Napoli Flashback: Di Canio magic against Milan – 1994

Like a lot of English folk of my age and generation (born 1983) Calcio has a special place in my heart down to the Channel 4, James Richardson fronted, Football Italia show in the 1990’s. As I’ve written on this site before, my love of Napoli begun a little earlier through a combination of Maradona at Italia ’90 and my dad briefly working in Naples when I was at that impressionable age of team-choosing. I’m not from a traditional football supporting or sport lovingfamily, so the idea of following any team was weird to them – the fact that my club was in a foreign country didn’t register as being strange at all.

Unfortunately, the zenith of foreign Calcio coverage coincided with Napoli’s decline so the live matches that Channel 4 chose are few and far between. This means that my memories and heroes from being a kid are very odd. I have an imbalanced and unhealthy love and respect for Daniel Fonseca for this very reason. And, before I realised he was a dreadful fascist idiot, I had a passionate appreciation of Paolo di Canio. Why? His wonder goal against Milan in 1994.

1993/94 was an odd season for Napoli. I’m not going to pretend that I remember it vividly but, re-researching for this article reminds me that Fonseca scored 15 goals and the next best striker scored 5 – that was Di Canio. We finished in 6th place at the end of the league – we wouldn’t hit that level again for another 15 years and it certainly felt like it at the time!

Probably more down to Milan than Napoli, Channel 4 decided to broadcast the match live. I can’t remember seeing a Napoli match on the TV before this but I could be wrong. Just to remind folk, this Milan team was the club in European football at the time with Fabio Capello at the helm. Two months after this match against Napoli, they trounced Cruyff’sBarcelona side 4-0 in the European Cup Final and they won the Scudetto, too.

We were very much seen as a former greatclub on the decline, particularly having got rid of Zola and Careca before the start of the season. We did, however, have Marcello Lippi at the helm and his ability to guide us to navigate these choppy waters to 6th led him to abandon ship to Juve merda at the end of the season.

The match itself is a bit of a blur, I remember the state of the pitch surprising me – it was covered in crap and in that 10 year old, slightly anxious way, I was worried that the litter would somehow mess up any sublime skill that our star striker Daniel Fonseca might be cooking up. Instead, a new (to me) hero emerged. Our number 7 received an excellent throughout ball from central midfield after the Milan team lost the ball. This released Di Canio who had to deal with two of the Rossoneri legendary defence. This proved no problem for Di Canio who repeatedly turned the defenders to find some space at an impossible angle (the paper all over the penalty area proving no obstacle to his fantastic close control.) He then, for want of better word, whacks it into the roof of the net. Napoli 1 Milan 0. 

I was seriously impressed and, despite my large amount of hair and thick glasses, tried to repeat this feat in the playground the following week. My classmates, more keen to pretend to be Bryan Robson or Mark Hughes, were not guiled. I did, however, keep talking to them about this new superstar of world football: Paolo Di Canio. Through my teenage years I would bang on about his massive talent only to turn to the other side following his despicable fascist saluting.

This match did, however, give me the Napoli bug and it led to me having find all sorts of strange ways to try and follow them. VHS’s from enthusiastic PE Teachers or close following of British TV’s teletext service. It is for the reason that I am so chirpy and optimistic about seeing Napoli so regularly these days – it was a real struggle to get any kind of coverage so seeing us sitting next to the top of the table and going deep in a European competition is wonderful. But… not quite as wonderful as the feeling when Di Canio thunder-bastarded the ball into the back of the net against the best side in Europe back in March, 1994.

By Frank Sidekick


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