Franco Soldo was just 8 years old when his family immigrated from Pietrapertosa, Italy and settled halfway across the world in Saskatoon, the largest city in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
“We had an aunt who lived here before, and so my mom and dad would come on holidays and they liked it so much they decided to come over,” Soldo said. “The economy was better and they wanted to give me a better future. We still have family in Italy, but Canada is home now.”
Moving from Italy all the way to Canada was quite the culture shock for young Soldo, who had to learn a new language and new customs. With that came exposure to a pair of sports Soldo knew little about – hockey and American football -- having only lived in the Southern Italian region of Basilicata up til that point.
“When we moved to Canada, hockey was obviously very big,” Soldo said. “You can’t compare hockey fans to NFL fans, though. They don’t have tailgates, they don’t have the crazy people in the stands wearing crazy outfits. When I think about the NFL, I compare it to the football atmosphere in Europe.”
It wasn’t long before Soldo, now 36 and still living in Saskatoon as a high school history teacher, latched onto the NFL and what would become his favorite team in all of sports – the New York Giants.
At that time, the Giants had all the personalities. LT, [Phil] Simms, [Harry] Carson and just a big, bad defense. It was easy to become enamored with the Giants. It’s New York. It’s the Big Apple. In Europe, you heard of New York, not a lot of the smaller market teams. - Franco Soldo
As Soldo grew up, his love for the Giants grew as well. Along the way came a little brother, Thomas, who as little brothers tend to do, liked to annoy his big brother. And so, Thomas became a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan.
“Little brothers always want to bust your chops,” Soldo jokes. “He got under my skin, of course, but we see each other every day. He teaches special needs at the same school I teach. We have an awesome rivalry.”
Today, Soldo lives with his wife of 10 years, Julia, and their 7-year-old twins Nicholas and Laila. He’s been a high school history teacher for the last 15 years at his alma mater, E.D. Feehan Catholic High School. Soldo also coaches the boys’ varsity soccer team – never quite being able to shake his European roots (he still supports his home club, Inter Milan).
According to Google Maps, it’s 2,093 miles between Saskatoon and MetLife Stadium. That hasn’t prevented Soldo from attending three Giants’ home games – so far. He most recently attended the Giants vs. Jets game back in 2015. Before that, Soldo was in the building when Eli and Peyton Manning matched up for the final time in 2013.
Soldo attended his first game shortly after his two kids were born. He can still recall every moment.
My wife was laughing because she saw I was like a kid in a candy store. We went to the Legacy Club and I got my picture taken with the Lombardi trophies. The first time we walked through the Pepsi Gate and I saw the (turf), I felt like a kid. To see that field and to see Eli Manning come out of the tunnel with Brandon Jacobs was an amazing feeling. - Franco Soldo
It doesn’t take a seven-hour flight for Soldo to feel surrounded by Giants Pride. All he has to do is head down a flight of stairs to his basement, which has been transformed over the years into the ultimate New York Giants fan cave.
“I always said when I had my own house that I wanted my own fan cave,” Soldo revealed. “When I got married, I made a deal with my wife. We built the house and I said I get the basement and get to do whatever I want in the basement. I told her you can do whatever you want with the rest of the house. We made the deal.”
Soldo started collecting memorabilia as a kid. It began with an autographed Michael Strahan helmet, and snowballed to present day, where every square inch of his basement is covered in Giants swag. Ironically, his most prized possession is his least valuable. Soldo tweeted a picture of his fan cave to Strahan this March. The Hall of Famer replied. Soldo printed the tweet, enlarged it and hung it on one of the last remaining white wall spaces, right below an autographed photo of No. 92.
“It’s sitting front and center in my basement,” Soldo says proudly. “That’s the most special piece that I have. It’s worth nothing to anybody except for myself.”
This upcoming season, Soldo plans on attending his fourth Giants game, when Big Blue battles the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. He plans on bringing his younger brother Thomas, 26, even if he will be rooting for the Giants’ division rival.
Luckily for Soldo, both his kids decided to take after their dad, sparing him the fate of having two Cowboys’ fans in the family.
“They are Giants fans through and through,” Saldo said. “My daughter isn’t as big a fan as my son. When he was about four or five, he could already recite the entire offensive line, defensive line and wide receivers. My dream one day is to take them to a game and let them experience all this.”
Soldo contends there are more NFL fans in Canada than one might believe. He points to any local bar on a football Sunday. At times, though, the Italian-Canadian is left to explain to his fellow Canucks why he’s so passionate about the Giants.
“There’s a lot of NFL fans in Canada, but I don’t know too many who save up all year long to come down and watch a game,” Soldo admits. “It’s a lot of money and a lot of people say you can do better things. Everybody has their vice, and I have a loving and understanding wife who allows me to do this. It’s an experience. It’s a labor of love.”
Giants Pride truly is everywhere.