Tait, Ed, Winnipeg Free Press
Soccer, uh... calcio is not just a game in the Italian community; it's a way of life
North Americans often call it "soccer" while most of the rest of the world refers to it as "football" or "futbol."
But Italians call it "calcio" and, quite frankly, it's more than just a game or a sport. It's more than just a passing fancy or something they'll stop and watch for a few minutes while channel surfing.
To an Italian, soccer -- calcio -- well, it means everything.
And so when you ask a Winnipegger of Italian descent to try to answer this very basic question: "Why are Italians so passionate about this game?" the answer can't possibly come in one sentence or even in a few hundred words. It's bigger than that. Much, much bigger.
You see, not only does the answer have historical roots dating back to Italy winning the second and third World Cups ever played, back in 1934 and 1938 (Italy refused to play in the first, 1930, in Uruguay) but it's how that passion has also managed to remain deep-rooted even among generations who were born and raised here in Winnipeg.
It's sport, it's family, it's tradition, it's home and it's faith all meshed together.
"In Italy, soccer is even more than a religion," begins Gus Fiorentino, a local barber who owns Agostino's For Hair.
"It is our passion. And from four or five years old, you have that passion because, before anything else, you have a soccer ball at your feet.
"So that's how I would explain it: Soccer is a religion to us."
A religion that often can become a reference point in an Italian's life. An example: when Fiorentino is asked what year he emigrated to Winnipeg, he answers: "In 1968 -- a month after Italy won the Euro Cup in June."
Mario Perrino arrived in Winnipeg from Naples a year before Fiorentino, in 1967. A highly skilled referee who has officiated games for 49 years, he answers the pivotal question about an Italian's passion for soccer this way: Multiply a Canadian's love for hockey times 10, then maybe you'll get a sense for how the game runs through Italians' veins.
"Remember when Canada played Russia (in the Summit Series) in 1972?" asked Perrino.
"Remember how the country came alive? Remember how you could feel the electricity all across the country when Paul Henderson scored? Well, that's what happens EVERY TIME Italy plays. It's just something inside you that comes alive.
"It's a cultural event where the community comes alive. It's not just a stupid soccer game."
And this passion doesn't just revolve around their beloved national team -- the "Azzurri" -- but the many club teams in the Italian pro soccer leagues, including Serie A, the NHL of Italian soccer.
It's why you don't have to wander too far in Winnipeg to see a local wearing Juventus, Inter, Roma or Milan colours. …