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'Liverpool chose me!' - Meet the 'Italian Scousers' whose religion is the Reds

5:00 PM MYT 15/02/2022
Official Liverpool Supporters Club Italy
When Jurgen Klopp's side visit Italy for their Champions League clash with Inter on Wednesday night, they will have plenty of native support

Every other weekend, Nunzio Esposito hears the roar. He sees the flags and the banners, listens to the songs and the chants.

As he walks around Naples, his home city, he will see the graffiti, the murals of Diego Maradona. He can listen to the excited chatter of some of Europe’s most passionate, devoted supporters

It means nothing to him.

"I live 500 metres away from the Stadio San Paolo," Esposito tells GOAL. "My father was a season-ticket holder there when I was a kid.”

He pauses. "But there has only been Liverpool for me."

It was an unexpected gift which set him on the path to footballing happiness.

"I was eight years old," he remembers. "I was given a team, Ref. 41, while playing Subbuteo. It was the classic Liverpool kit from the 1970s.

"So, I picked up a Guerin Sportivo magazine to search for pictures of Liverpool players. There, I saw Kevin Keegan: full red kit and his trademark haircut. It was love at first sight!"

That was in 1974. Two years later, Esposito watched on television as Liverpool beat Club Brugge to win the UEFA Cup.

"Even in black and white, Anfield was on fire," he says. "The Kop was fearsome, so loud – even at 2-0 down."

A year later, he attended his first Reds game. "The European Cup final in Rome!" he smiles. "Not bad! The 1984 final was my second game, as well!"

Since 2007, Esposito has been the president of the Italian branch of the Official Liverpool Supporters Club (OLSC Italy), which, at the time of writing, has more than 600 members, dotted around the country.

"They are like my brothers and sisters," says one of them, Mario Djuninski.

Mario was born in Bulgaria but lived in Italy for 20 years before moving to Liverpool in 2016.

"It was a game against Grimsby, in 1997, which stole my heart forever," he says. "Michael Owen scored a hat-trick, and after that I religiously followed the Reds.

"My first game at Anfield was against Sunderland in 2010. After that trip I decided I wanted to move permanently to this wonderful and unique city. I’m so proud to have been able to achieve that."

Being a Liverpool supporter, Mario states, "is an honour and a privilege". Pandemic aside, he hasn’t missed a home game in six seasons.

His daughter was born in the city – "she’s a Scouser born and bred!" – and all of his happiest memories are connected in some way to the Reds.

"I used to fly to games from Rome before I moved to Liverpool," he says. "I would do it 14 times a season. I spent a lot of money but I didn’t care because my heart was full of happiness and joy."

Benedetta Tello is OLSC Italy’s senior graphic designer. She fell in love with Liverpool because of her brother, Federico.

"He was a huge Fernando Torres fan, so I started watching all of their games," she says.

"I distinctly remember the 4-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford [in 2009], with Steven Gerrard kissing the camera. That may have been the moment I became a supporter."

Benedetta and Federico visited Anfield for the first time in 2017, watching a 1-1 draw with Chelsea.

Twelve months later, Benedetta went rogue and returned to Merseyside. She is glad she did.

"I went to Liverpool on my own, without my brother’s approval," she laughs. "I wanted to meet Steven Gerrard, who was the Under-18s manager at the time.

"I must have spent at least three hours in the freezing cold in the middle of January outside the Academy facility in Kirkby waiting for him. Thankfully, I succeeded, so I don’t regret anything! 

"The following day we beat Manchester City at home in a 4-3 thriller. Safe to say it was the craziest and best weekend of my life.

"My brother forgave me too!"

Andrea Ciccotosto is the vice-president of OLSC Italy. He lives in Rome, manages the supporters club’s Twitter account and has been a Liverpool fan since 1999. 

"I used to follow Juventus, and then I recovered!" he says. "My hero is Michael Owen. I have all of his shirts – even the Newcastle one! 

"I even went to Stoke to watch him in the last year of his career and get a picture with him. He was one hell of a striker."

Mohamed Salah, naturally, has succeeded Owen in Andrea’s affections. "An amazing player but also a great person," he says. 

He is confident of the team’s chances of success this season. "We will bring home two trophies – take note!" he states.

Mario Djuninski is even more confident. "We can win all four this year," he says. "I strongly believe that."

For all of the 'Italian Scousers', this is a big week, as Liverpool take on Inter in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Several of their members will be at San Siro. The rest will be glued to their screens at home or in pubs.

"Liverpool is my biggest love and passion," says Mario. "I'm very proud to support this special, amazing club."

Benedetta agrees.

"I believe your club chooses you, not the other way around,” she says. “And I’m so glad Liverpool chose me!"