When I was about four years old, I became obsessed with The Three Musketeers. The ostentatious chivalry, the camaraderie and the morally justified bloodshed embodied everything that I thought it meant to be a grown man. Somehow, my grandmother fashioned me a full costume (I was particularly insistent on the lace collar), and I pirouetted around our tiny apartment, stabbing everything in sight with my makeshift épée.
A few years later, in the mid-1990s, my juvenile romanticism found a new outlet: Italian football. Channel 4 had secured the rights to show matches on Sunday afternoons, and since the expense of satellite television was out of the question in our family, this was the only football I could watch live. And what football it was. I still remember my first match, in late 1994. The game was between the Turin giants Juventus, clad in their famous barcode black and white, and Florence-based Fiorentina, wearing strips consisting solely of a violent purple completely unknown in the Scottish leagues with which I was familiar. Juventus had a strike force straight out of Dumas. Gianluca Vialli was wily, ageing and completely bald. In contrast, Fabrizio Ravanelli was fast, mercurial and possessed of a full head of prematurely white hair, for which he was nicknamed Penna Bianca (‘White Feather’). But most exciting of all was Alessandro Del Piero, whose youth, arrogant skill and flowing dark mane gave him an uncanny resemblance to D’Artagnan. It was he who won the match with a last-minute strike that I have not seen emulated in a quarter century of following the game. Watching a long pass sail over his left shoulder, he volleyed the ball into the top corner of the goal with the outside of his right foot. I was bewitched.