“Italy was born from a Napoli-Juve”: seen from Naples, how the shock reflects the country’s divisions

“Italy was born from a Napoli-Juve”: seen from Naples, how the shock reflects the country’s divisions

“Italy was born from a Napoli-Juve”: seen from Naples, how the shock reflects the country’s divisions

“If you find me a place, I’ll offer you the best fish restaurant in town!” At 78, Carlo has seen others, Napoli-Juve, “but this, frankly…”. With your ear glued to the radio, listen to RadioKissKiss, an antenna almost exclusively dedicated to Naples. The testimonies of the fans follow one another with the same fervor: the Juventus welcome, on Friday at 8.45 pm, is “the match of the year”.

The sporting stakes could be enough to make the match unmissable. Undisputed leader of Serie A, Napoli have a seven-point lead over second-placed Torino. A success would, in fact, represent one more step towards a championship awaited by an entire population for thirty-three years. But in front of Juve one could almost say that the essential thing is elsewhere. “Roma, Inter or Milan, I can discuss with them, but Juve, never!”hires Vincenzo.

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This 50-year-old football fan secretly sells all kinds of Naples-derived products in the city’s port. In the center of a continuous blue panel formed by his scarves, the Mediterranean and the sky, he stands out as a black spot. “This is my ‘Juve Merda’ scarf, I love it!”, laughs Vincenzo. The ode to the Turinese needs no translation, and sounds like a motto of the city in this very special week.

Getting lost in the Spanish quarters, narrow and popular arteries of Naples, is enough to convince yourself of it. A large banner warns the profane visitor. “You who are from the neighborhood and support Juventus, you are unworthy!”, we read there. Here, garbage bags or rolls of toilet paper with the black and white crest are sold. There, a café proudly displays an image of Maurizio Sarri in a Juve tracksuit in a bowl. “But they are the ones who provoke us. They say that Vesuvius has dirtied us, while we don’t care!”Anna swears, instead, behind the cashier of the establishment.

Beating Juve is my strongest desire

In its defence, Napoli does not have a monopoly on anti-juventinism. “Juve is the most fan club in Italy, but it is also the most hated clubunderlines Sébastien Louis, historian specializing in Italian football and author of the book ‘Ultras – the other protagonists of football’. The rivalry is therefore strong, but Napoli also have quite a few enemies. Higuain’s transfer (from Naples to Turin in 2016) has however strengthened him”.

Aware of this disgust not far from unanimous – and replaced, failing that, by indifference – the players add just a layer of it. “Beating Juve is my strongest desire”South Korean defender Kim Min-jae said in October, shortly after his arrival. “And we love that kind of stuff. Kim, it’s one of the best-selling shirts!”confirms Luigi, seller in an official Napoli store. “And then in Italy there has always been a contrast between north and south, he continues. Your ‘Welcome to Ch’tis’, here it’s called ‘Welcome to the South’!”

Here we are. The famous “territorial question”, omnipresent since the unification of Italy in 1861, is at the heart of this rivalry. “Naples is the southern capital par excellence, a bright city with passionate fanssays Sébastien Louis. Turin has long been the capital of the North, together with Milan. We have long seen him as very austere, focused on Fiat and Juve.

The first match was won by the Turinese, thanks to Garibaldi

Before its unification, Italy was made up of a multitude of states. Naples was the radiant capital of the prestigious Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which covered part of the current Mezzogiorno before being annexed by Garibaldi’s troops from the North. “It was from a Napoli-Juve that Italy was born in 1860, dared the Messenger, in an article published on Thursday morning. The first game, already decisive, was won by the Turin players, thanks to a center forward born in Nice, a citizen of the world: Giuseppe Garibaldi”.

This humorous trait reveals wounds that some of the city’s inhabitants have not yet healed. As proof, it is not uncommon to see Neapolitan ultras recalling the golden age of their city. “We are referring to a mythical time, but it is a historical error, explains Sebastien Louis. The fans turn clichés upside down to show that it’s not the South that benefits from it, but he too has had his good moments.”

Diego Maradona, an idol of Naples.

Credit: Getty Images

The dynamics of a “two-speed” Italy, where the economic success of the North is opposed by a more backward South (GDP is twice as low according to the National Institute of Statistics), are therefore concretely reflected in this rivalry. “Juve is the club that embodies success par excellencethe story continues. For its part, Napoli – with the exception of Cagliari in 1970 – is the only club in the South to have won the Scudetto.”

The two stadiums illustrate this division perfectly. Diego Armando Maradona, antiquated but hot, contrasts sharply with a flashy Allianz Stadium but whose lack of soul is also seen in the name.

The aversion is all the more tenacious as the Partenopei, crowned on two small occasions – in 1987 and 1990 – saw their fate on the pitch closely linked to that of Juve. “The rivalry really took hold in 1975, historian Sébastien Louis points out, because Napoli finished within two points of Juventus and lost both matches, including a 2-6 draw at home. The title was played there”. Next, Kalidou Koulibaly’s angry header in Turin in 2018, in a sensational but ultimately futile victory, marked the city.

Meanwhile, the duel reached its peak in the 1980s, when Diego Maradona crossed paths with Michel Platini and offered Napoli his hours of glory. On Friday the club found Juve crowned, for the first time since then, with the status of favourites. The expectation is such that a victory on Friday would constitute, for the city, an event whose scope would go beyond the football sphere.

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