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WHERE do you go when you get lonely? is a question painfully posed in the Derek & The Dominoes’ rock classic Layla.
Never did such a teaser feel more apt than about two hours after the track was played during the half-time interval of England’s habitual penalty shoot-out exit to Italy in their Euro 2012 quarter-final.
The song’s heartfelt refrain belted out from the Vintage Bar in the Navigli canal district of Milan, where myself, my wife Diane, and our friends Gill and Tom were watching the game – the only non-Italians in a crowded bar in the middle of a happy hour that spanned several 60 minutes and deep and distant into the Milanese night.
No happy hour for those of non-Azzurri persuasion, though to be fair Gill is Scots, Tom’s from California and Di actually told me Italy would win the tournament before a ball was kicked.
Now the Azzurri have advanced not just beyond England, but since on to tomorrow’s final after their wrecking of co-favourites Germany, it don’t half grate to have my three decades and plus sports-writing nous undermined by my missus’s too frequently correct hunches.
Anyway back to that Sunday showdown in Milan. When family and friends discovered where we were going to watch the game, there were ominous mutterings about either keeping “silenzio” or having to niftily use my teeny smattering of Italian language to enlist help.
All around the Navigli red, white and green flags abounded as we arrived to find a bar. Seeing the screen in the Vintage we were shoe-horned into a corner behind seven young Italian lads.
The bevvies were ordered and peepers trained on the screen. It soon became apparent there was only one team in control, in command, and in with a chance of winning. They were clad in blue, so no wonder there were hardly any troubled countenances among the local populace.
As for the commentary, each England player was described largely by his surname, save for the England right-back. But it wasn’t as Glen Johnson, it was as “Glenjohnson” all one word. Maybe it was to differentiate from the fact that England did not include Adam Johnson, the Man City winger who might have wrought more damage than a host of others actually named in the 23-strong squad.
After the half-time music – the telly turned down so as not to hear the studio jibber-jabber that television companies force-feed their viewers – there was hope among our tiny corner of Blighty that the three lions would improve and maybe someone would try to shackle the majestic Andrea Pirlo at the heart of the Italian midfield.
Nah. But as the second half evaporated and extra-time was doing the same, there was a nervousness right through the bar that wasn’t confined to English, or Scots, or even American pulses.
Ha – those Italian lads just didn’t reckon on England’s inability to convert a still ball from 12 yards out.
Mario Balotelli smacked the first Italian penalty past his Man City team-mate Joe Hart. When England skipper Steven Gerrard matched that feat a high-pitched scream of “yesssssss” yelped from my more knowing and attractive other half.
Instantly three Italians snapped their gelled heads around, which yielded a hasty “sorry” from Diane only to be met by several beaming Azzurri smiles and a “that’s okay” in affecting English reply.
Even when Ricardo Montolivo missed the Italians’ second spot-kick, it was always going to be okay or rather “va bene” for our hosts as the Ashleys Young and Cole joined the burned-by-penalty brigade of messrs Pearce, Waddle, Southgate, Batty, Beckham et al.
When Diamanti drove in the fifth and decisive penalty up went Milanese arms in celebration, down went my pen in exasperation at the realisation that England’s best freeze from the distance of a mere dozen yards. Okay, it’s a lottery but we seldom get three numbers let alone five.
So much for preparation.
So shrugs and smiles from our hosts who opted to leave the vanquished and head out into the throng of a sweltering night to swell the decibel level of Lombardian chants, honking scooter and car horns and all-round ecstasy.
As the four of us walked back to our apartment it was indeed a lonely place, even though you could not resist being charmed by the Milano joy.
So what do you do when you get lonely at midnight on Milan’s Via Corso? Visit the nearest gelataria and cool down with ice-cream that is out of this world.