Coffee, Brioche and the Beautiful Game

July 31, 2014

BAR SPORT in Sydney’s inner-west was my family’s regular Saturday morning haunt from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Before Italian migrant families left the area for the outer suburbs and bigger homes, the café – established in Norton Street Leichhardt in 1956 as Caffé Sport – was the place to catchup with the week’s news and drink coffee. (See earlier post).



I’d abandoned it for 20 years, moving on to cafes frequented by art school students and my extended circle of friends in the inner city. But last month, I needed a place to watch the 2014 World Cup: somewhere that attracted football (soccer) folk who were just as confused as me about supporting either Italy or Australia.

The Team Sheet

The players don’t change all that much: elderly men talking illnesses, ailments and soccer; middle-aged men in business meetings; a family with a couple of kids and the odd blow-in. Owners Joe and Frank Napoliello do a fantastic job keeping soccer fans happy all year, showing Euro matches on the large screen TV. But they really take it up a couple of notches during World Cups when they throw open the doors until ungodly hours, especially for the Italy and Australia matches.



Pre-match Entertainment

The merchandise stall is interesting, but I’m not tempted by the t-shirts, instead finding myself a spot in the unreserved area near the coffee machine.




There’s just enough time during the warm-up to inspect the footy food. On offer there’s assorted panini, focacce and dolci on display for breakfast and I decide on a mini brioche with fior di latte (mozzarella) and leg ham to go with my macchiato. They’re both perfect. The sweetness of the soft bun marries well with the filling, reminding me of the traditional sweet Easter bread (Pinza) from northeastern Italy that we’d eat with sliced leg ham.




While the spectators dash in various directions, I reflect on what’s brought me here. Regular father-daughter outings in the 1960s to see the local Italian soccer team (APIA) play in the 1960s fuelled my interest in soccer. We’d take bread rolls filled with mortadella and provolone cheese. But in my mid teens I could no longer hide my secret soccer life to school friends and foolishly embraced the oval ball game just to fit in. I also started eating sausage rolls.

Second half

The players have ramped up their diving and writhing on the pitch and I can afford to turn away for a minute and order more brioche and coffee. This carb-fest continues for a few weeks and I wish the referee would give me a caution or show me a red card.



Full time

That’s it. Time for the café brothers to snip the losing team’s national flag from the row of bunting strung overhead. And also time to dissect the game and for strangers to become friends.

Post match commentary

I don’t know when Bar Sport became a house of worship to the beautiful game. The only sports fever I remember 30 years ago was the corner table with a chess and draughts set on offer.



I gather my things and wonder if these visits would only be four-yearly World Cup affairs. Or if making the place a regular haunt might be too nostalgic. I also think about the bad coffee I’ve been drinking at nearby cafes for years and I opt for the latter. I’ve come full circle.

(*I’ve used ‘soccer’ throughout rather than ‘football’ to save confusion for U.S. – and other – readers).

This is not a sponsored post/review. No fee or caffeine supplies were accepted by the writer.






  1. Very interesting post. Soccer fans here also. I love that there used to be a litle Italy in Sydney. Missed your area when I was writning about where the Italian immigrants moved.

    • Our Little Italy in Sydney is desperately trying to cling on to its title, but with changing demographics here and elsewhere around the world they will become extinct. Sad.

  2. Hello … please tell me if in 1961 Bar Sport was called Caffé Sport? I have written it into my novel and need to be correct!

    I lived in Five Dock from 2003-2010. Your posts are always varied and interesting! The soccer days sounded fun.

    • Hi Julie, I’m pretty sure it was called Caffe Sport well into the late 1960s. It definitely opened as Caffe Sport in 1956 and the Italian owner sold it to a Yugoslav bloke in the late ’50s-early ’60s. I don’t know when the name changed to ‘Bar Sport’ (I’ve called it that to avoid confusion) but I might add the original name in brackets to my post. Keep in touch re your book. cheers. (PS – if you wanted to really make sure of its name, try contacting COASIT, the Italian welfare association in Norton St.)

      • Thank you for your reply … I”m happy with Caffe Sport!

  3. Hi Ambra,

    It was so nice to read about Caffe Sport. My father-in-law worked there from around 1956, a couple of years after he migrated from Trieste. He always had great stories of how the place was so busy that they had to turn people away at closing time and close the shutters to keep them from trying to push in! It was a very popular place back then.

    My husband and I also used to visit sometimes when we lived on Norton St in the late 90’s.

    It’s definitely a Norton St. institution.

    • Hi Dani, thanks for your comments. How interesting about your father-in-law working at Caffe Sport – if he was still there in the early-late ’60s, maybe I knew him? It sure was a popular place – and the first Italian caffe in the innerwest (older than Bar Italia). Sometimes I wish I could transport myself back there on a Saturday morning in the 1960s when the Triestine dialect dominated as it attracted people mostly from that city. All the best.

  4. HI Ambra, interesting post – Bar Sport sounds like a place with tons of atmosphere especially for soccer lovers. Nothing like a bit of nostalgia to go with a carb fest!

    • Hi Anne, yes a combination of carbs and nostalgia sucks me in every time. So glad I’ve rediscovered this little gem of a cafe. Cheers.

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