Championship celebration SSC Naples: And in the prams there are dolls from Osimhen and Min-jae Kim

Athoughtfully the people stand next to each other. They look at the murals of Maradona, the paintings of Maradona and they look at each other. Happy, soulful. Naples on an evening after winning the Italian championship early: mass is celebrated in the open-air church of the deceased city hero.

It’s as if every Neapolitan should visit at least once during these special days this quasi-religious place that has formed over the years up in the narrow streets of Spanish neighborhoods around an old graffiti portrait of Maradona. Fans in jerseys are there, but also elegant signoras, young girls, couples on their way to dinner. And as in every service, there is an interplay of silence and singing. A group of Argentinians has just started a curve song in honor of their common hero. The locals join in. Ole, ole, ole, ole, Diego, Diego. Applause. Then it’s quiet again.

Place of pilgrimage: Diego Maradona’s famous oversized mural in Via Emanuele de Deo

Source: dpa/Oliver Weiken

Napoli in the days after winning their first championship since Maradona, first without him, third overall in their history. Even those who know about the overwhelming football madness of the Neapolitans can hardly imagine the variety and creativity of the tributes until they have actually seen them. They are aimed at Maradona and the beloved light blue Napoli jersey, as always, but now for the first time also at Maradona’s heirs, “our angels”, as one poster calls them.

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Flags of the entire starting eleven hang from the balconies of a tenement building in their tactical formation. On the fourth floor the goalkeeper Alex Meret, below the four defenders, on the second floor the midfield, below the strikers around the two stars Victor Osimhen and Chwitscha Kwarazchelia.

Elsewhere, all the games on the way to the championship are stretched across the street one after the other with their own banners: Rome Olympic Stadium, September 3, 2022, 8:45 p.m., Lazio club crest, Napoli club crest, final score 1:2, goals, scorers, minutes played. And so on, from August to May, every game, every goal.

Let's get to the line-ups: Napoli's starting eleven on a facade

Let’s get to the line-ups: Napoli’s starting eleven on a facade

Those: dpa/Andrew Medichini

The sidewalks pave stones with the Scudetto, the Italian, and the number three, in the bar on the corner there are bottles of “Blue-dolce” sparkling wine labeled Osimhen, Kwarazchelia or Maradona, prams are driven around with baby dolls from Osimhen and the Korean Defense chief Min-jae Kim, a real estate agency mixes up its advertisements in the shop window with the player portraits – the better, the more expensive. And the narrow streets of the old town are a single shrine of banderoles in white and blue anyway.

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In the stadium, which is named after Diego Armando Maradona, the Angels will be showing their own audience for the first time in the league game against Florence on Sunday after mathematically winning the championship. Everything was set for the home game against Salernitana a week earlier, but the visitors’ late equalizer postponed the celebrations. Some in Naples say it was for the best, because last week the cheers would have been so spilling over that the famous glass dome of the Galleria Umberto downtown would not have survived. So much had accumulated in 33 years without Scudetto, so great was the longing to let it out. Now there was a little time to get in the mood for the party, to manage the emotions.

Such horror stories also belong to Naples, where the residents tell the stranger every time they say goodbye that he should just take care of himself and his belongings. Though the city has become safer, increasingly turning into a tourist magnet, and overall showing delicate signs of prosperity, befitting its crew. But on the first night of the championship, there was actually one death and a number of injuries, most of them from firecrackers and bengalos.

Mouthing too much: fans of SSC Napoli cheer the title on the street

Mouthing too much: fans of SSC Napoli cheer the title on the street

Those: dpa/Gregorio Borgia

Now the people in front of the stadium greet each other euphorically under a light blue sky in a sea of ​​light blue smoke with sentences like “ce l’abbiamo fatta”, we made it. For the third time. So little and yet so much. Three championships is actually almost nothing in a league that has been played since 1929. Juventus alone have 36 championships, while Inter and AC Milan each have 19. The difference tells more than just football, because football in Italy is more than just a game; it illustrates the great disparity between the North and the South, represented practically only by Naples in Serie A. It gives an idea of ​​how much had to go out of it.

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SSC Napoli, despite its size, the city has no other football club. That makes him the national team of a people who speak a dialect that is almost a language in itself; and which has such a divided relationship with Italy that a large banner in Curva B shows the Scudetto upside down during the countless choreographies this Sunday, along with a poster: “Bottino di guerra”, spoils of war.

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The deep meaning of the title for self-esteem can also be seen in the subtle and sometimes not so subtle mockery of the particularly hated Juventus in Naples’ streets these days. A toilet bowl has been painted in their black and white club colors and placed in front of the door. Or a few blocks away: an improvised morgue in black and white. For each of the other 19 first-division clubs, one of them has set up colorful urns for a grave candle in the Spanish quarters. On the balcony above, a cardboard figure Maradona with a Che Guevara cap and cigar guards the scene.

Juve is buried in Naples

Juve is buried in Naples

Source: Florian Haupt

It’s as if he played along himself. And at least Maradonians believe: he has it. He then took the final step aside in November 2020 to free his successors from the ballast of his oversized body. Argentina also just became world champion for the third time. Such cult and such jubilation as now in Naples, the Argentinians say about the mural, would not have existed even there.

“Whoever loves does not forget” is written on one of the countless T-shirts that his fans wear walking around a city that, for better or for worse, seems to have stood still in time; so stunningly free-spirited, but also hopelessly chaotic, in a way that actually no longer exists in the orderly Europe of the 21st century. “I’m crazy about you, Maradona,” scrawls a woman in this city on the wall of the house, as if it were still 1990. And next to someone else: “Maradona, I miss you.”

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When the Napoli players warm up against Florence, the stadium speakers blare “Life is Life” from Opus – like that famous warm-up ball juggling by Maradona in Munich’s Olympic Stadium, which fascinated the spectators more than before a Uefa Cup game in 1989 the following game. Even now the game will not be worth mentioning. Master coach Luciano Spalletti has rotated, in the first half his team shows little of their usual pace and wit, only with the inclusion of Kwarazchelia it then becomes more energetic. Shortly after the break, Osimhen misses a penalty, later he lobs the goalkeeper, the ball bounces off the grass and up off the bar, but Osimhen hangs on, like an allegory for the last 33 years, and when there’s another penalty, he competes again and scores to win.

Victor Osimhen of SSC Napoli celebrates his goal to win 1-0 against Fiorentina

Victor Osimhen of SSC Napoli celebrates his goal to win 1-0 against Fiorentina

Those: dpa/Alessandro Garofalo

Naples’ standard soundtrack in May 2023 is even more fervent: “Siamo noi, siamo noi, i campioni dell’Italia siamo noi”. We are the champions. The final whistle is accompanied by songs, smoke and an imposing sea of ​​different flags on all stands.

The players do a long lap of honour, no one goes home, followed by a concert in the stadium and a night of partying next door and in the city center, and it will certainly continue like this in this crazy football city until the last day of the game and the handing over of the championship trophy , who, thanks to her redeeming triumph, looks to the future with increased confidence; who does not intend to wait another 33 years.

Or, as other banners in the city announce: “Sorry for the delay. We’ll start again at three.”


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