Bedford (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Were it not for the grey skies and threat of rain as they sip espressos and talk football outside La Piazza Caffè, Luciano Lambiase and his friends could be in Naples or Rome.
But the retired factory engineer, 66, and his boyhood friends Pasquale Spadaccino and Franco Bulzis, both 73, are discussing the upcoming Euro 2020 final in the southern English town of Bedford, home to one of the country’s largest Italian communities.
“It’s coming home to Rome,” Lambiase told AFP, predicting that his national team would beat England in the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship final at Wembley on Sunday.
“It’s always been a mystery to us what ‘It’s Coming Home’ means,” he added, referring to the popular anthem written by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner that England fans sing at games.
“This is the first time they’ve played in a (Euro) final, and we’ve won four world cups,” he added.
Liberato “Libby” Lionetti, 55, who runs La Piazza in Bedford’s market square and whose customers include fans in England shirts, was more diplomatic in his predictions.
Hoping for a modest 1-0 win for Italy, he said that whatever happens, football was “definitely coming home to Bedford”.
Ahead of the game, the atmosphere in the town was “very tense, everybody’s excited”, Lionetti said.
Whatever the rivalries during the game, afterwards “everything will be all right”, he added.
“It’s only that 90 minutes, or however long it takes for your team to win. And then that’s it and the next day is another day. You just get on with it.”
The older men drinking coffee outside the cafe said they hoped the match would pass without incident.
But they acknowledged that a final between Italy and England brings back memories of the abuse they suffered as young men at international games in the 1960s and 70s.
Lambiase, Spadaccino and Bulzis arrived in Bedford as children in 1956 after their fathers left Italy’s southern Campania region to work in the town’s then-flourishing brick-making industry.
Now the 14,000-strong Italian community still runs grocery stores, cafés and restaurants in the town.
– Tensions –
The three men say that in the poverty of the early post-World War II years, football bound the Italian community together when they had little else.
Tensions between communities endure and Bedfordshire Police have urged residents to be “sensible” and provide a “safe environment for all to enjoy the football”.
Following England’s defeat to Italy in Euro 2012, four people were arrested after England fans attacked a cavalcade of cars celebrating the Italian victory.
Police launched an investigation in 2014 when an Italian flag was set on fire by England fans in Bedford after the “Azzurri” beat England in the first round of the World Cup.
Bedfordshire Police said they will be deploying more resources for the match and encouraged families to stay at home, pointing to a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
“We are lucky to live in one of the most diverse areas of the country and we will always celebrate this diversity and the great Anglo-Italian relationship we have in Bedford,” Bedfordshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Sharn Basra said.
“Please enjoy the match responsibly, get home safe and let’s all hope for a fitting finale to what has been a great tournament for both teams.”
At the town’s Club Italia, drinks were chilling and Italian tricolour flags decorated tables and walls.
Barman Michael Bianco said Sunday night was going to be “absolutely crazy”.
Manager Francesco Derrico added that if the national side won, Bedford’s Italians would make a night of it.
“If we lose, we stay at home, eat some pasta. If we win, we go out and celebrate.”