There was an advert recently on Italian TV when four vast but genial blokes filled the screen extolling the virtues of an unspecified product, before the camera pulled back to reveal they were all Italian rugby forwards and squeezed shoulder to shoulder inside a minute Fiat.
The ad was pleasing for a number of reasons, not least the sight of half a ton of grinning humanity crammed into a tiny space. But I particularly liked it because it seemed to show that Italian rugby was becoming part of mainstream Italian culture, like football, food and Fellini. Like anyone with a modicum of humanity, I am continually wrestling with the eternal conundrum of whether Italy or the game of rugby has contributed more to civilisation. Thus it was that Saturday’s unbearably tense but thoroughly deserved Six Nations win over France was epiphanic.
To see the titanic figure of Sergio Parisse weeping uncontrollably as he embraced his team on the final whistle was to see the glory of sport at its most raw. Italy deserved to beat Wales, and could have beaten Ireland. Now they actually had beaten last year’s champions. And so much of it was down to the leadership of Parisse. How good is that man! Pity he’s a bit of a biter, but, hey-ho, nobody’s perfect. And if you didn’t admire him enough, he’s also married to a spectacularly beautiful woman (Alexandra Rosenfeld, a former Miss France, since you ask).
And at last Italy didn’t choke. Which is more than could be said for Arsenal, who appear to be doing the team equivalent of Jana Novotna’s epic collapse against Steffi Graf back in the early Nineties. Arsenal fans do tend to take themselves terribly seriously and the more dotty among them are calling for Arsène Wenger to throw in the towel. Mark you, they don’t take themselves half as seriously as Manchester City supporters, who have a ripe old few weeks of self-righteousness ahead before the Cup semi-final with United. Still, City supporters do tend to come from Manchester, or so they like to think, unlike United fans who come from Portsmouth or Norway and points between.
Some people bridged the Manchester divide, of course. In the 1930s the great Matt Busby was a star player for City and living in Moss Side. When the census compilers arrived on his doorstep with their forms they couldn’t make out his thick Scottish accent after they asked him for his occupation. They wrote down ‘fruit boiler’.
Talking of legends, all but the most eagle-eyed may have missed a recent episode in the saga of Jose Mourinho, who always finds a way to make himself into a big story. This isn’t just headlines hinting at his Premier League return (though it’s always good to see that very special badge kisser Gary Neville in a lather on the subject). No, after years of trying, Jose has finally provoked someone into attempting to kill him. The list of potential suspects is endless. In the end it wasn’t Fergie, Arsène or John Terry, but a disgruntled Deportivo fan who stabbed a bodyguard instead. Mourinho, of course, kept his cool. In a statement that may worry the Spanish Bodyguard’s Union, it turns out Jose didn’t even notice.
It’s easy, indeed essential, to bitch about the BBC with its inflated salaries, absurd sense of entitlement, and tiresome political correctness. But by golly, it can deliver the goods sometimes. Please don’t miss a pin-sharp new Office-style mockumentary on the Olympics. It’s called Twenty Twelve, it’s on BBC 4, and it features Hugh Bonneville as the head of the hapless Olympic Deliverance Commission, floundering around in Canary Wharf. The first episode featured the unveiling of the Olympic clock. How’s that for prescience? LOL, as we say.
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times