Andrew Rafferty with A Celtic State of Mind – The Magician’s Spell: The Nerazzurri’s ‘67 (Part 2)

The next morning, Paolo was readying himself to get into the office. A couple of glasses of wine in the café last night had given him the faintest hint of a hangover, nothing too over the top mind, but enough to dull the edge slightly. Fuzzy though his head was, his mind was still tumbling at the thought of last night’s result. Inter into a play-off against the team from Sofia? And Celtic already in the final. It could still happen. His local team versus his home team.

Paulo was so deep in thought, he didn’t notice he was taking a bit longer than normal with his morning routine in the bathroom and realized this when his sister Clara rattled the door. “Get a move on you, you big Stronzo,” she remonstrated. “Yeah, yeah, give me a minute,” he replied, acting the role of the annoying bigger brother to a tee. He finished up a little quicker than he had been going, and opened the door with a bow and a flourish. His sister replied by sticking her tongue out, pushing past him and muttering insults, before slamming the door behind her. Paolo chuckled and went back to the room he shared with his little brother Matteo, to continue getting ready.

His young brother was snoring almost noiselessly in his bed as Paolo entered. The older Zucco thought about waking him, then shook his head with a smile. He pulled on his blue shirt and started fiddling with the buttons, as his mind drifted back to the football. A play-off meant another chance for Inter to meet Celtic in the final. What a game that would be: his favourite teams playing each other in Lisbon for the Big Cup! He threw on his tie and started to head out the room. In a sudden change of heart, he decided to wake his brother with a rough shake after all. “Wakey-wakey,” he yelped, in the poor boy’s ear. Paolo didn’t even wait for the response and was already out the room when he saw a pillow come flying out into the hall and heard curses fill the air. He grinned again as he jumped smartly downstairs straight into the café. ‘’Serves you right you lazy wee piscialetto!’’

“Buongiorno, Paulo,” called his father as he caught his son out the corner of his eye.

“Morning dad.”

“Come and join me for a coffee then,” asked the older man. Paolo said good morning to the regular patrons dotted thorughout the old place as he sat on one of the large brass and leather stools at the service counter. He had a quick look around the family business while he waited for his dad to serve up.

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The place was much more welcoming in the daylight, than last night in the dim smoky light which had surrounded the men as they followed the game. The walls were covered in photos of the Zucco family, images of the Old Country and of the café, which had formed part of the scenery in Dennistoun since before the war. The Zuccos were ‘in with the bricks’ on the Parade and everybody in the area knew the family and most stopped in to get something to eat or drink from time to time. Paolo continued to scan the walls and his gaze fell on the picture of the 1965 European final programme, the last time Inter had won the prestigious trophy. Paolo recalled the excitement of the night in the café as they followed the game, the same as they had the previous night. His mind wandered back to earlier rounds that year, knocking out Rangers and Liverpool on the way to the San Siro. His dad and some friends from the café made the trip home for the final and brought the programme back which now had pride of place on the wall. The atmosphere in Zuccos around the game last night was a tenser affair by comparison.

Paolo senior had finished wrestling with the noisy old coffee machine and placed a milky cappuccino in front of his son.

“Prego. Do you want a pastry?”

“Please,”replied Paolo junior. “I’ve come straight down.”

His father grinned as he placed a chocolate brioche on the counter. He watched his son bite off a mouthful and start to chew. Both men took a few sips of their coffee and looked deep in thought. Mina warbled away in the background about love in a brothel or something like that. It was the older man who spoke first. “That was some result last night.” Paolo nodded in agreement as he chewed on some more of the sweet brioche, which he had taken to dunking in his coffee recently, much to his father’s disgust.

“The tripletta is still on,” said his father excitedly. “But it’s going to be tough to do all three with so many matches still to play.”

Paolo realised he had lost track of Inter’s fixture list and looked up from his breakfast. He asked his dad what he meant.

“There are still five rounds of matches to go in the league, and it’s still tight at the top. Then we’ll need to beat CSKA and Celtic for the Big Cup. And don’t forget three rounds left in the Coppa too.” The older man put his right hand on his son’s shoulder. “Ten matches for the tripletta! We were so close in ‘65,” he said, looking at the programme his son had been looking at. “Just imagine the party in here,” as he looked around the café and gestured with his left hand. “Aye. The Magician will probably need to cast another spell or two, to get us there.” Paolo nodded his head in agreement. “So many matches in such a short time. It will be hard, but to do that,” he paused. “It would be remarkable, historic! Historically remarkable!’’

Both men grinned.

The café owner slung a towel over his head and turned to attend to a customer a few stools away. As he walked off, he continued. “That will be something to see and write about, eh Paulie? Inter on the road to the treble. I wonder if your boss would be interested in that?”
The younger Paolo stood up and wiped some brioche crumbs off the counter and on to his plate as he answered back. “It would be a real story to write about, but I know what the boss would say and one of the words would be ‘off’.” “Hey, hey. Don’t let your mother hear you speak like that!” growled his dad in mock stern tones. “Come on now, get off to work and write something about Inter today!” The two men exchanged “Ciaos” and the younger Paolo stepped out into the street to make his way to work.

Andrew Rafferty

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