Park Road in the inner-city suburb of Milton has always been the “unofficial” football precinct of Brisbane.
Its cafes and restaurants are synonymous with European culture and with that a love of football no matter what the style.
In the lead up to the 2006 World Cup, I gathered my mates together at Arrivederci Pizzeria, a restaurant that stands alone in my home town as the United Nations of football venues.
It has nothing to do with the coffee, carb lovers' pizza or pasta, but the people and an atmosphere that draw many to watch football there.
Every nation’s flag competing in the World Cup proudly adorns the ceiling as it welcomes its fans. Somehow the homely feel manages to meld the many cultures that define this great country.
Arrivederci is the vision of two hard working migrants, Frank and Rita from Italy, whose deep love of football created a welcoming place for friends to gather and listen to SBS Radio every Sunday evening.
Franco opened the doors to the pizzeria in 1992 and it quickly became the ‘luogo di incontro’ (meeting place) to gather for dinner and huddle around a wireless.
SBS was, and still is, the most important medium in delivering the world game to the footballing masses in this country. Their calls, broadcast in Italian late into the night of Frank’s beloved AS Roma, were an important link to the past but also a window to the future of the game in his adopted country.
In 1994, when Italy played Brazil in the USA World Cup final, the pizzeria opened at the behest of customers, as little or no place existed to watch the action unfold from the famous Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
To Franco’s surprise, hundreds of fans turned up, only to see Italy lose the final on penalties. Still an important seed was planted in the community.
It’s not always easy to be a football or soccer follower in this great country of ours. Growing up it was always the other football codes of AFL, Rugby Union and Rugby League that dominated the airwaves and TV screens.
My love affair with the game was spawned as a young keeper playing park football with my mates for a local church league. I was that lanky kid who reluctantly raised his hand when my enthusiastic coach asked, “So… who would like a stint in goals?”
From that moment onward, I showed little or no interest in wanting to push forward. Attempting fancy tricks or juggles with the ball seemed a waste of my time and energy. My focus lay in preventing that balanced leather sphere from kissing the nylon netting.
Since then football has always stuck with me, unlike my locks. My son’s keen interest in the same winter weekend vocation has helped fill the void.
As a bona fide football tragic I love following all my local sporting teams right through to the all-important national teams. But the thing that sets football apart, for me, is the deep feeling I get when I attend a live game or watch it with others - no more so than when it involes the World Cup.
The drama and fun to be had by following the fortunes of minnow countries as they strive to record their own David and Goliath upset has played out since that first tournament back in 1930 in Uruguay.
Which brings me back to the 2006 World Cup and the Socceroos as they battled the might of world football in Germany.
Being far too young to witness the heroic efforts of the pioneering 1974 World Cup team led by the legendary Johnny Warren, I felt compelled to stand side by side with my football loving brothers and sisters and cheer on the Green and Gold despite the enormous odds stacked against them.
The need for a football watching venue snowballed and got a little out of control. Franco, the Brisbane City Council and police were enlisted to implement a full street closure and erect two giant TV screens for the knockout stage clash between Italy and his adopted Socceroos.
That night 20,000-plus cheering fans gathered to witness Italy beat Australia. My mates can still recall that heartbreaking result vividly as do the majority of Aussie football fans on hand that night. At its conclusion, as the downtrodden but proud Socceroos faithful emptied the crowded venue, there was one happy Aussie-Italian standing by a warm pizza oven with a wry smile.
From such humble beginnings around a transistor radio the ‘other’ football code came of age. Even today, Franco’s deep love of sport and football is evident as you walk in the pizzeria to find yourself immersed in memorabilia.
Then, after many years f dedication to his business and presidency of the Roma Australian Club, Franco sadly passed away in 2007. In what was surely the most heart-warming of tributes, his family travelled back to Italy to scatter his ashes across his beloved Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Rita and Franco’s passion for the game has passed to their son David who continues his parents’ tradition of providing a great venue to feed the hungry sports-loving masses of this city.
Whether a fan of the Brisbane Roar, Broncos, Queensland Reds, Maroons or Lions you are always welcome to show your passion with fans of a similar ilk.
It is the venues such as these that will always be important to our game. There are the more traditional bars, clubs and casinos attracting their own clientele, but it is the places such as Arrivederci that stoke our love of the game both now and into the future.
Football matches last not much longer than 90mins, but it is those World Cups, European Championships and Champions League finals that live long in the memories of all those who make the effort to experience them together.
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