Italians living in England battle with divided loyalties over who to support in the Euro final

Ask an Italian about the Euro 2020 final on Sunday and chances are they’ll smile and tell you they can’t lose. Whoever wins, they’ll be happy.

Thousands of Britons of Italian origin are this weekend experiencing divided loyalties as the old country prepares to face Gareth Southgate’s men.

But dig a little deeper and many will reveal their true feelings: "Forza Azzurri!"

There’s nothing they’d like more than for the boys in blue to lift that trophy so they can say to their English neighbours – with that characteristic Italian mixture of joviality, pride and bravado – we’re proud, we’re here and we can still show you, who invented the game, a thing or two.

At Bar Italia in Soho, one of London’s oldest and best surviving coffee establishments, they have added more Italian flags to their collection of sporting memorabilia.

Owner Antonio Polledri, whose grandfather Lou opened the bar in 1949, said: "It’s always difficult for me, being born and raised in London. I have a fondness for England, but Bar Italia is the home of Italian football in London, it’s where Italian come to celebrate their victories, so I owe it to them and to my family to support Italy. Forza Azzurri!"

Italians form one of the UK’s oldest and most established migrant communities and their culture and colours are woven into the fabric of British society.

Every Italian cafe, deli and barber shop is testimony to their contribution.

Regular visits back home and the arrival of each new generation from the old country reinforces that sense of Italian-ness.

It takes little excuse then to put up the tricolore flag and celebrate its latest sporting achievements, this time those of the imperious coach Roberto Mancini and his team, unbeaten in 33 games.

At Pino restaurant on Kensington High Street – where they serve small plates from the northern Emilia-Romagna region – they have put out the Italian bunting, but its owner, James Chiavarini, pictured below, is torn.

He was born in Streatham, south London, to Italian parents, and is trying to remain philosophical. 

"It’s cool," he said. "Whoever wins on Sunday night is the team I support!"

For more recent arrivals the choice is more straightforward, but they too appreciate the conflict many are going through.

Federico Berti, a 29-year-old waiter at Osteria Pulcinella, in Twickenham, who has been working in the UK for two years, said: "Our customers tell me I should be supporting England, but I can’t, I’m Italian. I have to support Italy. If Italy weren’t in the final I’d support England of course, living and working here. For people who are both English and Italian it must be really difficult.

"If Italy win I hope the fans behave themselves and can still have fun afterwards. English fans used to have a very bad reputation with Italians, smashing things up."

Even celebrities of Italian origin, for whom being Italian is a key part of their public image, suffer divided loyalties.

Frankie Dettori, the Italian-born champion jockey and team captain on BBC Question of Sport, said: "It’s extraordinary for me to be in this position with totally split loyalties. 

"I’m Italian, but I live here and I’ve got English children of Italian heritage. Totally extraordinary."

Paul Gambaccini, the broadcaster and musicologist, told The Telegraph: "People shiver at the memory of Southagate’s missed penalty kick against Germany in 1996, but what haunts me more than any England penalty shoot out is Roberto Baggio sending the ball flying over the bar with his penalty for Italy against Brazil in the 1994 World Cup final.

"I don’t pass Norman Tebbit’s notorious cricket test, but I can’t lose. I’m half Italian, quarter English, eighth German and eighth Irish, so whoever wins, so do I."

In Bedford, home to one of England’s largest Italian communities – attracted originally by jobs in the brick-making industry during the 1950s – there was a similar feeling.

Giovanni Esposito, 18, pictured below on the left with his father, whose family owns The Bakery, Sapori Del Sud restaurant and Bottega Di Calabria Delicatessen, said: "I will be supporting Italy. My girlfriend is English and she’ll be supporting England. At the end of the day, who wins or loses doesn’t matter. We are like a family."

Credit: South Beds News Agency

Credit: South Beds News Agency

Hairdresser Bruno Damiano, 60, above, who runs Damiano’s in Bedford High Street, said: "My kids were born here, but they have been converted to Italy. I have three kids and five grandkids and they will all be supporting Italy.

"In a way I can’t lose  – I was born here. My parents are Italian. Both my countries are in the final."

The conflict between loyalty for the old country and affection for a host nation that has allowed Italians to thrive is nowhere felt more keenly than at the country’s embassy in Mayfair.

"This is the best possible final for my family," said Raffaele Trombetta, the Italian ambassador. "I will be supporting Italy whereas my wife Victoria, who is English, would be happy if England were to win.

"Our son, Alex, is passionate about Italian football, roots for Napoli like me, and will support Italy. Perhaps, to perfectly balance out our family, my daughter Emily will cheer for England. 

"At home we will be split 50/50, just like the chances of victory for either team. It is the beauty of being a genuinely European family: whichever way the final ends."

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