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‘Pure joy and happiness’: Ecstatic Italy fans take to the streets to celebrate Euro Cup victory over England
July 12, 2021

Red, green and white smoke filled the air in Little Italy and chants of “Forza Azzurri” rang out late Sunday afternoon after the Italian men’s national soccer team defeated England in the European Championship final in a match decided by a penalty shootout.

Italy’s victory came after a tightly fought game that saw England score within the first two minutes, the fastest goal in a final game in Euro Cup history, but that early strike was not enough to lead the home team to a win in front of a crowd of about 60,000 at London’s Wembley stadium.

In Toronto, fans streamed into the streets after filling patios for hours along Little Italy on College Street, where Café Diplomatico is a popular hub. Supporters of the Italian team -- dubbed Azzurri after its signature blue jerseys -- also congregated in large numbers along Corso Italia on St. Clair Avenue West and around the Market Lane Shopping Centre in Woodbridge, a suburban area in Vaughan, which is home to a large Italian Canadian community.

“Just pure joy and happiness. And happy that it’s over,” said Rick Lamanna, who said it was a tough game to endure as an Italy fan in part because of England’s early goal. “It’s going to be pretty wild tonight. Whether Market Lane or St. Clair or College, there will be a lot of happy people. I would imagine there’s a lot of people signing in late tomorrow.”

Italy fans rejoice outside Cafe Diplomatico in Little Italy Sunday after Italy defeated England in the Euro Cup final.

Joseph Ciraco watched the game with a small group of friends in Vaughan and was headed down to St. Clair Avenue West to celebrate with the crowds after the match.

“It’s just a way to let loose and return back to some kind of sense of normality that really goes beyond just the sport. It’s a great occasion for everybody to celebrate after the tough year and a half that we’ve had,” Ciraco said. “It’s a proud day to be an Italian Canadian in the city.”

Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford both tweeted their congratulations to the Italian side, which suffered a major setback in failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after most recently winning that championship in 2006.

“It was embarrassing … a national scandal,” said Lamanna, a lawyer who is a member of the Milan Club Toronto fan club. He was born in Canada but has relatives in Italy and has visited often over the years. “The last 10 years were quite challenging for the Italian national team.”

Now though? Relief.

“There’s a sense of ‘We’re back,’” said Ciraco. “I hope this proves to be really promising era for Italian football.”

Italy fan Fabrizio Di Nino hoists the Italian flag as he celebrates outside Cafe Diplomatico at College and Clinton Streets Sunday after Italy wins the Euro Cup final against England.

Some English fans, meanwhile, seemed resigned to the loss, particularly as it came after a shootout. “We weren’t outplayed, but it wasn’t meant to be,” said John Carson, who runs the expat website Brits in Toronto, joking that he was heading outside to take the English flag off his car.

“As an England fan, I’m used to doom and gloom and always expecting the worst,” said Liam Murtagh, who works in construction and has been in Toronto for 12 years. He joined a group of Chelsea Football club supporters at the Queen Anne Bar on Richmond Street West but said it was painful to miss out on following the team’s historic run at home with his family and friends.

England fan Mark Adam cheers for his team in the Euro Cup final against Italy with other fans at The Queen and Beaver in downtown Toronto Sunday.

English football fans gathered at pubs throughout the city, such as the Queen and Beaver Public House on Elm Street near Yonge Street, flooding into the many locals that typically host fan groups devoted to specific Premier League teams.

The tournament brought together supporters who are usually bitter rivals, spurring them to drop regional jealousies and cheer on the national team, said Ciraco, who is vice-president of the Juventus Official Fan Club in Toronto, which he said has 500 members and was recently named the largest fan club for the Turin-based team outside of Italy.

“If there’s an AC Milan fan or an Inter Milan fan, today we’re all under one flag. We’re all going to cheer on the same team. As of tomorrow -- the new season starts in a month actually, so we’ll be back to those rivalries in four weeks.”

Italy fans rejoice outside Cafe Diplomatic as Italy defeats England in the Euro Cup final Sunday.

Fans of both teams said a win would give their home country a huge boost at a difficult time, with Italy among the worst-hit European countries during the pandemic and England still reeling from the double hit of COVID-19 and Brexit.

England has not won a major tournament since 1966’s World Cup, leading to comparisons with the long-suffering fan base of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“English people consider it their game, they invented it and they sort of own it,” said Darren Chadwick, an entrepreneur who moved to Canada from England about 15 years ago. “They haven’t won anything in 55 years but the passion hasn’t changed.”