The ties that bind
For people like my dad, football provided a connection with Italy and Del Piero was the golden boy. And without him at the match with me, this weekend's Big Blue will be bittersweet.
It-s approaching four years since my dad passed away. At times, it feels like an eternity has gone by since he was taken away from us.
On occasions like this upcoming Saturday night when Melbourne Victory play host to Sydney FC, it-ll feel like only yesterday that we laid him to rest.
The trigger won-t be the Big Blue (although we were in the stands for the defining 5-0 spectacle at Olympic Park in season one), or the trek along Olympic Boulevard. It-ll be because of a diminutive Italian wearing the No.10 jersey for Sydney FC - Alessandro Del Piero.
Since I can remember, Dad was always a Juventus fan. Being an AC Milan supporter, this obviously used to rub me up the wrong way, particularly during our one-eyed conversations where objectiveness flew out the window.
In his eyes, Del Piero was the golden boy; a player who could do no wrong. As long as Del Piero was playing, Juventus - or the Italian national team, for that matter - had the game in the bag.
Del Piero-s arrival in the A-League was therefore bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I was excited just like any other football fan at the prospect of seeing the Italian legend playing week-in, week-out in our own backyard.
On the flipside, I was saddened by the realisation that the person who introduced me to the beautiful game would not be alive to see his own idol in the flesh.
He would have been beside himself. Del Piero, an Italian football treasure, plying his trade in Australia. “I no believe”, he would have said in his strong Italian accent.
I had a couple of brief encounters with Del Piero during the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and although the exchange was nothing to brag (or write) about, in Dad-s eyes those few words I spoke to Ale would be the finest (non) work I-d ever do. So much for that interview with Andrea Pirlo…
At every chance, Dad would also make a habit of instructing me on what to tell (not ask) players and coaches should I ever interview them. He would-ve had a whole list for Del Piero, along with an invitation for dinner, his birthday and any other major family event.
Had he been alive today, he may not have requested a trip to Melbourne Airport to watch Del Piero touch down, but if we were heading to the match together on Saturday night, he-d be ready before lunchtime for the 5.30pm kick-off.
People like Graham Cornes may not understand this passion that we football fans have for our idols, or the “mass hysteria” as he put it that we generate, but his ignorance doesn-t entitle him to brand such actions and emotions as “ridiculous and embarrassing”. That-s just plain disrespectful.
According to Cornes, Del Piero is no God. That-s fine, but try telling that to a Juventus fan who has witnessed a goal from the "Del Piero zone", where Il Pinturicchio hypnotises his opponent by dropping the shoulder followed by a curling shot into the top corner of the goal.
Try explaining that to an Italian fan who watched a gallivanting Del Piero sprint the entire length of the field in the 120th minute of extra time to meet a pass from Alberto Gilardino inside Germany-s 18-yard box to guide the ball past Jens Lehmann and seal Italy-s passage into the 2006 World Cup Final.
And then tell that to people like my dad, who was buried with a Juventus shirt with memories of five Serie A titles, the 1996 UEFA Champions League triumph and glory at the 2006 World Cup.
He doesn-t have to understand it - to be fair, few outside football really do - just respect the culture of the sport and its fans.
For people like my dad, football provided a connection with his homeland. He called Australia home for almost 50 years before his death in mid-2009, but through football, he still had a connection with Italy despite living on the other side of the world.
I have many memories of my father, yet it-s football that provides the greatest connection of all.