I met you when I was thirteen. They sent me to a small village in the South – between Eastbourne and Brighton – to study English. The English coast is one of the worse in the world, however, at that time, it was the centre of my universe. My music education was focused on ska: the Madness, the Specials, and the Selecter. At the end of the 1970s, England was a new world to discover for a teenager from Rome. You were the promised land. With your music, your young bands, your mods and rockers, the first punches taken – and a few of them given – and the first times I fell in love.
On July the 11th, 1982, when Italy won the Football World Cup, I was fifteen years old and I was in a suburb of London. It was the night of Santiago Bernabéu. It was an incredible joy, followed by a jump into the fountain of Trafalgar Square in front of the Lord of the Sea: Admiral Nelson, up there, on the top of the column.
The next day you brought me to the Clash concert at Brixton Academy. Joe Strummer left a permanent mark in my life. I had a black eye for a week. I will never forget those days.
When I graduated, I moved to London. It was an exciting city and my days were endless; I was looking for a job, playing pinball at the pub and football in Hyde Park. You could never find two players of the same country in the assembled teams.
I still remember when my mother called me – and the words she used – to inform me about the arrival of the “card”, the call for the mandatory military service. It was the end. It was a nightmare to leave you.
I could not sleep for three nights. At the end, I went to work for a deli shop, with a faked contract that allowed me to join the legendary “Thames battalion”.
The 1990s were advancing and my life was changing, along with the city. I was hired in the City, during its fast ascent, when its financial heart was pumping euphoria into our veins.
In a few months, my salary redoubled. I was a broke student who had turned into a yuppie without even realizing it. London was still the centre of the universe. We were dancing for hours and days in secret places.
And on Monday, we were going to work: exhausted but awake. And the city was starting to change, they cleaned it up, the prices of the houses increased and rave parties were replaced by more exclusive clubs; the World of Finance was turning into an enclave that you could not leave without permission.
Notting Hill Gate was also undergoing a slow and relentless transformation, the so-called gentrification: the district of transgression turned into the symbol of new luxury.
They did not leave anything behind, your soccer included. Soccer was also transformed into a battleground for global wealth holders.
The football terrace culture turned into fashion brands.
I left you between the old and the new millennium and went back to Italy, to Milan.
I do not regret it; I knew that unique period of my life was coming to an end. Since then, we have lived a double relationship: they call it “love-hate” relationship. And then the worse came: apathy.
In the meanwhile, London had become the simulacrum of global capitalism. It was attracting capitals of any kind and millions of young workers ready to do hyper-flexible shitty jobs. It was sending away the middle class and founding its efficiency on legal certainty and unlimited property protection. It was creating the perfect environment for 1% of the world population. Since then, Londoners are well-recognizable all over the world.
What am I feeling now? I don’t know? Am I resenting? Maybe bothered.
I look at my old friends and they seem to be so far away. I do not recognize them. Or on the contrary, they might not recognize me. Conversations fade away; they look down on me, from some place projected in the future, a place similar to an end-point towards which everything tends.
Of course, you could reply that also Milan tends towards that point, towards a similar model. It attracts capitals, it is at the forefront for flexibility experimentation, it is changing and becoming more and more exclusive, it generates a homogenous administrative offer that has no real alternatives. I have seen it before, in London that is today transferred from Boris Johnson to Sadiq Khan. It’s not a matter of difference. Time was out of phase, it was a glimpse of the future. This is what I saw. Twenty years before, London was showing us what we have now become, the upcoming model, our forthcoming intolerance and rejection of others: Welcome capitals, Unwelcome refugees. I wonder if, in 2018, we will see riots similar to those of London, in 2013.
I felt impatient because I could clearly see the future and I knew I could not change it. It is called “ineluctability” and it is the core of toxic stories, those that repeat the mantra “It has to be like this, for ever and ever”.
And now you want to leave us, you want to go alone and find your way. You might want to go back to the Nineteenth Century, at the time of the British East India Company, times of privileged relationships with the East, previously colonized and currently hegemonized by financial markets.
This time however, the story will not repeat itself. We have a blood bond, and such blood was shed in the 1940s, when the English Channel was painted with red and you contributed to save Europe from inhuman Nazism. The European Union descends from that victory and it cannot be abandoned. You are not the new Dubai. If I have ever called you in this way, it’s because I wanted to fool the friends that are still living there and that I do not recognize anymore. You will never be an Atlantic Dubai because slaves and despots have no citizenship here. You must keep on squeezing the despots of the “rogue states” as much as you can, and then live them and come back. Without you, I will not be myself; we will not be ourselves. We need to fight together in order to change the Union. And you have the strength that the continent needs, you have an uncommon dignity. You could be the connection between the North and the South of Europe. We fully forgive you, also for the virus of Thatcherism and blairism. We forgive you because we want to do a lot of street together.