When you think of Italy, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? Beautiful woman? Pizza? Fashion? Culture? Fair enough I say. Now, what would you be thinking of when you think of Italian football? Cheating, diving, World Cup victories, Milan, Juventus and maybe even match fixing. These days, when I think of Italian football, I think of Napoli away in the Europa League way back on October 21 2010.
The previous few days had been fantastic as Ross and I visited Florence and Pisa en route to Italy’s third largest municipality amid plentiful amounts of warm sunshine, beer and pasta. We were having a European away trip fit for a king on a pauper’s budget. Yes, it truly was that much fun. Our train from Pisa to Naples took around 4 hours and landed us in the city by mid-afternoon. As soon as we stepped off the train, eyes were being fixed on us from every angle. Little did we know that, the night before, two Liverpool supporters had been stabbed in a city café and many others were attacked on the streets during the night. More was to come.
Naples is located on the southern coast of Italy. Those historically minded people reading this will be well aware of the lost city of Pompeii and there are just over four million inhabitants in one of the oldest cities in the world. My impressions from the day and a half spent there were not so good. Not just due to the football problems we faced but also the rubbish strike which saw piles of trash building up on the roadsides and out the front of cafes and restaurants. Now, the city centre is the largest in Europe so you can only imagine how much trash was littered here, there and everywhere can’t you? I’m going to have to go back one day soon as a tourist to get a new perspective on the place.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, jumping off the train and attracting unwanted attention.
Within minutes of arriving, Ross and I were quickly sussed out by three plain clothed Police who quickly made us aware it was not safe to jump the subway to our hostel alone. We soon found out why. They advised us it would be best for us to allow them to escort us to our hostel.
Once on the subway train, all eyes were fixed on us for the entire three station ride to our hostel. Our carriage was proper choca’s with Italian ultra’s who would have loved to have got their hands on us and perhaps even, their knives into us. Thank Christ the bizzie’s were on hand to escort us or we would have become fodder.
Over the years, I’d heard older reds recount their stories of run ins with Italian football supporters during the 1970’s and 80’s. Some scary recitals had been thrown my way with one of the most frightful being one supporter’s accounts of Rome in 1984 after the European Cup Final where the local Police had left the Liverpool supporters for dead following the match. You can kind of understand why there were such hostilities a year later with Juventus supporters in Brussels. I don’t for one moment excuse what happened but let’s just say English/Italian footballing relationships have indeed been soured for some time and still are to this day.
We found our hostel eventually, dropped our bags off and headed to the waterfront where bus transfers awaited us for a safe and swift transfer to Stadio San Paolo. It was on this journey that we heard of more stories of stabbings and saw a couple of young fella’s who were bandaged up from attacks earlier in the day. In Broad daylight! There was a bit of an ill feeling, an edgy vibe if you like as we were escorted by a dozen Police motorbikes, first, out of the city before being take up to the ground via some dodgy back route to keep us all safe from harm. I did wonder what was going through the minds of the Police. The normal journey that would take around 15 minutes, took around 45 for this match. The same heading back to but that’s another story for later in the blog.
As we approached the ground, Napoli fans greeted our bus with bricks and bottles against the windows. Shit started to get real so we bunkered down in our seats and put our trust in the riot Police on hand at the stadium to keep at least some semblance to proceedings. The Italians really don’t like the English when it comes to football matches. I think at times, the feeling is very much mutual. Regardless, we arrived into the stadium still in one piece after and very thorough body search by security as we entered into the stadium. Once inside, you are directed to the upper tier plastic seats in the corner and allowed to sit wherever you see fit. The game itself was one of few chances and ended in a goalless draw. Post-match, we were held inside the stadium for nigh on an hour. Similar to the San Siro in March 2008 when we sent Inter packing from the Champions League at the round of 16 stage.
The Police escorted bus ride back into town was less hostile though we were all dropped off and sent packing into the dark streets with no further Police protection. As the large groups of reds wandered up into the city centre, we all broke off into smaller groups which was perhaps the worst scenario due to the groups of ultra’s waiting for us behind street corners. Over the following hours, a number of supporters were attacked, stabbed and threatened by Italian thugs. Not fun.
The following morning, Ross and I awoke early and a bit startled to the new of more stabbings and assaults. We decided to stay in our dorm room and wait for check out before heading straight to the train station and our route of the city of Naples. Once at the station, we met one young fella with swathes of bandages around his head. He’s been stabbed the night before and received 6 stitches. His mate had been battered by a thug with a crow bar and was sporting some heavy bruising. Soon after, another red appeared with bandages, stitches and some horrific stories of what had gone on the night before. By now I was thinking Ross and I had indeed made the right choice by avoiding the Naples night life in favour of a crusty hostel bed. It’d been a rough couple of days for many travelling reds.
My fingers are crossed that Liverpool don’t face Napoli in European football any time soon.