Friday, 20 July 2012

It's The End Of The World As We Know It... and I'm sure I'll feel fine

During the recent footie Euros, something amazing happened. For me, anyway. I stopped supporting Whoever Played Italy, which for years had been my second team after England. That’s not to say I started supporting Italy, but I recognised that their success would make a lot of friends of mine happy and therefore wished them well. Now as it happens they lost the final 4-0 to Spain, but I did not derive the same sense of pleasure that wins by France (1986), Argentina (1990), France (1998 and 2000), South Korea (2002) and Slovakia (2010) had given me. Childish but true, to the point that from 1998 onwards I bought the shirts of whoever knocked Italy out of the World Cup and wore them on holiday out there! I sold my France top to a French housemate within weeks of the 1998 World Cup, but my South Korean top still has pride of place in my wardrobe…
… and no, I didn’t forget 1994: I just didn’t derive pleasure at their penalties defeat against Brazil, not least because Roberto Baggio was my favourite player and it’s his sky-high kick that’s remembered, in spite of the fact that Baresi and Massaro’s earlier misses meant Italy were behind the eight ball anyway. Nor did I forget 2006: nobody beat them that year. It all started in 1982, when Italy won the World Cup in Spain and I, a British Citizen, was dragged onto the streets to celebrate… it got better in 2006, my ‘dislike’ turning to ‘tolerance’, when I wasn’t teased as much as I deserved following Italy’s win in Germany… and ‘tolerance’ of my Italian roots turned to ‘pride’ in 2012, just before the Euros. Don’t worry if none of all this makes sense – it’s all a bit odd. And then some.

Anyway, where was I going? Yes… My schadenfreude about Italy dealt with, I’m now approaching another, similar hurdle. My Dad’s a lifelong Genoa fan. According to my Mum he introduced himself as an AC Milan fan when they first met, to increase his chances, but there was no substance behind that. Since they first met, mind, he’s also been a Blade – and a true one. He obviously supports Italy but also wants England to do well and has been spotted cycling and running around the Ligurian hills in many an England top. We never fell out over my ‘issues’ with the Italian football team. Not that they were limited to football, mind: I had to pull myself away from England-Italy rugby matches just to stop cheering when an Italian player was sent crashing to the floor! Anyway… as I said, that was never an issue. He dismissed it as stupid, childish and irrational, so we never really spoke about it. Wise. As for the next hurdle…

…as I said, Dad’s a Genoa fan. As a kid he took me to the Marassi stadium on many occasions, the most vivid one in my memory being the first one. It was Brazilian legend Zico’s debut for Udinese and he played a different game to anyone else on that pitch, or any other pitch, that day. How such a legend ended up in Udine, with all respect for a club for whom I subsequently acted as interpreter and that has since inhabited the upper echelons of Serie A, but that back then was mid-table at best, is anybody’s guess. But he did: and I was blessed with the privilege of seeing him.

In spite of being given a cotton replica shirt whose weight doubled at the mere sight of rain, as a kid I never really took to Genoa. And that’s in spite of the fact that, as a club founded by English expats, their full name is actually Genoa Cricket and Football Club. Childish rebellion? Probably. I just developed a dislike which defies reason, the sort of dislike that I reserve, but with far more logic, to United’s neighbours in S6 (with whose name I shall not this blog tarnish). This sat less comfortably with my Dad: I didn’t fall out with him, but there were some less enjoyable exchanges, all fuelled by my stupid rants.

As for whom I did support in Italy, initially I was changing by the week. You’re born a Blade and you die a Blade, but when you’re not born anything… I ultimately settled on AC Milan when Ruud Gullit landed in 1987. His personality was like nothing that I’d never seen before, that Serie A had possibly never seen, and I was mesmerised by it. And that was before he was joined by fellow Dutch magicians van Basten and Rijkaard, as well as many Italian stars whose purchases were bankrolled by a local boy done-good called Silvio Berlusconi, laying the foundations for Italy’s greatest ever club side. Can you imagine a time when Barcelona would lose a European final 4-0? Well, that’s what Sacchi’s AC Milan did to them in 1994… and Barcelona weren’t that bad back then, either!

These days, I don’t support anyone in Italy. ‘Calciopoli’ took my love away. I can’t get excited about something whose legality I cannot take for granted, or at least think of as likely. Sure, there probably isn’t a league that is 100% clean: but Italy’s been taking scandals to another level. Far better focusing solely on the Blades whilst keeping an eye on the beauty of FCBarcelona, if only to compensate for the heartache that goes with that first bit…
So, I don’t support any team in Italy. Would it really hurt that much to drop my dislike for Genoa and at least wish them well for my Dad’s sake?

The rational answer to that is pretty straightforward. And you know what, I may just be able to do that. He’ll tell me all about them on The Sunday Catch-Up Call anyway (although, during my running training, this is becoming The Monday Evening Catch-Up Call – Sunday is Long Run Day!), so I might as well swim with the tide and be happy for him…
…now, when I wished Italy well against of the Euros final on Facebook, one of my best friends saw it as proof that 2012 really will see the end of the world, as per the Maya’s prediction. It doesn’t bear thinking what people would make of me dropping my dislike for Genoa in the name of my lifelong love for my Father. Heck, some may fear we might not even get to December.

p.s.: I saw Baggio twice at Marassi. The first time was a dull 1-1 between Genoa and Juve: nothing to report. Then, on August 10, 1997, one of those meaningless Summer tournaments where three teams all play two 45’ matches against each other was set alight by this.

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