The dust from Euro 2020 hasn’t quite settled. There’s the racism shown towards some players, the hooliganism and the soul-searching that comes with their potential success having been put off for — perhaps — another 55 years.
But Italy are European champions and we’ve avoided the horror that would have come with England taking the title.
But would it would really have been that horrible?
Italy have four World Cups under their belt, as well as two European championships. But somehow they took on an aura of being underdogs, the one everyone was striving for, despite the fact that reaching a final would have been just another day in the office for Roberto Mancini’s side.
Yet we all felt they were more deserving winners than England, who have just one World Cup to their name, taken home when some of the current England side’s grandparents were weren’t even born.
Italian clubs have regularly been embroiled in match fixing in the early 1980s and 2000s and to say nothing of some England fans who spoiled the fun for everyone, have their own problems with hooliganism. Fans of Premier League football, of whom there are many this side of the water, and Irish football fans have short memories.
How could you forget the attack by so-called ultras when 60 Roma “fans” attacked Liverpool supporter and Meath man Sean Cox? That’s not to tar all Italy fans with the same brush as just like supporters of the England teams, some are hooligans and others just love football.
But it prompts the question, why to us are the Italian team and their supporters considered so likeable in comparison to those who support England and are some of our closest neighbours, the people with whom we have most in common?
They’re considered so likeable, in fact, people were changing their names to Italian monikers on Twitter and supporting the team by eating pizza and pasta the night of the final, just to show how much they supported Italy.
There’s no doubt the England football team this year is unlike others of old.
Manager Gareth Southgate is widely lauded as a gentleman and model sportsfigure, a nice guy who motivates his team, while the players themselves are a likeable bunch who frequently get positive press for their campaigning work.
Yet anti-English hysteria has this year reached peak levels — to the extent a caller to an RTÉ phone-in programme gave an emotional speech about how hard it is to be an England supporter while living in Ireland in the run up to the Euros.
English people living in Ireland north and south have publicly said they were troubled by how little support there was for them and how support for the “other” team — whichever one is not England — is always considered the way forward by our countrymen and women.
Some might say it’s nothing new and that those who follow sport always want their rivals to lose. Man United don’t cheer on Liverpool in a Champions League final. However, for those of us dipping their toe into football for the first time, what’s the excuse?
Many of us, myself included, had no interest in football but for some, England’s mere presence was enough to boil their blood and get them watching. Is that really an honourable position to take?
There is much to dislike about some English fans and also much to dislike about the English media and how they react when their team does well and the triumphalism runs free on the front page of broadsheets and tabloids alike.
But there’s an element of reverse band-wagonning across the water — in England they want success and here in Ireland some of us want anything but that for them. What’s our motivation? Northern Ireland and the Republic didn’t even qualify so can we claim victory by proxy because Italy won?
The world isn’t fond of England and their influence on Ireland has been a source of contention and resentment. Anyone who watches rugby will root for the team playing England.
But we’re taking it too far, and we’re showing ourselves up as people who are a bit classless with our anti-English sentiment. I’m sure it was uncomfortable for the fairly large community of people from England who are living in Ireland.
Some may have laughed it off but we have taken it a bit far in our glee at their loss this time. No one has to support England but we don’t have to so fervently not support them either. As soon as the match was over, we’re right back to (rightly) supporting Marcus Rashford, the young man who feeds children in his spare time.
We can criticise football hooligans all we like but maybe we have something in common with them in hating a team so much we cheer against them no matter what. Maybe we need to take a look at ourselves.