Guest blogger Zachariah Zahid (@curvauno) recounts the events of 9th July 2006…
Thank you, Fabio Grosso, Thank you Italia. Thank you for making me fall in love with football.
I’m five years old. It’s 2006. I beg my dad to let me stay up late to watch the World Cup Final. He complies. The effects of this moment would have a monumental bearing on my life. I sit on my living room sofa, mum to my left, dad to my right. I don a blue ‘Italia’ t-shirt bought from the market in Ventimiglia the previous summer. I feel goosebumps for the first time. This is the first time that I remember feeling emotions for football, the thing that would shape my life for the foreseeable future.
It felt natural to support Italy. It felt natural to feel a connection with a group of men who played with such passion, who spoke with such passion, who sang ‘Fratelli d’Italia‘ with so much passion that I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Take a look on YouTube and you will understand.
The players are pumped up, motivated, bubbling with passion, looking as if they are ready to enter the coliseum. They were majestic gladiators to me. I was in awe. How could an impressionable five-year-old watch that and not want Italy to win? They were the epitome of warriors. They were everything I wanted to see. I had never before felt so proud to be an eighth Italian.
Simone Perrotta stands with his hands tightly grabbing Totti and Pirlo. He belts out the anthem. He sharply looks into the distance and awaits the Frenchmen. Andrea Pirlo is calm and collected. He is effortless. So casual. So relaxed. His presence reassures me, it reminds me that everything would be ok. As I will learn, this poise and composure are part of his fabric.
Gennaro Gattuso has his eyes shut. He can’t even open them, if he did then the occasion would be too much for him. He is containing his emotions and feelings, channelling everything into the anthem. He isn’t just singing, he is intensely chanting it. He feels every word of it. The words go through his soul.
Others twitch nervously, we had Fabio Cannavaro and Marcello Lippi shaking their legs and twiddling their fingers. However, no one person could illustrate the spirit and feeling that I felt at the time more than Marco Materazzi. As Materazzi leans back, his head is held high. He is ready to kill for his nation. He is ready to sacrifice everything for this game. It means everything to him. It means everything to the whole team. It means everything for the entire Italian race. Every Italian from Brooklyn to Bergamo, from Bar Italia in London to Bari. This means everything. This is not just a game for Italians, it is do or die. At this point, It feels as if the game is already over. It hadn’t even started yet.
The game itself, overshadowed by Materazzi and Zinedine Zidane’s infamous debacle nineteen minutes into extra time, did not disappoint. The passion was evident in Italy’s play. Materazzi’s thumping, arching header to equalise in normal time led to a frenzy of cries from the team. The Roman spirit evidently taking over their minds and souls. He cries. The game isn’t over but, yet again, it is clear to see that the Italian collective fight would be the ultimate victor.
The match ends all square. Its almost 11 pm but I am not tiring out. My mum gives my dad a look, one that reaffirms her decision to let me stay up and watch the penalties. We sit up on the edge of the sofa. I see her biting her nails. I see my dad fidgeting with the cushion. Anticipation is high. Tension is rife.
“Non è gol! Non è gol! Non è gol!” cries the Italian commentator after Trezeguet misses. We all leap off the sofa. It is close. The climax to the ultimate game nears.
As Grosso steps up, my mum makes a cross for good luck and my dad bellows a war cry. Grosso licks his lips. He runs up. He strikes the ball. Time stood still. The stadium fell silent. We were silent. The ball hits the net.
Finito. Italy are World Cup champions.
Pandemonium ensues. We go crazy. Lippi lights his cigar. I had finally caught the bug. I had finally been absorbed by football and its culture.
This moment was the pinnacle of my journey into football. It all started with this World Cup. I had collected the entire Panini sticker book, I had seen my first, premature England exit but most of all, I understood what football was. I felt what only football could make someone feel. I had been gripped, and I still remain gripped to this day.
Italy, I owe it all to you.
Grazie Mille. Forza Azzurri.