Nicholas Farrell

England, Italy and the power of national pride

England, Italy and the power of national pride
(Photo: Getty)
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As an Englishman in enemy territory I am lucky that love is a more powerful emotion than patriotism otherwise after a month of Euro 2020, climaxing in tonight’s final between Italy and England, my marriage to my Italian wife, Carla, would be well and truly on the rocks – even though she is a devout Catholic.

Carla is so fiercely pro gli azzurri that it is a case of ‘o con noi, o contro di noi’ (either with us or against us) – the clarion call of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Every time the Italians have scored a goal this past month my very fiery wife has exploded from the mega sofa in front of the wide-screen TV we got from a bar roaring ‘Si!’ and ‘Grande!’ and ‘Che uomo!’ (what a man!) as have our six children aged five to 17.

Victory for Italy in a match has had all seven of them ranting and raving and leaping up and down and hugging and kissing as if they had not seen each other for years, before launching into a boisterous parade round the house and out into the garden led by Carla doing the conga.

Though pleased (officially) for Italy I have been quite unable to experience the same emotions as Carla and the children. I have remained largely seated partly because of my stiff upper lip upbringing, I suppose, but mainly, I am sure, because I am not Italian.

Carla sees this as proof that I am supporting Italy’s opponents in secret. ‘Look at papà’ she squawks when Italy have conceded a goal or missed a penalty. ‘Sta sorridendo sotto i baffi, suino!’ (He's smirking under his moustaches, the swine!)

To be fair, when England have played, my dutiful wife has genuinely supported the Three Lions with her mind if not her heart (well, she has as far as I can tell). And when England have scored a goal, or won, she and the children have joined me punching the air and shouting ‘Yes!’ before I belt out a few lines of ‘And did those feet in ancient time...’

But her emotional response and that of the children to English success has been pretty low-key compared to the effect Italian success has on them.

As has mine to be honest. This is not just my natural reticence but also years of failure by England have taught me to keep a lid on things and this time England’s tedious playing style in the group games, when they spent huge amounts of time just passing the ball back to the goalkeeper, did not exactly stimulate eruptions of joy.

As Carla herself pronounced: ‘The only reason the inglesi win is they’re so boring they paralyse the opposition.’

Indeed, England’s playing backwards reminded me of the allied world war two joke about fascist Italy’s lack of military prowess. How many gears does an Italian tank have? Five. One to go forward, four to go backwards.

Look who’s talking now.

But England have played much more exciting football in the knock-out stages which has caused in me a surge, not just of patriotism, but also of nostalgia.

And all this has got me thinking once again about nations and national identity.

Our six children – even though half English, if defined by blood – were born and have been brought up in Italy and, to use the fashionable word, ‘identify’ as Italians. They passionately support gli azzurri – though the youngest, Giuseppe, feels sorry for me and has decided he supports Italy and England.

As for me, I have lived in Italy for 25 years but do not feel Italian and even though I could become Italian I have no desire to do so. I remain proudly British and would have voted for Brexit – still would – if I had been allowed to vote.

And in the absence of a Great Britain football team, even though I don’t make a huge song and dance about it, I remain viscerally a supporter of the next best thing – England.

This time, I rashly dared to tempt fate by attaching a Union Jack to the antenna of my seven seater Land Rover Defender but only after we beat the dreaded Germans. I decided the Union Jack was fine because the cross of Saint George is confusing to Italians as it is the flag of AC Milan and Alfa Romeo.

Anyway, so far as Italians are concerned England is Britain. They call all British people inglesi even if they are Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish – never britannici which I am sure must have begun as a mark of disrespect for Great Britain. For the same reason, they invariably say that Italy was liberated in 1945 by the americani – always conveniently forgetting that in Italy, unlike in France, the britannici suffered many more casualties than did the americani.

Today – I've noticed – Carla has quietly taken down my flag from the Defender. But by tonight – have no fear – I'll have found a way to put it back.

The effect of Euro 2020 on our Anglo-Italian family demonstrates, I think, that national identity really does exist and is determined by the nation a person grows up in and probably also, not by the blood of their parents, but by the national identity of their mother.

And we are proof that national pride and passion exist and that such emotions are not – unless corrupted – fascist, or wicked, but a force for good.

We are also proof that the idea of a Europa football team is as ludicrous as the idea of a United States of Europe. None of us feels European. None of us ever will. Nor will anyone else. Europe – the EU – will never excite the same patriotic passion as Ingerland or Italia.

As for the people in our village – Dante’s Beach near Ravenna in the Romagna where the poet died in exile 700 years ago – obviously they too are fanatically pro-Italy.

I've written before that Dante's Beach is not exactly Chiantishire. It is situated in a pine forest on a beautiful beach but a large chunk of the beach has been illegally stolen by nudists, swingers, voyeurs, gays, trans-sexuals and many other identities yet to be classified. It is, therefore, a paradise for woke globalists.

I am not sure that I can face the idea – we shall see – but it would be fascinating during the final to observe the complete evaporation of their no borders wokery and internationalism in the village bar – called Inferno e Paradiso – and its replacement with wild patriotism for the duration of the game on the TV.

No doubt I’ll end up watching the final at home with Carla and the children – a lone inglese surrounded by Italians.

Dare I cheer if Italy muck something up or if England – heaven forbid – score a goal?

Afterwards if Italy win – God Save Me – how do I summon up the strength to face the general madness of the Italians celebrating in the village?

As Winston Churchill, who understood Italy so well, once said: ‘Italians lose wars as if they were football matches and football matches as if they were wars.’

What if England win? Dare I drive around Dante’s Beach with the children in my Defender – the Union Jack flying once more from the radio antenna – hooting my horn? And will Carla come?