SSC Napoli. More than just a stop on Diego's world tour.
To some, Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli merely represents the one-time home of ‘El Diego’ Maradona. The Argentinean icon spent six glorious years in Naples, helping to usher in the club’s most successful era in the late 80s. The Stadio San Paolo was his stage, and the thousands who flocked to watch his every move were his adoring audience. He mesmerized and entertained spectators for over half a decade in Italy, building a fan base beyond the borders of Naples along the way. Delving into the magical world of the two-time Scudetto winners, there is an intriguing group of fans based in the heart of London making their own unique impression.
The club’s magnificent stadium in southern Italy holds just over 60,000, and with supporters scattered across the globe, they are widely regarded as being some of the most passionate fans not only in Italy, but in world football. Last season, an incredible 15,000 tifosi made the 600km trip to Bologna to cheer their heroes on as they defied the odds and successfully went on to qualify for this season’s Champions League.
With that in mind, I asked myself this question. What makes their fans so passionate? So passionate that regardless of distance, they have global appeal and support from all corners of the world, a fact encapsulated by the Napoli Fans Club in London.
Comfortably sat outside Bar Italia Uno in London, I’m with Marco La Nave, the founder of this inspiring group. He tells me: ‘Some people ask me "What team do you support?" I say Napoli, and they reply “No here in England?” and I still say Napoli. We're Neapolitans, we are so passionate about our football team as when we love a woman; we are loyal and we always love and defend our team despite the distance. Being a Napoli supporter is something special. Napoli is a fantastic city, unique for many, but with endless social problems. Therefore football represents a sort of social redemption to the everyday dramas we see quite regularly. Our team is like a religion; the feeling is pure and genuine’.
After witnessing his beloved Partenopei play out a friendly against West Ham United at Upton Park in 2009, Marco embarked on an ambitious plan to connect with his fellow Neapolitans in the UK. Brought together by their love for the football club, its members come from contrasting backgrounds and different lifestyles, but it is SSC Napoli that unites them despite the distance from their spiritual home. While the beautiful game rapidly transforms into a beautiful business for some, with balanced squads taking a back-seat to balance sheets and profit and loss accounts, it is groups like these that keep the romance and identity in football. Napoli patron Aurelio De Laurentiis understands the need for global commercial exposure, an example of this can be seen in his recent admission that he has offered Manchester United €1 million to play a friendly at the San Paolo. However, he also never shirks away from the importance and prestige of the club and its fanatical support, reminding old and new faces no-one is bigger than the club.
The fan club has well over 2,000 fans alone on its Facebook page, while its UK based members regularly meet up on match days to watch their side in action and cast their judgments on the latest crop of superstars hoping to emulate the success of the late 80s. They finance themselves through the production of a customised scarf, the success of which has now led them to produce flags and stickers to add to their ever-growing collection of merchandise. Such has been the impact of their efforts, several influential figures within the club, including president De Laurentiis and his son Edoardo, have been photographed donning the personalised scarves.
Marco tells me that his initial and current aim is to make the site a reference point for all Napoli fans in the UK, and those visiting. Having already organised successful trips last season, including to the Europa League clash at Anfield, they hope to do more in the future and build on the foundations of what they have already achieved.
‘Our Love for the Azzurri colours unites us. We never abandon them and will always support and defend them. The future hope for the fan club is to create a network of genuine supporters and establish a long term relationship with our club. Our aim is to create a positive and constructive atmosphere among the fans. We want our club to trust us, we want them to share their moments with their fans first and foremost. We believe that we are entering a new era of football, and clubs such as Napoli need their fans more than ever in order to compete with billionaires and wealthy clubs’.
Despite the club’s turbulent history, it is refreshing to meet a set of fans so dedicated and equally committed to supporting their team through the good and bad. With a return to Europe’s top table this season, accompanied by the potential of another strong run domestically putting them back in the higher echelons of Serie A, things are looking bright for the southern giants as this Neapolitan Love Story continues to evolve.