Sunday, September 07, 2014
Soccer in Italy 2014
They will be lining up at the turnstiles at the Stadio San Paulo in Naples this coming Sunday for the big game between the home team and the visitors from Verona. Of course you will remember that name from Shakespearean plays, and you might still hear Juliet on the balcony looking for her lover. I digress.
There will be more than 60 000 fans jammed into the facility, and they will be keyed up, as the 2014-2015 Italian soccer season is just getting underway. The Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli, the official name of the Naples team, was founded in 1926. They had likely been kicking around the round ball for years prior to that date, but that was when they began in earnest.
The team currently plays in Series A, the highest level of Italian soccer. The team had its greatest seasons shortly after 1994, the year that a certain Diego Maradona arrived in town. He had been convinced to come to Naples from Barcelona with a gentleman’s handshake, and twelve million Euros. In short order, likely with a certain influence from Maradona, the “Blues” began their greatest years of triumph. They won the Series A title in 1986-87, and also in 1989-90. The won the Copa Italia five times, and won the UEFA Cup in 1988-89.
In a nutshell, “Gli Azzurri”, the Blues, is the most successful soccer club in Southern Italy. In their early days, they were also nicknamed “I Ciuccarelli”, roughly translated as the donkeys. Understandably, it was a derogatory term applied by their friends from the north. Needless to say, there are tremendous rivalries in Italy between the North and the South. Seems to be a somewhat global concept.
Maradona’s time in Naples grew short when he threw a few political comments into the ring. 1n 1990, he made disparaging remarks about the inequality in the country. The World Cup semi-finals were being played in Naples, between the Argentinians, (Maradona’s homeland), and the Italians. Maradona was also quoted as saying: “Naples has always been marginalized by the rest of Italy. It’s a city that suffers the most unfair racism.” He encouraged the Neapolitans to cheer for Argentina.
Shortly thereafter, he tested positive for cocaine, and never again played for the Azzurri. His number 10 jersey is the only one retired by the team, several years after he finished playing for Naples.
By 2004, the Club fell on hard times and went bankrupt. That would be mostly attributable to high wages, small crowds, a weak economy, and no television money. The team was rescued by a group headed by Aurelio De Laurentis, of cinema fame. The team was relegated to the third division, but quickly regained prominence to play in the Series A.
Of the 26 players on the main squad, only 6 hail from Italy. That is the nature of the beast, as all teams are made up of players from the international pool. One of the stars of the Naples team is Mertens, a name familiar to most of us! The season ends next May 31st. The team will play Sparta from Prague on September 18th, then face three Italian teams: Udine, Palermo, and Reggio, Emilia.
A decent seat will set you back more than $ 100, with prices similar to those in the NFL. Rivalries between the clubs are ferocious. Be prepared to duck an explosive or two during the game. Do not wear the other team’s colours in the wrong zone. You will be removed, forcefully.
Excuse me now. I am off to watch the opening season games of the NFL.
September 7, 2014