal. But this was no ordinary goal for a Scottish-Italian, this was a goal against England. It came courtesy of Marco Tardelli pre-Spain 82 goal-celebration heroics. It was at a pretty humdrum European Nations tournament of 1980. For me that game was far and away the highlight.
My memories of the match are sketchy now at more than 30 years distance. I recall Tardelli being detailed to mark Kevin Keegan out of the game – which he clearly managed – before breaking free from his defensive duties to strike the only goal of the game. That’s what provoked the massive family pile-up.
Looking on, I think I was astounded at the raw emotion on display. What was this game that made adults act like children? And, whatever it was, could I have a piece of that action? I was hooked.
Since then I have ripped down curtains, burned my hands on an iron and terrified an elderly neighbour in the name of football. I have seen glasses and chairs broken and a door head-butted in sheer frustration. There have been tears and raucous roars of joy. Sometimes, I confess, the language has been a little rude.
It is an addiction which started, at least in part, with that Italy side which was approaching World Cup winning maturity. I can remember being taunted for defeat by Holland during 1978 and my self-imposed embargo on Dutch crispbakes after the tournament. But two years later was the first international tournament I fully followed. I fell in love with those players and with the nervous tension of watching their games.
And, of course, they had Giancarlo Antognoni. He was my bro-mance, man-crush, call it what you will, before those terms had even been invented. We shared a name but he seemed to live on another planet from a Scottish-Italian schoolboy. His skills were sublime, he played for my “local” side Fiorentina and, it was rumoured, the girls queued up to try to break into his chalet during pre-season training. There were no greater heights I could aspire to.
The flame that was lit on a south of Scotland housing estate three decades or so ago, shows no sign of dimming. I am still unbearable to be around in the build-up to a big match. I dream of victory but tremble with the fear of defeat. That is the power which football still holds over me. And I fervently hope I get to roll around the carpet or dance in the stands for a few more years yet.
Giancarlo follows Fiorentina fervently, but when the Viola aren’t playing he writes for a number of outlets including Football Italia, Serie A Weekly and you can keep up with his fantastic writing at his own blog: http://giancarlorinaldi.tumblr.com/ and on twitter (@ginkers).
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