Old enmities | 

They may be our neighbour, but we can never support England: Tonight, we are all Italian

'The only things coming home after tonight's final are several warehouses of crushed Saxon dreams'
Enlgish triumphalism is hard to take, so come on the boys in blue!

Enlgish triumphalism is hard to take, so come on the boys in blue!

Roy Curtis

Across the land this morning can be heard revving the engines of old enmities.

It is possible to call any number of Englishmen friends, to agree with Virginia Woolf that "to walk alone in London is the greatest rest", to donate every thump of your beating heart to Old Trafford or Anfield, and still to kneel before the gods today with just a single malevolent prayer.

It is one that invokes the heavens to rain depraved fury on giddy Britannia, to let loose bolts of fire that will singe and burn those three accursed lions on Harry Kane's shirt.

And that pleads for the evensong rising above Wembley's basilica as dusk fades to grey tonight to be not the Football Coming Home hymn, but rather one of those soaring, entrancing, tear-inducing Italian arias.

To permit Pavarotti instead of Baddiel and Skinner deliver the final exclamation mark to a month of football that has been life-affirming, spine-tingling and glorious.

To charges of pettiness, immaturity, and unseemly lower-caste resentment, I immediately plead guilty. I should not feel like this and haven't since Meath's dark princes were constantly reducing Dublin dreams to debris.

Many of the rooms of my life are adorned with English trinkets: Their writers enrich my days; their architecture elevates so many streetscapes; the Cotswolds are a banqueting hall where the soul goes to feast.

So many English people I meet are tolerant, innately decent, without even a dust mote of anti- Irish sentiment on their being. They are the antithesis of the seething Combat 18 bulldogs who tore old Lansdowne Road asunder.

As a young man, my father found a home across the water even as the doors of the old country were shuttered in his face.

Gareth Southgate is a sane and enlightened and erudite man, poles away from all those angry Little England Brexiteers; his squad contains hardly a single blowhard.

Full self-shaming disclosure: I even find the Lightning Seeds Three Lions enormously catchy.

England is not perfect - their beer tastes like something squeezed from a hippo's undergarment; their pubs are full of poker machines and empty of character; their invoking of the days of empire is as sad as a dying wasp remembering when it was king of the world - but I kind of like it.

Yet here's the thing: I can say all this and still not feel hypocritical in hoping that the only things coming home after tonight's Euro 2020 final are several warehouses of crushed Saxon dreams.

This rather pathetic world view reminds me of a riotously amusing sports book called To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever.

The author Will Blythe views the world through the prism of a rivalry between two powerhouse American college basketball teams, North Carolina and Duke.

Essentially, his happiness is found in Duke's misery, a consolation that however bad things are, at least that privileged Blue Devil crowd down the freeway are being force fed even less appetising portions of misery.

Blythe's opening sentence sets the tone of amused self-loathing that continues until the final page: "I am a sick, sick man. Not only am I consumed by hatred, I am delighted by it."

He is obsessed by his animus, enslaved by certain rituals on game days between these two celebrated Carolina schools.

"I won't eat. I can't eat. Or maybe I should eat, since there is the possibility, faint perhaps, that through a small, apparently unconnected action, like ordering sushi from the Malaysian place down the street, I will change the karmic pattern at work in this game."

I won't be ordering raw fish this evening. In truth, perhaps my bile is a tad confected.

Part of me (a tiny ungovernable outpost, admittedly, one to which troops have been dispatched to crush the uprising against good taste) would secretly enjoy seeing Kane end that 55 "years of hurt" at around 10pm.

I didn't feel the slightest resentment when Declan Rice punctured his inflatable green, white and orange hammer and defected back to the land of his birth.

Still, I could not feel more Italian today if I drank several gallons of double espressos, and spent the afternoon riding a Vespa down Rome's Via Del Corso at 120 miles per hour while admiring my trendily stubbled, expensively dressed reflection in the speeding scooter's rear-view mirror.

Call it the Jimmy Hill effect.

There is something about English triumphalism, unmoored from reality, announcing itself as the bright star at the epicentre of the football cosmos, that is as irritating as having a serrated clamp affixed to the testicles.

It shouldn't and yet it does lure to the surface memories buried deep in the Irish psyche.

The Punch cartoons, the talking down to the little people, the almost wanton ignorance in their pronunciation of Kevin Moran's surname.

And, of course, the dereliction of good taste, the full-on war crime of their pulling a pint of Guinness in one go: a soup of bubbles with a head bigger than Harry Maguire.

When Fleet Street becomes a vehicle for rampant xenophobia, when the crowd - as they will tonight - wolf whistles their disrespect for the Italian anthem, when the pundits slip effortlessly into patronising uniform.

It is then you remember those exaggerated sporting caricatures: The clueless, superior public school Tory, his rugby day rendering of Swing Low accompanied by an epileptic sign language dance lacking a molecule of self-awareness or emotional intelligence.

The mindless, nihilist hooligans, England at frothing odds with the joy of so many summer tournaments.

So, thanks and all, but I'll ignore all those woke lectures about growing up and moving on and being adult about this.

Rev up those engines of enmity folks and beep your horn for the Borzas: Tonight, we are all Italian.

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