Northern Ireland

Euro 2016: Italy and Ireland memories recalled ahead of game in Lille

Angelo Fusco
Image caption Angelo Fusco is an AC Milan supporter who was brought up in Belfast and educated in Dublin

When the Republic of Ireland and Italy clash at football, passion and pride are usually not far away.

Ray Houghton's tumbling goal celebration at the 1994 World Cup and Salvatore Schillaci's whoops of delight after scoring in the same fixture four years earlier are snapshots of the fervour on display.

Angelo Fusco, 81, has been a keen observer of Italy's games against the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for decades, and can boast connections linking all three.

He was brought up in Belfast, educated in Dublin, and his father had strong links with the Comino Valley.

"I always supported Italy in football and Ireland in rugby as I went to school in Dublin at Blackrock," he said.

"Italy comes just a wee bit above the Irish, my mother was Irish and my dad was Italian.

"My brother, Carlo, supported Inter Milan and the other three brothers, myself included, supported AC Milan.

"I remember in 1990 when Italy won against Ireland at the World Cup, someone threw a brick through the window of a brother's shop in Belfast.

"My favourite Italian players have been Cesare Maldini and his son Paolo. I saw Cesare play for AC Milan in the 1963 European Cup final in London against Benfica, I went over to the match with my brothers.

"I also went to the Rome derby once between AS Roma and Lazio - I don't know all the Italian curses, but there was a lot of swearing around me.

"My brother Carlo played for Distillery, Cliftonville and Portadown in the Irish League.

"At Portadown he was a teammate of Wilbur Cush who went on to play at the 1958 World Cup for Northern Ireland."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Giovanni Trapattoni, Cesare Maldini, Arrigo Sacchi, Paolo Maldini and Dino Zoff at the San Siro stadium in Milan

Angelo and his brothers witnessed the infamous 'Battle of Belfast' in December 1957, when Northern Ireland and Italy drew 2-2 in an explosive encounter at Windsor Park.

Juan Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia, who scored Uruguay's winning goal in the 1950 World Cup final before becoming a naturalised Italian, both featured in the game.

It was invalidated as a World Cup qualifier after the Hungarian referee Istvan Zolt's flight was held up by fog, but its new designation as a "friendly" did not stop tempers boiling on and off the pitch.

"We all, as brothers, went to the game against Northern Ireland in Belfast in 1957, we were all there supporting Italy and it was a shambles," Angelo said.

"It was supposed to be a World Cup match, but the referee did not turn up.

"In those days, the goalkeeper in Italy was sacrosanct and was not to be touched. Northern Ireland forward Peter McParland tackled the goalkeeper and took him out, the match turned on that.

"When the fans invaded the pitch after the match, they got one of the full-backs on the ground, Harry Gregg and some of the other Northern Ireland players got round him and shielded him."

Image caption Italian and Northern Ireland players mixed at an event in the Floral Hall in north Belfast in 1957

Angelo also recalled how both sets of players met up at a dance hall venue in north Belfast after the game.

"There was a big do at the Floral Hall at Bellevue, which was attended by players from the Italian and Northern Ireland teams," he added.

"We as brothers sold tickets for the dance that night. The Northern Ireland players that were there included Peter McParland, Danny and Jackie Blanchflower and Wilbur Cush.

"The Italian players that were there included Juan Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia

"The match was rough, but when it is over, it is over and the players move on."

'Excitement'

Paul Loughran is one of 24 fans from the West Belfast Ireland Supporters Club who will be travelling to the Euro 2016 finals.

He said a number of them would be attending the Italy v Republic of Ireland game on 22 June near Lille and highlighted the history that linked the two teams.

"It is always a good match, there is always a lot of excitement and tension for both sets of supporters and across the generations," he said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Irish football fans will be hoping for success against Italy

"Ireland had Giovanni Trapattoni as manager, he was born on St Patrick's Day so that was his Irish connection, he also had Marco Tardelli who was Italian, as his assistant.

"Liam Brady was a big player for Ireland and he also played for Juventus in Italy and Trapattoni managed him there."

Angelo, meanwhile, is just happy to soak up the occasion, whatever the result.

"It is great that that the three of them are there, (Italy, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) - it doesn't happen very often."

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