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John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sports (Friday June 22, 2012) Patriotism versus glee

They went to a penalty shootout on a sofa in Purley

Italy had meant Ferrari, Spaghetti, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, defensive football and dirty fouls for Roy Paine’s childhood. He had known little about the two actresses, except that their names implied an enticing sultryness and an attraction that drew strength from their unreliability.

There was also the word “Pirelli,” meaning some sort of calendar, which he’d first seen on the office wall of the car dealership where Don bought his Jags. In Roy’s earliest childhood, Italy had also meant tanks with ten gears, nine of which had reverse gears.

Most importantly, Italy was the home of dishonorable football, second only to Argentina in the league table of football sin. Celtic’s defeat by Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup final had been perceived by the adolescent Roy as a moral victory for flair over evil catenaccio, although he had not known that word at the time. He had first discovered it during Italia 90 and now he looked it up for the first time and discovered that it meant “door bolt” or “the chain”.

But the Italy, now unveiled on its living room widescreen, seemed almost entirely redeemed. Roy had noticed this had evolved over the years, with outraged talk of underhanded negativity gradually being replaced by admiration for the art and anticipation of Costcurta, Baresi and Maldini, particularly among young know-it-alls he met on the Square Mile about football before losing his job there and reduced himself to looking for work on London Bridge, that brief period of defiance and depression he wished he could forget.

At Euro 2012, pundits agreed that the artistic Pirlo was a tournament star and England needed to get a handle on him if they were to win their quarter-finals in Kyiv. Roy was not vindictively pleased at the near-complete failure of his colleague Roy’s team to accomplish this task. Rather, he suffered with increasing intensity on his sofa as Italy’s dominance, personified by the sauntering Juventus pass-sprayer, failed to deliver the goal that would pry him out of his conflict between bemused cynicism and the last, stubborn fragments of patriotic hope.

His ordeal dragged on into extra time, a result that raised the painful possibility that England could reach the semi-finals on penalties despite being hammered to a clean sheet. But Roy took comfort from precedents. And of course Italy prevailed. Roy sagged, exhausted and yet finally relieved of a great weight. He noted that Kristie hadn’t called.

All previous installments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.

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