This week, SSC Napoli returns to the United States for a series of friendlies with world renowned FC Barcelona. The 2-legged “home and home” contest will kick off the inaugural preseason La Liga / Serie A Cup, with the first leg in Miami, Florida and the second in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But it’s been a really long time since gli azzurri would return to the good-ol U.S. of A.
Actually, we go way back to May of 1982, and right before the Italian’s 3rd World Cup triumph in Spain, the Italian-American fan base was out in bunches to support Napoli in a friendly tournament. Although the club was void of any real superstars at the time. One person in attendance during that final U.S. visit for Napoli was a then 12-year old boy born in Naples named Gianluca, who also happens to be my oldest cousin. The details of the match itself, which was a 2-2 draw to the New York Cosmos at the old Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. Napoli goals scored by Claudio Pellegrini and Giuseppe Damiani. When I first approached Gianluca to talk about this match, he remembers a loss because he was, in his words, “in shock that an Italian team couldn’t beat an American team. In his eyes, it was expected for a foreign club to top a club from this continent”.
Gianluca would go on to add, “I remember there being not too many in attendance, as by then Pele was gone and retired and NASL attendances were lowering by the season, but I remember a whole lot of Italians supporting with their Italian flags”. Italian-Americans are very well populated in the northeastern United States, specifically southern Italians, mostly Siciliani, Calabrese and Napoletani.
“We went to the match with most of the family, and some friends who were fans of all kinds of teams, but mostly Napoli fans. I was kind of surprised to see so many Italians. Thinking back in hindsight, I am not shocked that most of the fans there that day were Italian, given the declining popularity of the sport with Americans(at the time), show up to support Napoli. Hardcore calcio fans still found a way to follow their beloved clubs. But I’m also surprised that a Napoli with the superstars that would come very shortly after this trip never made it to the States to play, even though it was more common that teams would travel to the states to play NASL clubs. It would have been so special to see the likes of MAGICA (Maradona, Giordano, and Careca) Ferrara, and Bagni come here and play.”
Surprisingly, this will mark the partenopei’s first United States appearance since 1982, two years before the Maradona announcement was even a thought, or a possibility. As various prestigious clubs around the world have been visiting here on a regular basis since the early 2000s, the decision of President Aurelio De Laurentis to bring Napoli back to America has come with great anticipation by the ever growing American fan base. Having done a great deal of film business in the U.S. before his acquisition of Napoli, we all expected many visits here, especially during the time with the 3 Tenors (Lavezzi, Hamsik, and Cavani) and even with the likes of Higuain, Rafa Benitez, and regular Champions League football. But here we are, 37 years later, ready to entertain the American fans with an opponent that we couldn’t ask to better help promote us than Barcelona.
Fortunately for Gianluca, he’s moved from upstate New York to South Florida only last year and he’d say, “Having moved here not long ago, I was so excited that Miami was a city chosen to host this event, as most of our family live down here now. I think it’s great for Italian calcio and for Napoli especially.”
As I write this article, I’m traveling to Florida with my father, who is a regular San Paolo visitor. While we had some special moments in Naples together in 2005 during the Serie C days, this will be only my second and third time watching the sports team I love most in the world play. Late last night, Gianluca asked me how it feels to be traveling to see Napoli play with the man who instilled SSC Napoli in my brain at birth in 1983. The answer to that is, simply amazing. I’ll also be traveling, without my dad, to Ann Arbor to be with my Far From Vesuvius mates for some special content out there. That will be the first time we all meet at the same time in person. This is truly a dream come true for me and the fact that SSC Napoli is literally part of my family makes me that much more excited to share my experiences with all of you!