Two World Cup stars, two nations, one birthplace: Ashton-under-Lyne plays in World Cup final (just like Geoff)

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The Independent Online

It is the place without which we would never have tasted Brooke Bond tea (Arthur Brooke was born there in 1845), or heard Take That (lead singer Howard Donald: 1968). But this weekend the unprepossessing post-industrial district of Ashton-under-Lyne, east of Manchester, may also lay claim to being the place which makes World Cup final heroes.

As if Sir Geoff Hurst's birth at the local Tameside General Hospital were not fame enough, tomorrow's World Cup Final between Italy and France will see Simone Perrotta, the Azzurri's left-sided midfielder who was born in the same hospital, take to football's greatest stage.

It is an outcome which, as Simone bashed a football against his parents' garage from daylight to dusk in the early 1980s, hardly seemed likely.

Countless balls ended up in the gardens neighbouring 30 Tennyson Fold, Duckinfield, where Simone's parents, Francesco and Anna Maria, moved from Ashton before the boy was born, to be near Francesco's cousin Maria Greenwood. "They were sometimes none too keen about handing them back," said Mrs Greenwood. "Francesco was constantly buying new ones."

The football upbringing of a boy who would go on to play for Juventus and Roma also included long hours on the fields at Broadbent Fold - the school opposite No 30. But the Perrotta clan, who decamped from Calabria to Manchester at the end of the Second World War, did not always find it easy drumming the religion of football into Simone. A compulsory part of a young Italian Mancunian's education was regular visits to watch Manchester United. "He didn't like it," recalls his aunt Maria. "He was four or five years old and it was perishing cold. He'd be desperate to get home."

Of course, no Italian World Cup hero is complete without exposure to the Ashton-under-Lyne Sunday League and in this respect Perrotta is no different. In the 1970s, "Zio (uncle) Giovanni" established Jolly Milan, a "North of England Italian XI" named after the Jolly Carter pub where he and his friends drank, and picked young Simone's father at centre half. This meant trips for Simone to such exotic footballing locations as Hyde, Gorton and Oldham. "That's why Simone always wanted to play football," his father said, this week. "It was in his blood."

The family's departure from England was sudden, precipitated by cousin Maria's decision to marry an English Protestant. "It broke my mother's heart and Francesco, Giovanni and Luigi [their brother] decided the family was going to lose its Italian, Catholic roots," said Mrs Greenwood. "They wanted to take the children back while they were still young." They left in March 1983, when Simone was six.

Perrotta, 28, who still remembers "the park and the garden and also the school," looked in on Ashton when Italy played Scotland a few years ago. "He wants to finish his career in England," said his mother. "He even had a call from Everton a few years ago but decided to stay on in Italy."

In the meantime, the World Cup dream lives on in Ashton. Italian flags adorn the classrooms of Perrotta's primary school and a monument is not out of the question. "If Simone helps Italy win the World Cup, then we would look into doing something to commemorate the fact," said the Mayor of Tameside, Margaret Sidebottom.

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