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The Italian Job

‘GET up! They’re here! They’re here! Get up, it’s Juve!”

Rita Zammit is my best football-watching friend, and the previous time Juventus visited Melbourne, the team bus dropped in on her house in Fawkner.

She lived two doors up from the Fawkner Soccer Club, where the Bianconeri had come to train in preparation for an exhibition game against the Socceroos.

It was an incredible squad full of World Cup winners. Paolo Rossi, who famously won both the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot at Spain 1982, was there. The cornerstones of that great Italian defence, Gaetano Scirea, Claudio Gentile and Antonio Cabrini, were there, too.

On the bus, too, were Sergio Brio and Marco Tardelli — famous for a scream that is as iconic to football as Edvard Munch’s is to art. Throw in goalkeeping great Dino Zoff, then recently retired but part of the coaching staff, and for a football-loving, Juventus supporting Italian migrant family living at 46 William Street, Fawkner, the Pope himself could hardly have sparked a greater frenzy. “My Zio Tom was just beside himself. He almost pulled the door down, screaming over and over, ‘It’s Juve, it’s Juve’.”

Rita’s eyes brim in the retelling, perhaps for her recently departed Zio Tom, perhaps for the sublime memory of the moment. The family eventually rallied to dig up the only camera in the house.

“I’ve got the most incredible photo of Antonio Cabrini. Just walking down the street in Fawkner!”

Santo Cilauro, famous now as a great of Australian television, was in 1984 a soccer-loving law student at Melbourne University. He remembers the 1984 Juventus tour as one of the most amazing weeks of his life.

“I often used to go and get pizza during breaks in classes from my aunty’s pizza shop in Brunswick. This lunchtime, on the way to the pizza shop, I decide to drop in on the Park Royal Motel in Parkville, where I know the team is staying, hoping to see one of the players.”

Santo was in luck. His arrival in the lobby coincided with the beginning of the press conference with Giovanni Trapattoni, the Juventus manager who took the Turin giant to six Serie A titles (scudetti) in 10 years. “The first thing I saw was Trapattoni telling the press that he knew how to speak English and didn’t need a translator. Then the first question was asked and he just stood there, completely gobsmacked. So I stuck my hand up and offered to translate for him.”

It was a serendipitous moment for Cilauro. Trappatoni was impressed enough with his handling of that press conference that he was retained as translator for the rest of the tour.

Not only that, but he became a de facto tour guide, taking the squad to the MCG to watch Richmond versus Geelong (“Paolo Rossi was fascinated with Mark ‘Jacko’ Jackson”) as well as showing them some of the nightlife. He smiles at the memory of various odd jobs.

“One of my main tasks involved holding the players’ wedding rings as they went out every night … I won’t name names … There was even a team meeting where players discussed what they would tell their wives.”

For Cilauro, it was a week-long insight into the bizarre celebrity-charged world of international sporting superstars. “I ended up staying at the hotel with them. One night, I saw two players punching on. One of them had brought a couple of girls back to the room, and his roommate took issue and started punching him in the corridor. The whole thing was amazing.”

Lifelong fan and long-time referee Alan Contini was also a student at Melbourne University in 1984, and also made the trip over to the Park Royal to meet the squad.

“I was 25 at the time. To be honest, I went to the hotel and the game more because my parents had a nostalgia for Juve, because they wanted to go. My Mum had some contacts with some players through family back in Italy, and she wanted to meet them. It was fun, no doubt — certainly, Mum got a big thrill meeting the players — but from a football point of view, it’s hard to get excited when the game doesn’t mean anything.”

Contini attended the game with his parents, and to prove his practice-match point cannot remember either the one-all score, or who scored for the Socceroos (it was David Ratcliffe). “From memory, the Australians took the game really seriously and tried very hard, and the Italians treated it as a holiday, which for them it was.”

Contini and his mother will be there again tonight. Indeed, it will be a family occasion for many fans, especially Italian-Australians.

Santo admits that he has taken the job as “Voice of the Dome” in order to fulfil the massive number of ticket requests from Cilauros far and wide.

As for Rita, she will be there with her actual husband Alex, who almost never attends games, and the man she calls her “soccer husband”, Joe Marsico, a lifelong Juve supporter, who is there at every Melbourne Victory home game.

Rita will be supporting the underdog, our own city team that represents the giant strides that the local game has taken in the past five years.

There are still some strides left to take, however. Juventus to win 4-1.