Monday, 20 May 2013

Brisbane's second home of football

I love watching football anytime, whether in the very early morning or deep into the evening. As many of you know, being a football fan down-under requires a lot of stamina and all too often the passion for our game overpowers the need for a good night’s slumber.

Fans across the country all have different habits; some meet together at houses, others in pubs while many supporters sit in front of their television set or laptop alone in bed.

Yet in one special place in Queensland, one man has established a tradition that has now passed on to a new generation. A tradition established thanks only to pure footballing passion.

Tucked away in the inner-city Brisbane suburb of Milton, the football-loving Euro cafĂ© precinct of Park Road acts as a warm blanket to nurture fans desperate to reproduce the stadium atmosphere on a similar but smaller scale. 

I didn’t know what to expect after reserving a table at the authentic Italian Restaurant Arrivederci but the smell of pizza and roasting coffee beans emanating from behind the bar certainly helped awaken those hazy senses.

As I made my way to my table and ordered a piping hot long black and slice of the Arrivederci special, I felt an enormous sense of belonging sitting amongst the many customers of wide and diverse cultures. For me it isn’t just about the football but being surrounded by other likeminded and passionate supporters of the game.

Sport is often described as the social concrete that binds people together. Whether it be barista, boilermaker, barber or builder; we all enjoy participating or watching the round ball being skillfully dribbled and passed from one end of the pitch to the other.

Current owner David Silvestri’s deep passion for football and the hospitality industry was inherited from his parents Franco and Rita who migrated to Australia from Italy in 1969. Whilst living in Italy Franco would travel to every A.S. Roma home match at the Stadio Olimpico and sit in the Curva Sud (south end of the stadium) with the other fanatics.

The link with the Roma club was unbreakable and his deep passion supporting the game extended as far as coaching promising junior players aiming at a chance of football stardom.

When Franco eventually moved to Australia the love of his club never waned and he was always found listening to the Roma games delivered live on SBS radio every Sunday night in his native language. This was in the simple age of no internet or wi-fi cafes and next to no television coverage. 

Franco opened Arrivederci Pizzeria on Park Road in 1992. It quickly became the ‘luogo di incontro’, or meeting place, for he and a small group of his loyal football-loving friends to gather and listen to the Italian matches on the wireless.

While the numbers were small initially, this was the start of something special.

In 1994 when Italy played Brazil in the World Cup final, he opened the pizzeria at the request of customers as there was nowhere for fans to watch the action. What happened next was astonishing. To Franco’s surprise hundreds of fans turned up wanting to watch the game on a hired screen. Sadly Italy lost that final on penalties but the seed was planted. 

After Australia qualified for the 2006 World Cup, this is when the need for a football venue snowballed and got a little out of control. Franco spoke with Brisbane City Council and police to arrange a full street closure with two massive street TV screens for the round of sixteen clash between his home and adopted nation.

That night 20,000 fans gathered to watch Italy beat Australia 1-0. My mates and I remember the night vividly as do the majority of Australian football fans. After the match, as the downtrodden but proud Socceroos faithful made their way home along the crowded Park Road, Franco stood proudly by his Pizza oven with a wry smile.

From humble beginnings with a few friends crowded around a tiny transistor radio, football in Brisbane had come of age and Franco from his own humble beginnings is responsible for that. 

Franco’s deep love of football is evident as you walk in to find yourself surrounded by vast splashes of colorful sporting memorabilia with autographed jerseys and national flags engulfing the walls and ceilings. Of the many artifacts and football treasures on display, those that will always take pride of place are the signed jerseys and photos of A.S. Roma and Italian great Francesco Totti holding aloft the 2006 World Cup trophy. 

After many years dedicated to his team, Franco eventually became the proud president of the Roma Australia club before passing away in 2007. He often travelled with the team to watch matches as seen in the photo of Franco on a plane with the Roma team after winning the Copa Italia with Totti looking on in the background.

Rita and Franco passed the business to David who has continued his parents’ Italian traditions in the same spirit. David works as hard as his father and brings his own second-generation flavour by promoting the restaurant as a place for patrons to share their love of Italian food with all sports.

Be you a fan of Brisbane Roar, Brisbane Broncos, Queensland Reds or Brisbane Lions you are welcome to show your passion with fans of a similar ilk. David can lay claim to be a more enthusiastic sports fan than I. No matter what code of football is being played, the odds are that it is being shown on the big screen as he weaves around the red and white checked table cloths ensuring his patrons are happy whilst keeping one eye firmly focused on the game himself.

David will be opening for the various Socceroos qualifiers being played this year.

Australia v Iraq
Stadium Australia, Sydney
Tuesday 18 June, 2013
Kick off 6.30pm (local time)