OK, so I am thoroughly aware that during this piece you may say to yourself at some point, ‘who is this dreadful football hipster?’
Football hipstery is nothing new to me: I flirted with Thomas Schaf’s Werder Bremen side, as well as the Villarreal of Juan Román Riquelme and I was briefly tempted by the Dynamo Kyiv side of Shevchenko but Napoli is something different.
My dad was a tv producer and documentary maker who used to work in continental Europe a lot. He ended up doing several things in Napoli and, as a little kid I’d hear stories of incredible food, busy streets and intense negotiations with locals for filming permission. During this time, the world’s attention descended on Italy for the world cup in 1990 and I Got Into Football In A Big Way.
As a 7 year old, because I was as cool as I am now, I was obsessed with national anthems. I used to get very upset about fans booing other anthems and I was a keen watcher of Maradona’s Argentina, whose anthem got a lot trouble during the tournament. As an Englishman I wasn’t allowed to like El Diego but luckily I was seven I didn’t understand things like racism and xenophobia so could just enjoy watching him play.
I vividly remember the Argentine national anthem during the semi-final between Italy and Argentina in Napoli. It wasn’t booed and I was actually moved by this – how come this place allowed it to happen? This was a città which understood football. I like this place. My dad filled me in on some of the details about Naples (he’s not a football man) and I was hooked.
Like many folk of my generation, I was captivated by James Richardson and the Football Italia show which was on British TV for ten years from 1992.
It’s hard to explain to an international audience how iconic and fantastic it was but it combined wit, great coverage and a genuine understanding and love for Italy. Although other kids made AC Milan, Inter or Juventus their team, there was only one place for me. It wasn’t a glorious era for Napoli but I strongly remember Daniel Fonseca doing his best to keep the glory years going.
Napoli has always existed in our house since, unlike half of my country, my parents considered themselves to be genuine Europeans. The films of Massimo Troisi were on, as well as Aldo Ciccolini’s glorious piano playing and our neighbours frequently got irritated by the volume at which Enrico Caruso was blasted out.
As a grown up, I’ve been to Napoli many times and I understand it is a wonderful but complex place. I do my best not to exoticize it: there are many things about it which desperately need sorting out – but this is true of anywhere in the world. I approach the Partenopei, however, with the childish romanticism of the kid who was wowed by the people of Naples’ respect for the beautiful game.
By Frank Sidekick Follow @franksidekick