The Italians are deluding themselves about the English

17 July 2021

4:00 PM

17 July 2021

4:00 PM

Not content with winning Euro 2020, many Italians have spent the days since the final engaged in a febrile orgy of moral supremacy. Italians are not just much better than the English at football, you see (which is fair enough, although they did only win on penalties), but many Italians are insisting, even more excitedly, that the Italians are much better people than the English.

To which I, as a Brexiteer expat Briton who has lived amongst Italians for donkey’s years, have this to say:

Si calmino, signori, si calmino! (Calm down dears!).

The English football team have been branded as bad losers and cheats; their supporters have been labelled as rude, arrogant, hypocritical, violent, drunken thugs and racists. There is much talk in Italy of the death of English fair play and of the demise of the English gentleman.

Regardless of the truth, this is the dominant narrative being pumped out by the Italian media and on social media about England and the English. A view has taken hold that, on one single day in London, Italy showed the world and Sua Maestà – as the Queen is sarcastically called by many Italians – how to win the football final at Wembley in style; and, with Matteo Berrettini, how to lose the tennis final at Wimbledon in style.

The England team, meanwhile, showed the world – according to this holier-than-though narrative – that they were tournament champions only at cheating, thanks above all to Raheem Sterling’s ‘dives’. It showed that the inglesi are appallingly bad sports because they removed their silver runners-up medals as soon as they received them. This was, according to the Italian media, a deliberate sign of disprezzo – contempt – for gli azzurri.

Of course, it is irrelevant that Italy’s football team has always been famous for diving. It is also irrelevant that Italian skipper, Giorgio Chiellini, should have been sent off in extra time for hauling Bukayo Saka to the ground by the scruff of his neck when there was wide-open space between the 19-year-old Arsenal winger and the goal. Many Italians think what Chiellini did was funny; others simply praise him for his match-saving astuteness.

And it is irrelevant that, for better or worse, the removal of runners-up medals is pretty commonplace these days. Not as a sign of disrespect to opponents but to oneself.

As for the English fans, the Italians were outraged that they booed and whistled the anthems of opposition nations, including Italy, and that they deserted the stadium after the final whistle but before the presentation of the cup to gli azzurri. They also accused English fans of hunting down Italian fans and beating them up.

They sang that stupid song of theirs, Football’s Coming Home, ad nauseam, it was said, only because they arrogantly assumed they would win Euro 2020.

There were even bogus claims spread in the Italian media that Prince William left before the ceremony after refusing to shake the hand of Italian president Sergio Mattarella.

The inglesi are such bad losers like their footballers that many of them have now cancelled holidays in Italy, according to some reports. It has also been claimed that the English have stopped buying pasta.

Again, it did not count as relevant that Italian fans regularly boo and whistle opposition anthems, such as during a friendly against Germany in 2016, or against Sweden in 2017.

Nor did it count that, if Italy had lost, their fans would undoubtedly have deserted the stadium after the final whistle. Losing such a final, after all, especially on penalties, is a very depressing business. And few Italians care that Prince William, as confirmed by Kensington Palace, remained in the stadium until after the presentation of the cup. Or that he wanted to shake Mattarella’s hand but was blocked by a crowd of people.

The so-called proof that England fans conducted a witch hunt to hunt down and beat up Italian fans came in the form of a video posted online which went viral. It was soon established that this clip actually showed England fans with tickets fighting England fans without tickets. Did the Italians correct their narrative? Of course not.

As for Football’s Coming Home, the confusion about the song’s meaning is a classic example of how many Italians fail to understand the British sense of irony, humour and self-deprecation. It is the opposite of an arrogant triumphalist song. Yet according to one Italian newspaper, it showed ‘the shared certainty’ that an England victory was ‘the gift of an unavoidable destiny’.

As for those cancelled Italian holidays, surely they had more to do with Covid quarantine rules? What about the apparent slump in pasta imports? Isn’t Brexit border trouble much more likely to be the real reason?

Vittorio Feltri, editorial director and founder of the Milan daily, Libero, wrote:

‘I have always admired the style of the English: they have always been the masters in male clothing and they were, in practice, the first to adopt a democratic system, not the Greeks who in truth ran the State as if it were a block of flats only accessible to an oligarchy.’

Feltri is an incredibly stylish version of a classical English gentleman, as I well know because I worked for him as a columnist on Libero for many years. What a shame then that this week he repeated the herd view in Italy on the inglesi. Feltri announced:

‘In a single night they succeeded in destroying a solid reputation that had lasted centuries. All of a sudden their good manners have ended up fried. All it took was a football match to send up in smoke the great fame of Londoners who, by causing such huge trouble, transformed themselves into yobs worthy only of being deplored.’

Obviously, English – or rather British – football fans have been notorious for their thuggery for decades. If anything, they are less thuggish these days than in the past. So to say that what they got up to last Sunday destroyed the reputation of the English as gentleman and good sports is absurd.

No sane British person can feel anything but embarrassment and anger at the behaviour of the thuggish minority that have given British football fans such a bad reputation over the years. But it is hypocritical of the Italians to get on a moral high horse about English fans who booed and whistled their anthem, and left the stadium before their team was presented with the cup. It is also dishonest of them to use these inglesi to brand all inglesi – i.e. the British – as rude and bad sports.

However, the most dishonest and hypocritical behaviour by the Italian media – and many Italians on social media – has been to accuse all inglesi of being racist because a small group of trolls (out of a population of 66 million) wrote racist things about the three English players who missed penalties.

Britain is, in fact, one of the least racist countries in Europe, largely because the British are remarkably tolerant and because the UK has taken in huge numbers of immigrants from the Commonwealth.

As for Italy, the two most successful political parties are the Lega and Fratelli d’Italia. The right-wing Lega and the post-fascist Fratelli are nearly always defined as ‘far right’ and ‘anti-immigration’ by the world’s mainstream media. Yet together, they are supported by more than 40 per cent of voters, according to the polls. With their allies, they are almost certain to form the next Italian government.

All this from a country that regularly figures among the most corrupt places in Europe. But in the aftermath of the Euro 2020 final, these facts have been quietly forgotten.<//>

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