Before Gaetano Manfredi was elected mayor of Naples in 2021, he was a university professor specializing in seismic engineering — preparing and designing buildings to withstand earthquakes.
As Manfredi rose up to become chancellor of the University of Naples Federico II, a study was commissioned to measure the impact of fans celebrating goals scored by the Napoli football club inside what is now known as the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
“The engineering department building is near the stadium and there’s a seismograph there that whenever Napoli scored would record enough shaking that it nearly registered as an earthquake,” Manfredi told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
So what magnitude might the university seismograph record when Napoli wins its first Italian league title in more than three decades? With a 17-point lead and seven games remaining, the first chance to clinch comes this weekend — a long holiday weekend for May Day (Europe’s Labor Day).
“We can’t predict what the number will be but there will definitely be a lot of vibrations,” Manfredi said, flapping his hand up and down to simulate the trembling. “An earthquake. A big earthquake of joy.”
The mayor isn’t exaggerating.
Support for Napoli is akin to religion in the southern city and the team hasn’t won Serie A since Diego Maradona led the club to its only two Italian championships in 1987 and 1990.
“The passion for football in Naples is one of the biggest passions in the world,” Manfredi said.
It’s so great that Neapolitans have cast aside their superstitions about celebrating — or even mentioning — the word “scudetto,” or title, before it happens and have been decorating the city with streamers, banners, flags and life-size cardboard replicas of Napoli players — all in Napoli blue.
The title could also be a lift socially for Naples, a city that has had problems with trash removal and crime and is seen as a poor southern cousin to the traditional northern football capitals of Milan and Turin.
“If we do this thing, we’ll remain on the walls of Naples forever,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said — avoiding the word “scudetto.”
Every neighbourhood in the city, from the steep and narrow alleyways of the characteristic Quartieri Spagnoli to the more modern Fuorigrotta area where the stadium lies, has its own style of celebrating.
One banner stretching over the street in the Forcella neighbourhood of the historic centre, which is known for its mural of San Gennaro, the city’s patron saint, reads “Scusate per il ritardo” or “Sorry for taking so long” — a reference to the 33 years since Napoli’s last title.
“We’re unique. There’s no other place in the world like Naples. Naples is an open theatre,” local taxi driver Giovanni Murri said, in a reference to a poem by Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo.
A saying heard often these days in the city goes, “Celebrations in Naples are unlike anywhere else.”
As the mayor explained: “It’s because Neapolitans are cheerful. The cheerfulness of Naples is famous around the world.”
Added Vincenzo Masiello, who runs the ‘O Vesuvio trattoria and pizzeria in the Quartieri Spagnoli: “People are coming from all over the world to witness our joy, for something that we still can’t believe. It seems like a dream and it’s really coming true.”
Naples has waited so long for this that the city is preparing for multiple celebrations. There will be the spontaneous eruption when the team clinches the title — which could go on for days, weeks, or even months.
“Obviously we don’t know when that will happen or what will really happen,” the mayor said.
Then an organized celebration will be held downtown in Piazza Plebiscito on June 4 after the club is awarded the Serie A trophy following the final game of the season.
“It’s going to be like celebrating New Year’s Eve twice — actually (bigger) than New Year’s,” said Masiello, the restaurant owner.
In order to avoid congestion downtown and a scene like the chaos when Argentina’s squad returned home with the World Cup trophy, simultaneous celebrations will be organized by the city on June 4 in different neighbourhoods, including one in Scampia, the gritty northern suburb exposed as a crime-infested underworld in the “Gomorrah” book, film and TV series.
The celebration in Scampia is slated for Piazza Ciro Esposito, which is named after a Napoli fan who died after being shot by a Roma supporter before the 2014 Italian Cup.
“Scampia is a very lively place these days,” Manfredi said. “Compared to the times of ‘Gomorrah’ it’s changed a lot. There are often big musical festivals there. So it’s also going to be part of the party.”
Even two-and-a-half years after his death, Maradona’s legacy remains a strong attraction in Naples. In the Quartieri Spagnoli, a huge mural of Maradona acts as an unofficial museum to the former Argentina great.
“It’s a problem in terms of overcrowding,” Manfredi said. “It’s a sort of secular cult, which is really appreciated.”
The mayor said that on days of big Napoli games or in holiday periods, up to 30,000 people visit “Piazza Maradona” daily, which makes it one of Italy’s most visited attractions.
“Even after his death, he still brings people to Naples,” said Antonio Tortora, another local taxi driver. “He’s a saint.”
The Napoli team and the city are working together to provide a live link to the June 4th festivities with a celebration of the big Neapolitan community in New York, with other areas of the widespread diaspora to also be included.
Former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is planning to attend the June 4th celebration in Italy, the Naples mayor’s office said.
“By various measures, there are tens of millions of Neapolitans distributed in various communities around the world, from the U.S. to Latin America and throughout Europe,” Manfredi said. “They will all participate in this celebration.”
The festivities will also be observed in Georgia, the home of Napoli’s dribbling revelation Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
“I recently met with the Georgian ambassador, because there’s a strong bond now between Georgia and Naples,” the mayor said.
The trash removal issues and crime have scared some tourists away from Naples in recent years. Also, fans elsewhere in Italy constantly ridicule the city as being “dirty” in derogatory chants.
So the title could be a lift in social terms for Neapolitans.
“They will be more proud they are from Napoli the city,” Napoli midfielder Stanislav Lobotka said in a recent interview with the AP.
Unlike most other major football teams in Italy, Napoli has not run into financial fair play issues and the current team’s total for player salaries ranks only fifth in Serie A at 71.3 million euros (USD 80 million) — less than half of what perennial champion Juventus pays its players.
“Napoli is one of the best-run clubs in the country,” Manfredi said. “There’s nothing improvisational about this title. It’s been constructed over a long period and that shows another side of Naples. Beyond the folkloristic side, there’s a city made up of well-run businesses. That, particularly, should be a matter of pride for Naples.”
After fans began painting some of the city’s fountains and statues blue, Manfredi spoke out about protecting Naples’ monuments.
In order to discourage vandalism, the mayor is instead promoting an initiative to light up the city’s main sites in blue at night. “We’ve substituted the colouring with light,” Manfredi said.
The city owns the dilapidated Stadio Diego Armando Maradona and is hoping to renovate it with funds provided for the 2032 European Championship — if Italy’s bid to host the event wins.
The stadium’s last major renovation was for the 1990 World Cup, with Maradona leading Argentina into the championship match after beating Italy on penalties in the semifinals at what was then known as Stadio San Paolo.
There were then some minor upgrades made for the 2019 Universiade, but the upper tier of the stadium has been closed for nearly two decades because of structural issues.
The stadium was renamed for Maradona immediately after his death in November 2020, in a decision made by previous Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris.
“The stadium can’t be torn down because it has architectural value. So the idea is to do a major renovation,” Manfredi said, adding that the city is also working with Napoli to build a museum for the squad that would celebrate Maradona and other standouts from the team’s history.
However, Tortora, the taxi driver, voiced the view of many fans.
“Our stadium is a hunk of scrap metal. It’s ugly. They need to get rid of this stadium,” he said, adding that if an official museum to Maradona was built “the entire world would come.”
Manfredi doesn’t hide the fact that he grew up supporting rival Juventus. ”Now I’m the mayor of Naples,” he said with a smirk, “so I only support the (Napoli) squad.”
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