Toronto is the city with the fourth most Italians outside of Italy. When Italy’s national soccer team, Gli Azzurri, win over a key rival, like Spain to move on to the Euro Cup finals, we all go out and celebrate. We bring our toys out with us. You’ll find everything from Ferraris and Lamborghinis to Fiats and Vespas. Of course, being a St. Clair native and a Vespa owner, I was riding along Corso Italia celebrating every Italy win.
There are two traditionally Italian neighbourhoods in Toronto, Canada. One is Little Italy, running across College St. The other is Corso Italia, a little further north, perhaps not as trendy among the Toronto downtown chic, but nonetheless a special place to me. There are only three cities in the world with more Italians than Toronto: São Paulo, Buenos Aires and New York City.
Celebrations for earlier Italian wins had been relatively quiet leading up to the win against Spain. Italy was on a tremendous undefeated streak. Our team was known for having formed strong bonds amongst the players. Our goalies were in fine form. But in the city we stayed separated, held apart by COVID, not wanting to mix or mingle. The quietness of the previous wins made me wonder, if maybe so many decades after immigration, our culture of Italian-Canadians was starting to die out.
The victory against Spain changed that.
The victory against Spain changed everything. We had beaten Belgium, ranked number one in the world. We had beaten Spain, a long time rival that had embarrassed us in the previous Euro Cup. We would move on to face England, who, compared to Italy, had a very easy road to the finals. Compared to England’s previous two matches, Italy would be their hardest challenge. Compared to Italy’s previous two matches, we Italians liked our odds against England.
So we came out. Maybe not in full force. Not until the championship was certain, but we came out along St. Clair Ave. W., Toronto. The street where soccer street celebrations began in the 1980s.
Riding my Vespa during the celebrations was an amazing experience. People loved seeing the little Vespa honking it’s horn, Italian flag mounted to the top case waving in the air, rider wearing the Azzurri team jersey.
Crowds would literally cheer when I passed by. People would point and yell “U motorino! ‘u motorino!” Southern Italian for “The little motorbike!” Families with children would point and yell “Luca!” after Disney’s latest movie about some Italian kids on a Vespa.
My favorite memory was when one big guy in a group of rowdy young men spotted me first. He turned to his friends and yelled “HE’S COMING! HE’S COMING!!” and then all of these young guys came out to cheer and shout as I passed by on my Vespa. I gave some of them ride-by high-fives.
These are the best days.
I’m glad I was able to bring a smile to people’s faces just by being out there on my little Vespa. I’m glad I was able to see old friends, some of whom I’ve known for almost thirty years, come out and celebrate. I’m glad to see a part of our cultural heritage still alive.
In Toronto, there is never a shortage of activities and distractions. Usually these diversions are done in couples, or with small groups of friends. They don’t really bring us closer together as part of a larger group. It’s nice when something happens that can be a shared community experience. It’s nice that we were able to come out and do this together.
Italy went on to beat England in the finals and win the Euro Cup. They went on to win a few more games until they went 37 games undefeated, a new world record.