Football almost comes home, before booking a ticket to Rome

In Little Italy in Dublin, Italian fans were ready for another night at the opera

So it transpired that, to the relief of most Irish fans, rumours about football coming “home” had been slightly misheard. As we now know, football was going away as usual, but to a city that rhymes with “home”, hence the misunderstanding.

It’s a journey with which the game is well familiar. And on a damp night in Dublin, watching Italy triumph yet again, this time in a gripping penalty shoot-out, locals were happy to wish football a buon viaggio.

For Ireland, the pandemic-affected Euro 2020 reached an apt conclusion, a year on, with bars still closed and only a few in Dublin's city centre defying the gloomy weather forecast to erect outdoor seating areas with screens.

Still, in the Liffey-side version of Little Italy, beside a mural with a modern Dublin version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Italian supporters belted out their national anthem, while Irish sympathisers hummed along with the strange words and their message from ancient history (“Brothers of Italy/Italy has awakened/Scipio’s Helmet/She has put on her head”.)


It was Scipio’s umbrella we could have done with. But the evocation of the great Roman general, who beat Hannibal and his elephants in the second Punic war (after extra time), seemed more than usually apt.

He too triumphed in the enemy’s home – Carthage – although the bit about Hannibal first crossing the Alps had no echoes in this tournament: England barely had to cross the M25 to reach the final.

The ball is round

Italian fans were confident, but not too confident. “It is football and the ball is round,” said a philosophical Massimiliano Romoli from Umbria, who foresaw England going ahead but Italy coming back to win 3-1. Claudia Bausani from Florence agreed with the plot, but opted for 2-1.

They were right about the England lead. On a night when internet screens were freezing everywhere, Italy too seemed to freeze for the opening goal. Pizzas went uneaten for a while, and on the mural, Judas looked more that usually guilty as he prepared to sneak out.

Some of us were reminded that Ireland should have been one of the 12 tournament hosts, before surrendering its round-of-16 match to Wembley, where England took advantage by beating Germany. But if not the scoreline, Italians had seen the plot before. It was another night at the opera. They usually win in the end.

Hardline Eurosceptics might have hailed an England victory as political. But football was not coming home this time either. For Brexiteers trying to contact it, Roman charges may apply.