People get a bit confused when I say I’m watching football at Gina’s. My partner’s name is Gina and I think they tend to either assume she’s moved out, or it’s my rather odd way of saying I’m watching the game at home. I’m not, and thankfully she hasn’t.
Gina’s Italian Restaurant on Symonds Street is a special place where Auckland’s tiny Italian community gathers to watch our team play in big football tournaments. It recently moved from its original location about 100 metres up the road, but inside nothing has changed. It’s a cultural experience. I have watched football in cafes in Italy and if I don’t look out the window at Gina’s, it’s easy to pretend I’m back there. When you walk through the door at 6am or earlier, you are always greeted by the invigorating smell of toasting croissants and freshly ground coffee, the sight of welcoming smiles and chequered tablecloths, and the sound of people chatting away in Italian coupled with wild gesticulations that are as authentic as they come.
At Gina’s, I have seen great highs and lows, from the depths of group stage elimination in South Africa to the elation of lifting the World Cup in Germany. From the draw with New Zealand in 2010 when there were more Kiwis there to give us a hard time than there were Italians, to Del Piero’s extra time goal in the 2006 semi-final that had us running out onto the street with our flags and scarves amongst the morning rush hour traffic. The loss to Spain at Euro 2008 also stands out as a sort of endearing lowlight. The television coverage died during the shootout so someone telephoned one of their relatives in Italy and relayed a description of each penalty to us from the old country as Iker Casillas broke our hearts.
Attendance varies from relatively few for a garden variety group stage match to a completely packed house for a World Cup final or the New Zealand vs Italy match. It pays to get there as early as you can for the big games to ensure a seat with a reasonable view of the big screen. It takes a little extra effort, but your reward is a football experience that is vastly superior to watching at home.
This morning’s game was one with a reasonably small turnout of local Italians, but still worthwhile, especially given the prospect of there being no knockout matches for Italy at all this time around.
There has been an underlying feeling of dread hanging over Italians the world over for the past few days. A 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia this morning would have put us out regardless of how many goals we defeated Ireland by. As Giovanni Tiso so succinctly pointed out over at Minus the Shooting, we couldn’t really expect our European cousins to not fix the outcome, when we all know in our heart of hearts that if the boot was on the other foot…
But the other game in the group was played with absolute integrity and this only reinforced my opinion of the Spanish in particular, that they are a noble and honourable nation. If we don’t win this tournament, I hope they do.
Meanwhile, the vibe at Gina’s went from nervous, to frustrated, to joyful, back to nervous and ultimately to relief and quiet satisfaction. Not only will we get to see Italy play their newfound attacking football at least one more time, Auckland Italians will get to share the experience again before going our separate ways for yet another two years. We’ll save the street party until we’ve won the final. Until then, daje Italia! (Roman dialect for ‘go Italy!’)
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/