Football's coming Rome | 

Passions high among Italian and English expats in Ireland as Euros come to grand finale tonight

'I don’t like the way the English fans boo the other teams’ national anthems... and the dive the other night, that was not nice. That was not football'
Dubliner Alessia Macari is a huge celebrity in Italy where she is now living.

Dubliner Alessia Macari is a huge celebrity in Italy where she is now living.

Eugene Masterson

The whole country is set to come to a standstill for tonight's Euro final as England take on Italy at Wembley.

But for the Italian and ­English communities here - the ­anticipation for the big game has reached fever pitch.

There's extra interest in the final too, of course, given several that England players have Irish roots and some have played at various levels for Ireland, namely Declan Rice, Jack Grealish and Kalvin Philips.

Harry Kane and Harry Maguire could have also technically qualified for us through their ancestry.

Nico Merucci with son Tony and two of his grandchildren young Calvin (left) and Ross.

Nico Merucci with son Tony and two of his grandchildren young Calvin (left) and Ross.

This will be England's first major football final since their World Cup win in 1966 and their first appearance in a European Championship Final.

Italy are more trophy-laden, having won the World Cup four times - the last in 2006 - but they have only won one European championship in 1968 and last appeared in a final when they were beaten by Spain 4-0 in Euro 2012.

More than 10,000 Italian nationals live in Ireland and several thousand more are of Italian descent, many in the restaurant trade.

One chip-shop owner is Nico Merucci, who owns Nico's in ­Ballybough, near Croke Park.

The 75-year-old arrived here in 1967, is a father of five and has five grandchildren.

He is from the Casino and Frosinone region of central ­Italy, where generations of Italian chippers have been coming to Ireland since after World War II. He recalls: "I started work as a panel beater in Italy in 1959, then I went to France and worked with Peugeot, then I was in the army in Italy and ended up a sergeant.

"I'm mad into cars and I am more a Formula 1 fan, I was a go-kart champion when I was 16.

"I fixed a car for a customer and he said 'do you want to go to ­Ireland?' I came here in 1967 when I was 21 and worked in a chip shop in Stillorgan. I then opened my own place in Ballybough in 1976."

Dubliner Alessia Macari.

Dubliner Alessia Macari.

Nico was initially homesick but he became friends with Twink and she got him going to concerts and he hung out with Joe Dolan, Dickie Rock and Seán Dunphy.

"It's the type of life I like, then I got married in 1972 and settled down here," he explains.

"I have three boys and two girls, ranging in ages from 46 to 28. My son Tony is the youngest and mad into football. My grandchildren are very talented, Ross is a comedian and Calvin is a singer."

Nico is renowned in the Italian community here and has been to the embassy in Ballsbridge and the ambassador's residence in Lucan.

He has been awarded the Italian equivalent of a knighthood, a Cavi.

He says: "I don't like the way English fans boo the other teams' anthems and the dive the other night was not nice. Not football."

Alessia Macari was born in ­Dublin but lives in her ancestral home of Italy. The 27-year-old is a huge star there, having won their version of Celebrity Big Brother, and has starred in several TV shows, becoming famous on the top Italian quiz Avanti Un Altro.

She has her own clothing line and one million Instagram followers.

The Merucci family members show off their true Italian colours.

The Merucci family members show off their true Italian colours.

The raven-haired babe is married to German footballer Oliver Kraig. She previously dated Irish footballer Ciaran Clarke and is a cousin of businesswoman and TV star Virginia Macari.

"I will be watching the match at Benevento, my second home away from home, and also my husband plays here," Alessia tells us.

"I am so excited and I think Italy have a really strong team and they have been brilliant from the start.

Alessia's mother, Lisa Borza once owned a chip shop in Crumlin and now  lives in a town in Italy.

There are over 270,000 UK citizens living in Ireland, the majority of them English.

One of their most well-known supporters is Dublin-based Ray Shah, who first burst onto our TV screens when he came second on Channel 4's Big Brother in 2003, when he regularly wore a Dubs GAA jersey on the show.

The dad-of-one works as a DJ and also owns two nutrition shops.

"I was born in Essex and lived there until I was 11 years old," explains Ray (43). "My earliest memory of supporting England was at home in Essex, with my brothers, watching them play in Mexico '86 and I've been ­supporting them through the good and bad ever since then.

"When I moved here in 1988, Ireland had just beaten England in the European Championships so I got the full brunt of the rivalry (I had no idea there was any initially) when I started school.

"It was mainly slagging, nothing nasty and I gave as good as I got. To be honest, I used to wear my England jersey in school just to wind everyone up."

He says: "I've really enjoyed watching England play in the Euros this year, they've definitely been the best team and rightly deserve their place in the final.

"Normally I would be in the pub watching the game with mates but this year in the current climate I will be at home."

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