Bedford (United Kingdom) (AFP)
If it hadn’t been for the gray skies and the threat of rain as they sipped espressos and chatted football outside La Piazza Caffè, Luciano Lambiase and his friends might be in Naples or Rome.
But the retired factory engineer, 66, and his childhood friends Pasquale Spadaccino and Franco Bulzis, both 73, discuss the upcoming Euro 2020 final in the town of Bedford, in southern England, home to one of the country’s largest Italian communities.
“He’s coming back to Rome,” Lambiase told AFP, predicting his national side would beat England in the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship final at Wembley on Sunday.
“It has always been a mystery to us what ‘It’s Coming Home’ means,” he added, referring to the popular anthem written by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner that England fans sing at matches. .
“This is the first time they have played in a final (of the Euro), and we have won four World Cups,” he added.
Liberato “Libby” Lionetti, 55, who runs La Piazza in Bedford’s market square and whose patrons include fans in English shirts, was more diplomatic in his predictions.
Hoping for a modest 1-0 victory for Italy, he said that whatever happens football “is definitely coming back to Bedford”.
Before the game, the atmosphere in the city was “very tense, everyone is excited,” Lionetti said.
Whatever rivalries may be during the match, after “everything will be fine”, he added.
“It’s only 90 minutes, or the time it takes for your team to win. And then that’s it and the next day is another day. You keep going.”
The older men drinking coffee outside the cafe said they hope the game goes off without a hitch.
But they acknowledged that a final between Italy and England brings back memories of the abuse they suffered as young men in international games in the 1960s and ’70s.
Lambiase, Spadaccino, and Bulzis arrived in Bedford as children in 1956 after their fathers left Italy’s southern Campania region to work in the city’s then thriving brick-making industry.
Today, the Italian community of 14,000 people still runs grocery stores, cafes and restaurants in the city.
– Tensions –
The three men say that in the poverty of the early postwar years, football tied the Italian community together when they had little else.
Tensions between communities persist and Bedfordshire Police have urged residents to be “sensitive” and provide a “safe environment for all to enjoy football”.
Following England’s defeat to Italy at Euro 2012, four people were arrested after English supporters attacked a cavalcade of cars celebrating the Italian victory.
Police opened an investigation in 2014 when an Italian flag was set on fire by English fans in Bedford after the “Azzurri” beat England in the first round of the World Cup.
Bedfordshire Police said they will deploy more resources for the match and have encouraged families to stay home, highlighting a recent increase in coronavirus cases.
“We are fortunate to live in one of the most diverse parts of the country and will always celebrate this diversity and the great Anglo-Italian relationship we have in Bedford,” said Bedfordshire Deputy Police Chief Sharn Basra.
“Please enjoy the game responsibly, come home safe and hope for a suitable final at what has been a great tournament for both teams.”
At the city’s Club Italia, the drinks were freezing and Italian tricolor flags adorned the tables and walls.
Bartender Michael Bianco said Sunday night was going to be “absolutely crazy”.
Manager Francesco Derrico added that if the national team won, the Italians at Bedford would make it a night out.
“If we lose, we stay home, eat pasta. If we win, we go out and celebrate.”
© 2021 AFP