Civil Games: How the sport of soccer reflects the state of Italian nationalism

by John FOOT

When a number of intellectuals were asked, in the 1990s, what it was that held Italians together, a fair number cited the national soccer team. When Italy play in international tournaments, Italian flags – normally so rare – suddenly spring up on windowsills and on rooftops. In Naples in 2002 I witnessed an enormous Italian flag – which had been paid for by a door-to-door collection – being hung across a small urban street. Within days, Italy were out, and the flag came down. In a young and regionally divided nation, soccer has formed a powerful glue around which national identity has been able to form. La Nazionale – the national team – has always inspired classic nationalist sentiments, flag-waving, celebration and discussion. Italians are united when Italia is playing, at least in their support for the team itself.