‘If we win, you’ll be sad’: London’s Little Italy torn over Euro 2020 final

England showdown fuels mixed emotions for Italians who call Clerkenwell neighbourhood home

The prospect of Sunday’s Euro 2020 final between England and Italy is a “tragic situation”, according to a priest at the Italian church in London. With a pained expression, he says: “I’m Italian, but I live in England and love English people, but now you have become our foes.”

The priest is so troubled by the upcoming game that he refuses to give his name. Speaking after giving a mass at St Peter’s church, in the heart of Little Italy in Clerkenwell, he adds: “England is the only team we don’t want to face. If we win, you’ll be sad and I don’t want the English people to be sad. If you win, I’ll be sad and you can’t console me.”

Lots of Italians in Little Italy are similarly torn. Giovanna Gualti watched Wednesday night’s semi-final rooting for Denmark. “I just didn’t want England and Italy to be in the final,” she says, sitting behind a desk at the Holborn School of Motoring, a family business that was established in 1965 as the Italian School of Motoring and is still decorated in the green, white and red of the Italian flag.

“If England win it will be just be yap, yap, yap,” she says while miming a mouth opening and closing with her hand. “The English take it too seriously. If Italy win I’ll be happy and I’ll wear my Italian top for a couple of days, but I won’t be bragging about it.”

Gualti adds: “This is one of the best Italian teams we’ve had for a long time.” But still she expects the Azzurri to lose. “England are at home and they’ll have so many fans. It will give them the motivation to win.”

Gualti grew up in Little Italy in the 1980s and spent every Saturday as a teenager in the Italian club above the church. “Now it’s just a place for old people to play cards,” she says.

Italian flags on display at the deli and cafe Terrroni of Clerkenwell
Italian flags on display at the deli and cafe Terrroni of Clerkenwell, where Euro 2020 has been good for business. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Like many of her childhood friends she moved out of the area after leaving home. She will be watching the game with her husband and two teenage children at home in Camden. “I’ve said to them if we lose there’ll be no dinner on Sunday evening.”

Next door to the motoring school, Antonio Verruto, the owner of Malletti’s Pizza, is more confident about Italy’s chances because of their togetherness as a team.

“We are lucky because we don’t have any prima donnas in the team now,” he says. “We just have 11 good, efficient soldiers who are ready to run and fight. It has been a revelation for Italy to play like that without any fear. They still dive, but that is in our DNA. We just can’t help it.”

He adds: “Of course I want Italy to win, but I’ve been living in England for nearly 40 years – it’s my second country. I’ll be annoyed if Italy lose and maybe my English friends will take the pee out of me, but that’s fine, I’ll do the same if Italy wins.

“Football is like an exhaust valve for releasing all the stress and anxiety. And it is exciting to have that after being restricted for 18 months in the horrible situation of fear of getting the disease, the fear of dying and the fear of losing jobs and businesses.”

He describes his own restaurant as “running on fumes” and adds: “It is still as dead as a dodo until people come back to work.”

An Italian supporter celebrates Italy’s victory over Spain at the fan zone in Potters Field in London.
An Italian supporter celebrates Italy’s victory over Spain at the fan zone in Potters Field in London. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

But the football has been good for business at the Italian deli and cafe Terroni of Clerkenwell a few doors down. About 100 people watched Italy’s semi-final win on Tuesday on the deli’s TV, according to the co-owner Zin Sula, 48. “People love watching football with some pasta or pizza and a beer,” he says. “We were a bit lucky in the semi, but let’s see how lucky we are going to be on Sunday.”

Sula is coming under pressure from customers to open up on Sunday evening for the game. “If I can get a replacement pizza chef, I’ll open,” he says. If not, he will be watching at home in Golders Green with his England-supporting sons.

The family of Les Giovanni, 62, will also have split allegiances on Sunday.

Giovanni was baptised in the Italian church and remembers being “spoiled” by his Italian grandmother’s cooking. “Both my nans came here in 1920s – one from Sicily, the other from Naples. And they made their lives here.”

Giovanni now lives in Mill Hill, but he was taking the opportunity to visit the church again and his childhood haunts while on a break from work repairing a nearby council flat. “It’s changed so much; no doors were locked back then.”

Despite his Italian roots, Giovanni will be supporting England on Sunday.

“I’ll be getting lots of grief from the rest of the family if Italy win. It’s already been going off on text and WhatsApp with the banter. I always get stick for supporting England.”

But Giovanni will be happy whatever the outcome – at the start of the tournament he placed a bet on Italy to win “with good odds”.


Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
1,000 Italy fans to be allowed in to UK for Euro 2020 final at Wembley
Lucky holders of €610 tickets will have to fly in and out on Sunday, remain in a bubble and quarantine on return

Paul MacInnes

08, Jul, 2021 @4:34 PM

Article image
Football’s coming to Rome? Italy fans look to Wembley showdown
Italians are excited for the Euro 2020 final against England: ‘If we play with the heart, we will win’

Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo

08, Jul, 2021 @5:53 PM

Article image
England fan who stormed Euro 2020 final at Wembley defends his actions
‘Pablo’, 24, estimates at least 5,000 ticketless fans got into Wembley on Sunday and explains how they did it

Matthew Weaver

13, Jul, 2021 @5:05 PM

Article image
Euro 2020 final attracts estimated 31 million TV audience in UK
Coverage of England v Italy match watched by more viewers than any programme since 1997 Diana funeral

Jim Waterson Media editor

12, Jul, 2021 @12:13 PM

Article image
England fans force way into Wembley without tickets for Euro 2020 final
Groups of England fans without tickets forced their way through the Wembley turnstiles before England’s Euro 2020 final against Italy, multiple witnesses have told the Guardian

Nick Ames

11, Jul, 2021 @6:17 PM

Article image
Two nations, two cultures, one Euro 2020 final – and my divided family
Nationalism is more nuanced when you’re from an Anglo-Italian family. And this tournament has been about more than football: it’s a celebration of diversity

Tobias Jones

11, Jul, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Tyrone Mings opens up about mental health struggles at Euro 2020
England and Aston Villa defender reveals he had crisis of self-confidence before opening game

Damien Gayle and agency

02, Aug, 2021 @7:49 AM

Article image
Fans in England’s little Italy waving two flags for Euro 2020 final
It will be a night of mixed emotions for many of the 14,000 Italians in Bedford

Miranda Bryant

11, Jul, 2021 @6:11 AM

Article image
‘Wonderful to see’: Ukrainians in England revel in Euro 2020 encounter
Saturday’s quarter-final has revitalised a sense of community and identity, though some are torn about who to support

Amelia Hill

03, Jul, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Italy scouting report: Azzurri insight before Euro 2020 final with England
Roberto Mancini’s team are on a 33-game unbeaten streak with a super-solid defence and Federico Chiesa a huge threat

Marcus Christenson

08, Jul, 2021 @9:38 AM