World Cup 2014: For Bedford's 20,000 Italian residents, Saturday can't come soon enough

 

Italian heritage runs deep in Bedford – more so than anywhere else in the UK. The first immigrants arrived here in 1951, having been invited by the Marston Valley Brick Company to help rebuild Britain after the war. Bedford’s iron works was another reason for groups of 50, then 100, to come from the regions of Abruzzo, Campania and Sicily among others to settle down and spread their roots.

Today the Italian influence can be seen and felt all over Bedford with almost 30 per cent of the 80,000 people in the county town of Italian descent – so whenever England plays Italy the atmosphere is electric. The difference now is that whereas Italy is usually one of the favourites for the World Cup, they go into this tournament as outsiders.

“We’re not as strong as we used to be,” says Alessandro Sansevero, who with wife Patrizia runs the Foods of Italy delicatessen in the Castle Road area of town. “I think England will score first then, with about 20 minutes left, Italy will start realising they have to play and equalise. It’s a draw for me. I think we’ll progress through the group stage but after that it’s anyone’s chance.”

His parents, Alessandro Sr and Cristina, arrived in Bedford as teenagers within the space of a few months in 1958. Now married for 53 years, they still help out at the family business now cared for by the next generation.

“Italian values, language and culture are very important to me,” says Alessandro, 37, “but I was born and raised here and England will always be my home and has given us lots of opportunities and you should not lose sight of that.”

Chefs Antonio Troise, 28, and Franceso Montella, 27, are among the newest Italians to make Bedford their home having moved from Naples in the last few months to begin work at The Sharnbrook Hotel on the outskirts of town. With little work available in Italy, they typify a young generation looking abroad for opportunities.

 

Fellow chef Simone Murru, 30, from Sardinia, said Bedford feels like a home from home. “I had no idea there were so many Italians here,” he added, buoyed with confidence and predicting a 2-0 Andrea Pirlo inspired victory.

The trio are often overheard by colleagues chatting away about Italy’s chances with their senior chef Vittorio Capuano, 59. The quartet will be working together tonight and no doubt have a radio on to keep up with the game’s developments. Customers may get a clue as to who has scored depending on the roar behind the kitchen doors.

Sharnbrook owner Giuseppe Ciampi hails from Avelino and came to Bedfordshire in 1970 to work for London Brick in Stewartby. He and wife Angela fulfilled their ambitions to open their own business, a delicatessen, in 1981 before expanding over the last three decades.

Their eldest son Ciro, a third generation Anglo-Italian and hotel manager, said Bedford’s Italian heritage was coming full circle.

He said: “It’s a very similar situation to after the war when more and more young people arrived looking for work. Bedford is a magnet because of its Italian heritage. The prospect of living in a town where Italians have already rooted themselves successfully is an attraction in itself.”

Created in 2009, a bronze sculpture between the bus and police station in the centre of Bedford depicts the struggle of the Italian migrants. The nearby St Francesca Cabrini Italian church was financed by the wages from the first arrivals in the 1950s and became a centrepoint for the community.

Although many of the next generations have moved away from the centre to surrounding neighbourhoods or villages to have their own families, one thing never changes: their loyalty to the Azzurri. Should they repeat their Euro 2012 quarter-final victory over England tonight Bedford will once again be serenaded by the sounds of hundreds of fans driving through town, flags raised and horns blaring.

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