Italian sport: The great beauty of Napoli
- WTI Magazine #163 May 20, 2023
If soccer is almost a religion for nearly all Italians, there is one city where from the time you are born your parents teach you to pray under a blue altar, almost always with the image of their messiah who in the 1980s arrived from Argentina, a land where millions of Italians live.
The messiah's name was Diego Armando Maradona, venerated in every house, alley, and square in the city: exactly like San Gennaro, the patron saint of Neapolitans, who go to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, known as the Cathedral of San Gennaro, by the thousands every year to witness the miracle of the saint's blood dissolving in an ampoule.
For the Neapolitans, an extraordinary people in imagination, music, fashion, philosophy of life, art and cuisine, the Napoli soccer club is everything. It is the symbol of their desire to be considered a winning people and not as unfortunately has been portrayed for decades in Italy, as much as abroad, as a people with no desire to work and above all violent, where the Camorra rules over the entire lives of citizens. On the contrary, Naples is a city full of cultural ferment, a city where dozens of ethnic groups and religious cults live in harmony, it is a city that fights violence with the honesty of citizens who love their territory defending it from those who instead despise it every day through the "underworld."
And the soccer team is a symbol of the character of Neapolitans. A team founded in 1926 that has always suffered in its history, but at every difficult moment has been able to react. A team of dreamers that has rarely managed to fulfill the dreams of its fans, but when it has done so, it has given such great joy to the citizens who have celebrated for years and years. In 1962, Napoli won its first trophy in history, the Coppa Italia, and the city's suburbs as well as the historic center were colored blue everywhere, from the walls of buildings to store windows.
But the historic date for Napoli was July 5, 1984, when at the Stadio San Paolo, 80,000 Neapolitans went crazy as Diego Armando Maradona, who had been bought from Barcelona for the then record sum of about $7.5 million, entered the field. Maradona was the strongest player in the world, and for many experts even today remains the strongest of all time, and he decided to go and play with a provincial team, as Napoli was considered in those years. For Napoli it was the event of the century, and for several months the city celebrated his arrival as if they had won a world championship! In 1987 and then in 1990, that Napoli won its first and - until this April - only Italian championships.
Both times, the fans celebrated the victory for an entire year, and in Italy, but we are sure also in the world, such a thing had never happened. Who celebrates their team's victory for a whole year? At most for a few weeks. In those years, Neapolitan citizens who had emigrated all over the world began to open supporters' clubs, and today Napoli Calcio is the Italian soccer team with the most supporters' clubs ever, scattered throughout the United States, Australia, South America, Asia, Africa and all of Europe.
Then in 2004 the club went bankrupt and the team was forced to play in the minor leagues. For Neapolitans it was like losing their patron saint! But in the same year, a dreamer and producer of dreams, Aurelio De Laurentis, one of Italy's leading film producers, bought the club by starting again from the bottom. Almost twenty years later, De Laurentis' dream of bringing Napoli back to the top of Italian and world soccer has come true.
On May 4, the team became Italian Champions. Napoli is coached by Luciano Spalletti, a great Italian coach born in Certaldo, a small town in the province of Florence, who, however, had never won the Italian championship with teams much more famous than Napoli such as Inter and Roma. At the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, the former San Paolo that was named after the Argentine champion after his passing, there were 60,000 fans watching on giant screens the Udinese-Napoli match played in Udine in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, which ended 1-1, at the end of which Napoli won the Italian championship for the third time in its history. And it won it with a team of humble players, without any international top player, staying on top of the standings since the first day and beating teams like Juventus, Milan and Inter, three of the strongest teams in Europe.
At the end of the game against Udinese, the city began celebrations, and even in every city in the world where there was even a single Neapolitan, Napoli flags were carried in celebration through the streets.
Every one of the nearly 3 million fans wore a Napoli shirt that day, coloring not only Naples but hundreds of cities and countries around the world blue, and images of the celebrations were broadcast by international television stations on all five continents, because it is truly impossible to find a sports club that has such proud fans of their team.