Aylesbury divided as England and Italy meet in Euro 2020 final on Sunday

Town's Italian community will be hoping football doesn't come home this weekend.

By James Lowson
Friday, 9th July 2021, 11:32 pm

The vast majority of Aylesbury will be on the edge of their seats, hoping England win a first major trophy in 55 years at 8pm on Sunday (July 11).

But not all Aylesbury residents are desperate for football to come home this weekend but rather Rome instead.

Aylesbury’s large Italian community will be hoping to witness Roberto Mancini’s men triumph at Wembley in the Euro 2020 final.

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The Bucks Herald spoke to some of the most prominent members of Aylesbury’s Italian community, to get an understanding of what they're expecting from Sunday's game and what it's been like supporting Italy in Aylesbury over the years.

Tony Masella who was born in England, but brought up Italian, considers football a big part of his identity. He's played football in the town, been a manager and a chairman in Aylesbury as well, and is currently listed as club ambassador for the Aylesbury Vale Dynamos.

So unsurprisingly, he says he's been receiving banter across social media since England's extra-time win over Denmark set up the mouth-watering finale.

He said: "I might have to move to Mars for a month if England win (laughs). Playing football over the years, I've always enjoyed the banter with the English boys.

England face Italy in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday

"It's not England-Scotland, but for Aylesbury, with the large Italian community, it does make it feel like more of a local derby. Because of my background football does go a bit deeper with me [than maybe other local Italian supporters]."

An interesting dynamic Tony has, which may be replicated by other Aylesbury Italians, is a family divide as well. Tony says that both his daughters are rooting for Italy, but his son who has been more heavily influenced by his English mother, will be cheering on the Three Lions.

Tony added: "Like me, my daughters have been raised the Italian way, that was always our roots to learn that culture. But my son due to his English mother, who I'm not with now, will be supporting England.

"He's stayed clear of giving me any banter ahead of the game. I think that's because my dad who was a massive Italy fan passed away in March and he would have loved all of this. I was seven, when we won the European Championship in 1968, so I don't really remember it. I do remember my dad watching the game and taking in the match with some homemade wine."

Over the years, Tony has enjoyed watching Italy games both in Aylesbury and across the UK. Italy's two games at Wembley at this tournament are the first two Italy matches hosted in the UK he's missed since he started following the Azzurri.

Over the years his brother Franco used to host Italy matches from his cafe on Kingsbury Square, inviting the community to get together and watch the usually successful football team.

Among Tony's favourite experiences was witnessing Italy win it all in 2006 when they won the World Cup. Italy won two extremely tense, high quality matches against hosts Germany and France. Beating Germany 2-0 after extra time, in a game football anoraks still reference as proof you don't need goals to generate excitement.

The final has arguably been remembered more for Zinedine Zidane's headbutt, than Italy's thrilling triumph over Les Blues on penalties. But that doesn't taint Tony's memories of the night, he was one of thousands of Aylesbury Italians, who celebrated in Kingsbury Square before heading into London to party with more fans in Trafalgar.

He commented: "Because it's England, I don't think there'll be big celebrations in Kingsbury Square if Italy win, but I do think there'll be plenty of homemade wines drank in homes across Aylesbury."

Tony will be watching the game with his brother, rather than watch the game in a divided house with his English partner.

One Italy fan who was lucky enough to be in attendance at Wembley on Tuesday for Italy's semi-final win over Spain, was Tony Montalbano. The former British and world natural bodybuilding champion, owned Bodyflex on Cambridge Street for 25 years.

He took the trip down to London to watch Tuesday's semi-final against Spain with his father and sister, you can view some of his photos capturing the event here. He also filmed his highlight of the night, when Italian fans parted like the Red Sea to let his dad through on a wheelchair, you can watch the moment here on YouTube.

Tony said: "Some of my fondest memories come from football because of my father's love for it. And this is one of those moments. This crowd of strangers saw my Father and his love for football at his age. That moment, showed, respect, being real, being humble and being kind.

"I've not often seen my dad like that in tears. Football is one of the levels, we can really connect on."

Like Masella, Montalbano plans to watch Saturday's game at home with his father, rather than planning a crazy mass gathering. He's also enjoyed good-natured banter since the final was confirmed by Harry Kane's strike.

He walked round town wearing his Italy shirt yesterday (July 8), and England fans were keen to pick his brain ahead of the massive match.

The main way the two Tony's differ, is Montalbano does feel an England victory, would eventually soften the blow of seeing Italy lose a major final. He added: "I'll be honest at first I didn't really support England or want them to do well.

"In the old days in England, you would experience some racism towards the Italian community, but look, those people are older now, and that really hasn't happened since the 2000s. It's been great watching the games and watching the two teams play well.

"Also I learnt with age not to listen to those racist English supporters, I'm not going to let certain individuals not make me support the country I was born in. So the last decade I have supported England.

"But honestly I want Italy to win in the Euro 2020 final, especially for my father who's now in his late 80s. I would like to see my father see Italy win it in his lifetime...And mine."

Tanno Hassan who runs La Salute in Aylesbury commented: "I would like to say as a person running an Italian restaurant we are all excited about the match.

"It's win win for us, it doesn’t matter who wins. We hope that everyone enjoys the match and orders lots of pizzas. Whether football comes home or not, pizza sure will be."

Just as long as it doesn't have pineapple.