It began, with a game between two teams, Italy vs England in the largest continental soccer tournament in the world; the 2020 Euro Cup Finals.
Packed bars and cafes were quiet, as fans were on the edge of their seats, as two of the world’s most elite national teams were going to a penalty shootout.
Suddenly, in a matter of minutes, nothing but green, white, and red was seen all over the area the rest of the night.
The Italian men’s national soccer team had defeated England 3-2 in a heated penalty shootout, which was an unforgettable moment for the Italian-Canadian community across Toronto and the rest of the Greater Toronto Area.
The intersection of Islington and Steeles Avenue were congested with fans travelling to the nearby Market Lane plaza in Woodbridge.
Braydon Giallombardo a Rexdale native and student at Humber’s North campus, remembers this moment like it was yesterday.
“It’s an understatement,” says Giallombardo “it was pretty busy, people were screaming ‘Forza Italia’ in every lane.”
“I went to Market Lane with my boss and it was more congested as we moved away from Rexdale, the closer we got to Woodbridge the more people we saw waving their flag.
Giallombardo is half Italian and half Barbadian and doesn’t watch soccer at all. But when he heard that Italy had won the European Championship he felt a sense of pride.
“I’m not a really big party person so I didn’t smoke or drink but the culture brought off good vibes… I was just happy they won.”
He said as for his boss it was different for him because he was from Italy and experienced the pride of Italian-Canadian culture.
After all, the last major championship Italians celebrated was the 2006 World Cup.
Joseph Russo a member of FCI York (Federazione Canadese Italiana) mentioned that this was one of the greatest moments of his life as he explains his reaction to the Azzurri’s victory.
“I can’t even put that into words,” says Russo, “it was the greatest feeling in the world… when Saka missed the penalty kick I went crazy,” said Russo. “It gave the Italian community, in Rexdale and across the GTA, something to look forward to.”
As for his school club,
“All the members of the club put the celebrations of Market Lane and St. Clair on their [Instagram] stories.”
This year was even more special, since Italy felt a toll on them through the pandemic as one of the most affected countries to COVID-19.
“I think this was important to Italian-Canadians and Italians considering COVID-19 pandemic affected us all,” said Russo.
Toronto is home to more than 400,000 Italian-Canadians, with over 7,000 living within Etobicoke North/Rexdale.
Tony and Grazianna Testaguzza, a couple that immigrated from Italy years ago, live just outside the Rexdale/Etobicoke North region in the neighbouring Jane and Finch area. They said they had seen festivities of the Euro Cup somewhat close by.
“I’d seen so many flags waving outside of cars and people talking in Italian to each other, it was very nice to see,” said Grazianna, “I loved it and it was one of the greatest moments of my lifetime, next to the World Cup,” says Tony.
However, Grazianna is not a soccer fanatic and left it up to Tony to explain why it was so significant to them. Tony watches his favourite Italian team, A.C Milan, play in the Serie A which is the top league for Italian Soccer.
They said that everyone had moved up to St. Clair just south of where they live.
Although, the celebrations were nothing compared to Italy, according to Tony and Grazianna. They visited family in Italy in 2006 when the team won the World Cup and mentioned it was nothing compared to here.
When asked about the difference between the two, they immediately giggled and said that it was not even close to here.
“For our family in Italy, it was a lot worse for them because the streets are packed even more over there,” says the couple “People were going crazy; music, food everything wasn’t the same as St. Clair,” said Tony
“They were respecting each other, smiling, and hugging… everyone was in a good mood,” said Grazianna.
Even though Italian-Canadians were celebrating a win for their respected nation, several non-Italians came out to celebrate to enjoy the festivities as well as it showed the multicultural aspect of Rexdale/Etobicoke North.
“When I went to Market Lane there were people who weren’t Italian but they were really cheerful, if you were happy Italy won you were there,” says Giallombardo
“There were a lot of people who weren’t Italian and any no matter what their race was, they had Italian flags hanging out of their back pocket, and they were out with their friends, “said the Testaguzzas.
For now, major fans like Joseph Russo and Tony Testaguzza are hoping for Italian celebrations for a larger stage at the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup next November.
“I’m expecting the World Cup victory with the young team to come and with that more festivities, says Russo
And Tony Testaguzza expressed it,
“We [have] to hope… all we can do is hope with this young team.”