Saturday, February 14, 2015

Football in Naples - A Night I'll Never Forget

Over the last 18 months I have attended 15 football matches all across Europe. Often times, just figuring out how to buy a ticket, where the stadium is and getting to and from the matches has been a story in itself. This was especially true in Naples where we spent ten days in early February seeking the sun and warmth in Southern Italy. We didn't find either of those - but, for me as least I did find a football match. SSC Napoli, the first division club in Naples was having a great season in 3rd place behind Juventus and Roma. But the match that fit our schedule was a mid-week Coppa Italia quarter-final match against Inter-Milan with an 8:45 pm kick-off. Debbie wasn't too disappointed since she could cook her favorite dinner of garlic and clams while I was out (neither being a favorite of mine).

Stadio San Paolo seats 60,000

Fans will never forget Maradona who played in Naples 1984-91
Napoli won the Coppa Italia last year. Going into the match with Inter, they were on a four game winning streak while Inter was struggling in 13th place in Serie A.

Getting a ticket to the Wednesday night match was pretty straight forward. I learned there was a Box Office for events of all types just a few minutes walk from our apartment. When I arrived I found out that all the top priced tickets were sold-out which was not a problem for me since I always buy the cheapest ticket I can find.

Only tickets left were in my budget - $12 in Curva B
I typed the address of the stadium into Google Maps on my phone and determined that the best way to get to the match was by bus. I arrived at the bus stop in plenty of time and then waited, and waited for the #151. I should haves known ... not only am I in Italy, I am in Southern Italy. These things take time.

I  had lots of small change ready to buy my ticket when I boarded the bus. But after waiting quite awhile, I asked a woman, who was also waiting for the bus, about how much tickets cost. That's when I learned you had to buy bus tickets ahead of time from a newsagent or tobacconist. Really? Not on the bus?

I started running up the street looking for a place to buy a bus ticket but everything was closed. Then I spotted a Metro station. In some cities like Paris, a Metro ticket also works on the bus so I headed for the Metro station. That's when I saw the #151 stopped at a light so I just took a chance and jumped on. My plan was to show the driver my football ticket and a handful of change along with my best human relation skills with the hope that he would take pity on me and let me on.

In fact, the driver didn't even blink when I got on a very packed bus. I turned around and found dozens of people wearing SSC Napoli scarfs, obviously headed to the match! My fellow bus mates spoke no English and my Italian vocabulary is less that 10 words but we became instant friends and in particular I found a great "mate" in Ricki.

 Over the next 45 minutes I used my Google Translate app to engage my new found friends asking all sorts of football questions about Napoli and the match. That's when I found out that some of the fans were also sitting in Curva B just like me and through various hand signals I got the impression that I could follow them to find the right gate. Whew!

Once off the bus my new best friend Ricki and his girlfriend Antonella took me under their wing and guided me through tens of thousands of fans making their way into the stadium. On the way to our gate I noticed that Ricki was opening a quart-size bottle of Peroni beer which he planned on sharing with me. My read of the social situation indicated I had no choice but to accept his hospitality. So we passed the bottle back and forth and swigged as we dodged people, cars and Vespas. Ricki insisting that I take my full allotment.

By the time we got to our gate we were one of thousands of  fans trying to squeeze through tight metal turnstiles to get through security. I showed my ID, got frisked and together we ran up three long flights of stairs to our seats near the top of the stadium. "Seating" in the Curvas is actually a place where fans stand (even though there are seats). We  literally found the last few spots in one of the upper rows where we could "stand" as the match got underway.

View from our "seats"
My Guardian Angels - Ricki and Antonella

The first half was pretty even. A handful of yellow cards. Lots of back and forth with few real shots on goals and no score after 45 minutes.

At halftime, since Ricki and Antonella did not speak English, I struck up a conversation with some college students who were standing next to us. During the break we covered both Italian and American football as well as Italian and American politics. I also got a lesson in Coppa Italia and Serie A (Italian 1st Division) football and a reminder that Maradona played his Serie A football in Naples.

Obligatory Selfie
In the 2nd half Inter dominated with more possession time and shots on goal but alas when the clock reached the 90 minute mark the score was 0-0. Many stadiums show how much extra time is added for injuries, or make a PA announcement but not in Naples so there was no way to know how much time remained in the match.

50,000 + near sell-out for the Wednesday night match.
A minute later the Inter defense broke down right in front of the net. That's when the Napoli forward from Argentina, Gonzolo Hiquain, spotted daylight to the left of the goalie and boom, he poked in the winning goal!

The stadium went crazy, and I mean really crazy. With the win Napoli moved on to the semi-finals of this year's Coppa Italia and a chance of repeating in 2014-15.

After 10 minutes of all-out pandemonium, Ricki motioned that it was time to go! We scurried back to where the bus dropped us off - but it quickly became apparent that with all the traffic and thousands of fans leaving the match, finding a municipal bus wasn't going to happen any time soon. Maybe tomorrow morning, but not tonight.  It was just plain crazy with people, cars, and motorcycles  jostling to leave without a single traffic cop or any other visible exit plans in sight.

Ricki did, however, seem to have a lot of friends who, like us, where scheming to get home. Together (along with scores of others) they chased down taxis, but never seemed to score one. I couldn't tell if they were negotiating with the driver for time, distance the number of passengers - or "just get me home - I don't care what it costs!"

Around 11:30 pm as the crowds were dwindling, Ricki signaled to me and Antonella to come over to a big white van and he made it clear we should pile in. I followed his lead - not knowing where we where headed. At this point  any mode of transport that got me close enough to walk home worked for me. I would say the van had seats for 16 but within five minutes there was over 30 people jammed inside  Because of the win it was a happy bunch of fans-in-a-van. I don't think it would have been so congenial otherwise. 

The escape vehicle
 I got the brilliant idea of opening Google Maps so I could follow our "progress" and it appeared we were headed toward the center of Naples which I figured was good.

After almost an hour of stop-and-go traffic, I started to recognize where we were and I wasn't far from home!  Ricki grabbed my shoulder, and using his best Italian hand gestures indicated that I should get out at the next stop light. The other sardines made room for me to squeeze out the door and before I knew it I was standing on the curb yelling "grazie mille!

I checked my watch and it was midnight. No one asked me to pay anything for the ride. I plugged our address into  Google Maps and it said I was less than a mile from home. Off I went and twenty minutes later I was in our airbnb apartment and crawled into bed safe and sound.

In a perfect world I would return Ricki and Anatellos incredible hospitality in Seattle and escort them to a Sounders match but unfortunately I don't know how I'd ever find them again. Unfortunately,  we never exchanged contact information but maybe they will find this blog post somehow surfing the web for S.C.C. Napoli.

What a great night. True story!


  1. That sounds like a BLAST!!! I think you and your new friends had ALL the fun, kudos to you for being brave enough to venture out on your own to do something you had no idea how it would turn out, how you'd get back to wherever "home" was, oh, I can think of a million reasons why I might not have done what you did here at home in AMERICA!!! What you and your wife are doing is just SO cool... you just might inspire me to be brave enough to try to do something similar, something my husband and I have talked about, but never very seriously... just might have to now! Safe travels, from a near Senior in Royal Oak, MI!

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