Nobody wants to fall back on lazy stereotypes but after dodgy food was found at the respective World Cup bases of England and Italy, you can guess which team kicked up a fuss.
Yes, the players from the land of tiramisu, tortellini and tartufi are far more irked than their counterparts who hail from the island of pork pies, pasties and ploughman’s lunches that out-of-date food was found in their hotels in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro’s Royal Tulip Hotel, where England will be staying, had 2.5kg (just under 5lb) of food, including butter, salmon and Parma ham, seized by Procon, a Brazilian consumer protection agency, for having gone past its use-by date.
(Incidentally, let’s hope Procon doesn’t trawl the BBC studios once the tournament starts, lest it discovers any pundits who are well past their sell-by date lurking in the corridors.)
In Italy’s luxury bolthole, around 60 miles from Rio, a rather more substantial haul of around 25kg of seafood and margarine was found to have expired, while another 24kg of meat, sauces, cheese and sugar had no visible use-by date.
On hearing the news of ropy provisions, the Football Association proclaimed it was “happy with the cleanliness of the facilities” and that it didn’t matter what was found anyway, because England would be sending their own supplies – complete with a travelling chef, who would “closely supervise all the players’ food intake”.
Italy’s reaction was angrier. They are also sending their own cuoco (that’s Italian for chef, lingo fans) and a whopping 20 tons of supplies, but it did not stop them wailing in disbelief that they may have picked themselves a fleapit to stay in for the duration of the tournament.
“Obviously, we are not pleased about this news, we’re not happy that it’s happened exactly at the place we are going to,” said Enrico Castellacci, the team doctor. “In any case, we have extremely well-prepared staff who control everything and we will bring nearly everything with us from Italy. It hasn’t created a problem for us but, of course, it’s not pleasing.”
Sport is littered with episodes of gastronomical disasters thwarting success, from one of Tottenham’s many attempts to break into the top four of the Premier League being ruined in 2006 by a dodgy lasagne which floored the likes of Michael Carrick and Robbie Keane, to the All Blacks being laid low before the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in South Africa by what some have said was intentional food poisoning. Then there was Paula Radcliffe’s scatological “comfort stop” close to the end of the 2005 London Marathon, although she was that far in front of the rest of the pack that she could have relaxed with a newspaper.
So it may be to England’s advantage that the news of substandard food has got out now. At least they will have an excuse if they limp home in the group stages.
One more thing: second-rate nosh was not the only complaint from the inspectors of the Royal Tulip: according to Procon, the hotel was also “fined for not providing its guests with condoms”. Not that the brave England boys would be concentrating on anything but football, you understand.