The Euro Cup final between England and Italy is giving Canadian soccer fans a chance to revive the celebratory spirit so common in the pre-pandemic era, as relaxed public health restrictions across the country have restaurant-owners gearing up for a busy day — and potentially even busier night.
Owners of Italian restaurants and English pubs said they were prepared for their patios to fill up, at least to the capacity allowed under remaining rules meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Rocco Mastrangelo, who owns Cafe Diplomatico in Toronto, said the championship series has reminded him of his restaurant’s days before the pandemic hit.
“I’m excited, and have butterflies in my stomach. We opened reservations especially for the final’s night and we’re completely booked with 160 people, which is a big chunk of our patio’s total capacity,” he said.
Mastrangelo tried to acquire a permit to expand his business to set up more tables for the night, but it was denied due to on-going COVID-19 restrictions.
“Let’s just say, if Italy wins, we’ll be partying all night,” he said.
The game, which got underway at 3 p.m. EDT, will mark England’s first time in the final of a major international competition since winning the 1966 World Cup, so supporters are also expected to line up outside British pubs across Canada.
The Queen & Beaver Public House in Toronto is expecting a full house throughout Sunday.
“It’s exciting to think that England could win,” said Neil Massey, the restaurant’s manager. “Capacities are still capped because of COVID-19, which is why we’re not taking reservations, but I’m expecting to see very long lines.”
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Pub Bishop & Bagg, meanwhile, is in a somewhat unusual situation. The British-style pub is located near Montreal’s Little Italy neighbourhood, so manager Megan Turcotte expects to see supporters of both teams.
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“People are super excited, it brings everyone together,” she said. “They drink a lot and they are loud. Some even sit in the streets and watch from afar on our televisions.”
Roland Lamote of Montreal said he played soccer when he was younger, but now watching the games keeps him going.
He’s lived in Little Italy his whole life, so rooting for Italy feels like supporting his home team, he said.
“With the Montreal Canadiens, I was so, so, so disappointed,” Lamote said, referring to the National Hockey League team’s recent defeat in the Stanley Cup final. “But at least we have this football game now.”
Italian Anthony Colaniro, also of Montreal, has never seen Italy win the Euro cup before and doesn’t want to miss his chance.
“It’s all about Italy, of course!” he said. “I will be watching the game with my family — 20 people — and a lot of food!”
The desire for celebration throughout the Euro cup has driven customers to Ottawa’s Pub Italia in droves, manager Kirsten Wright said, but as the restaurant gets busier, some new challenges are arising.
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“We’ve been having serious trouble with staffing shortages, and just making sure our patios can fit all our customers,” Wright said. “If we took reservations for Sunday, we’d have been booked up in minutes.”
With England ahead 1-0 at the half, David Gelsomino — “a fan as long as I’ve been seeing a soccer ball” — didn’t seem worried.
“We don’t play old-school Italian, only-defence soccer anymore. We score now. So one goal doesn’t get me down like it would have, say, in 2004. I believe that we’ve got some firepower. We can score multiple goals in the game.”
By the time the whistle blew after the second half, the game was tied 1-1 as the players geared up for overtime.
On Montreal’s Saint Laurent Boulevard, bottles of Aperol punctuated the patio bar outside Cafe Gelato, where hundreds of fans in blue soccer jerseys gathered outside the venue to watch the showdown and chant, “Italia.”
Up the street, Ferdinando Anceschi, 57, parked in the heart of Petite Italie for a one-man tailgate in his flag-festooned pickup truck.
“May the best team win,” he said, plugging in a screen on the truck bed before offering a final thought: “Hopefully Italy wins, it’s going to be a big party here, everybody’s going to be happy.”
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