It’s an exciting time to be Neapolitan right now. Or should I say a supporter of Napoli FC? I have to clarify, as there’s hardly a dull moment to be Neapolitan.
Wherever I go, it doesn’t matter whether it’s New York or Tenerife, when I answer the classic question “Where are you from?” so many emotions rage inside me that I am unable to handle, because I know there will be questions. And if there are no questions they will be insinuations. And if there are no insinuations there will be sterile rhetoric. Or unbearable clichés.
In short, being Neapolitan is a bit of a blessing, and a bit of a curse. Having clarified this, it is indeed an exciting time to be a Napoli supporter. This illness (in Napoli we don’t say “I am a supporter” or “I’m a huge fan”. We say “I’m ill for Napoli”, which is a literal translation of “So’ mmalato pe ‘o Napule”) got to me when I was just a kid.
It was not easy falling in love with the team, as during my whole childhood and adolescence Napoli SUCKED. During the second season after I started following them, we had the worst record in our (why is that supporters think they’re part of the team is something to investigate) history. Fourteen miserable points in thirty-four games. We even managed to lose at home to Lecce; a shameful 2-4 result.
So, you can probably understand when I say that I never expected what we have been seeing from the team thus far in Serie A.
Napoli is dominating the championship, and it has done so from the beginning. In August, after half the squad was changed, it was impossible to foresee anything like this.
We are seeing things we’re unaccustomed to, and the enthusiasm the team has brought to the city is incredible. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Victor Osimhen, Stanislav Lobotka, Andrè Frank Zambo Anguissa, Min-Jae Kim, Piotr Zielinski, and the other players are writing their names in Napoli’s history, making likely what we thought would be impossible: winning a scudetto.
What’s more they are making it look EASY! And they are also working wonders in Europe, winning their group stage and putting four goals past Liverpool and six (SIX!) past Ajax at their home ground. Recalling this makes me quiver with excitement. This is Real Madrid or Barcelona stuff. It’s crazy, but it’s happening for real.
A normal human being would just enjoy what is going on without reflecting too much on it. Unfortunately, I was gifted with an exceptional talent for over-thinking, and therefore began reflecting on how much this team can positively affect the city’s image.
It all started a couple of weeks ago when I was walking close to La Sagrada Familia where I live in Barcelona and some teenagers came up to me speaking a language I did not understand. They began pointing at the Napoli crest that is on the back of my tracksuit jacket.
It turned out they were Georgian students, over on holiday. They wanted a picture with me to express their love for Napoli, and Kvaratskhelia. It was an unfamiliar feeling, so I started to go around wearing the jacket to see if it would happen again.
Since then, I have been stopped, waved at, and had “Forza Napoli!” shouted after me. The other day, entering the office, the guy that works at the bar downstairs and two security guys I had never spoken to before, asked me about Napoli and expressed their admiration for the team I support, expressing their sincere hope that Napoli win the Champion’s League.
I am astounded by all this attention. I don’t know how to feel about it. And the astonishment does not end there.
Time Magazine has put Napoli in its top fifty destinations to travel to. Ryanair has added more routes to and from Naples, and their representative even had a Napoli jersey on.
A recent article in an Italian newspaper has revelead that for the month of May it is almost impossible to find a hotel room there now.
Georgian authorities are attempting to create a direct connection between Napoli and Tbilisi to help locals fly to Napoli to see their favorite player. The Diego Armando Maradona stadium has now a diversified audience, with Koreans and Georgians in regular attendance.
YouTubers are now flocking to Napoli to see the team play, and in the meantime enjoying the city’s mesmerizing sights, art, and food. Thousands of tourists climb the alleys of the Quartieri Spagnoli in pilgrimage toward the mural of Maradona which is famous throughout the world.
I should feel proud that my city and team are performing so well. It is just that this is unleashing the usual Italian rhetoric about the Neapolitan being a ‘special people’, and of a ‘special city’, which is experiencing a ‘particular moment.’
The truth is that I’ve had it up here with that kind of talk about Napoli FC, and Naples. It is hard for me to explain what it feels and means to be Neapolitan. I’ll do my best, but I know that in the end, I might start using the clichés I hate so much.
Being Neapolitan means you have to excuse yourself for everything you did not do, every time something bad happens in the city. It means fighting with other Neapolitans, who think that Scudetto celebrations will lead some people to destroy the city and its monuments.
It involves the frustration of knowing that it doesn’t matter if it’s only ten people’s fault, it will be all the Neapolitans taking the blame. I even saw that a newspaper is worried that there will be killings and robberies throughout the event.
Being Neapolitan means watching #Vesuvio trend on Twitter every single freaking time there is an earthquake in the southern part of Italy. Let me explain this to anyone who think this sounds strange. It’s worse: it’s stupid. You have to know that being Neapolitan entails having a song sung to us that goes:
My dream I will fulfill / Il mio sogno esaudirò
Vesuvius erupts / Vesuvio Erutta
All Naples is destroyed / Tutta Napoli è distrutta
Vesuvius erupts / Vesuvio Erutta
All Naples is destroyed / Tutta Napoli è distrutta
On the subject of ‘Freed from desire’, some brilliant minds even brought out a single that was distributed on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and many other platforms, before somebody had the decency to take it down.
It means that people from Bergamo, in the northern part of Italy, will happily join the German supporters of Eintracht Frankfurt destroying a part of the city because they hate our guts.
It means that every taxi driver I meet has seen the film Gomorrah, and I am too ashamed to tell them that I grew up in that neighborhood. It means that you will be the butt of many unpleasant jokes. It means that the lazy and incompetent Chief Wiggum of the Simpsons will speak with your accent.
So, how does it FEEL to be Neapolitan? It fucking hurts! And that’s the harsh truth. It is a debilitating struggle, because whenever you talk or reason about your city, you are never right.
It does not matter who you’re talking to, or about what. You are never right, because you’re Neapolitan. You are wrong because you are Neapolitan. You are ‘special’, you are deceitful, you are the one who steals, who is lazy. They say that in stereotypes there’s always a grain of truth. And that hurts more.
What I’ve been asking myself during this incredible year is how I should feel about it. I don’t know anymore.
Should I already feel guilty for what some shitheads will do? Should I feel sorry about it? Should I be proud of what is happening or afraid it will not happen again? Should I laugh about the insults we receive because it’s just that the other supporters are sore losers, or should I be worried that the next time we go to an away match it will not be just a small part of the stadium singing about our sleepy giant?
I don’t know. What I do know is that I cried while and after Kvaratskhelia had received the ball from Osimhen, then dribbled past the whole Atalanta defence and midfield, turning three times in a very tight space before painting with his right foot a supersonic shooting star which ended its run in the top bin. It was simply too much. There’s only so much beauty you can witness without tears.
I know it can’t last forever and that I should be far happier. I know that I should be proud of how we’re doing, because as my terminally ill and short-memoried father said after I finished telling him (for the fifth time in six hours) that Napoli had won the Coppa Italia final against Juventus on penalties, “See… in the end it’s not so bad being Neapolitan.”
Featured images by Daniele Idini, Naples, July 2020.