The city of Naples was transformed into an epic street party.
Roads were filled with people singing, dancing and hugging one another, while children played football around them. People jumped in fountains in jubilation, while others waved huge Napoli flags as they darted about on their scooters.
The reason? On Thursday, Napoli became the champions of Italy.
As soon as the final whistle was blown in their game at Udinese, with Napoli’s 1-1 draw enough to clinch the Serie A title, hundreds of people crammed together in piazzas, singing of their joy.
“We have one dream in our heart. For Naples to become champions again!” rang round the city, for that dream has now come true.
“I have been crying. This is a historic moment,” Edoardo Nappa says.
The 13-year-old is part of a new generation too young to remember the glory days of Diego Maradona – the legendary maverick who delivered two Serie A titles to the city when he was Napoli captain.
“To be able to experience this, to live this myself for the first time… it’s magical. It’s a historic moment for Naples.”
It wasn’t only locals who were partying; people from all over Italy and countries including France, Spain and the UK travelled to Naples to soak up the spectacle.
Naples lives and breathes football. The whole city has been decorated in readiness for the party: blue and white flags and festoons hang above the narrow streets. Life-size cardboard cutouts have popped up in the city centre. There are cakes, pastries, drinks, ice creams dedicated to the players.
“It feels like the world has stopped here,” says Amelia Bufi, a university student who travelled from Rome to celebrate the victory.
“This party is going to go on for at least a month. It’s going to last through the summer. It’s an amazing feeling: Neapolitans put love in everything they do, including football.”
A party planned for three decades
This is a party 33 years in the making. The last time Napoli won the Serie A title was 1990 – when Maradona was captain.
The Argentine’s influence can still be felt in the city. His face is painted on bar windows, bumper stickers and billboards. A giant mural of him towers above a shrine dedicated to him. And above it is a sign that says ‘Dios’ – the Spanish word for God.
Many have this week been gathering around his shrine to lay flowers and light candles. Some have had tears in their eyes.
For Neapolitans, football is almost a religious experience.
“It goes even beyond religion,” says Bufi. “What we are doing here is like a ritual. We are praying for Diego Maradona, as if he were a saint. It’s crazy and I love it.”
Maradona, who died in 2020, gave Neapolitans a great sense of belonging.
“He was a man that was full of vices but at the same time poetic and majestic in what he did best,” says European football expert Mina Rzouki.
“And that is very much something that resonates with Neapolitans.”
Memories of glory days were fading
After Maradona delivered his second title for Napoli more than three decades ago, the team could not sustain the success. They had financial struggles, went bankrupt and were demoted to Serie C – the lowest league of the professional divisions.
The turning point came in 2004: film producer Aurelio de Laurentiis bought the club.
“He created a team that is wonderful to watch,” Rzouki says.
“He knew he could depend on the unconditional love of an entire city, on a fan base that is so devoted. So under him, Napoli grew.”
And yet, Napoli couldn’t replicate the success of 1990 and win the title.
“The deep pressure of playing in a city that lives football to a degree that is so unimaginable… it can be a lot. It can become suffocating to be in a city that is so devoted to their success,” says Rzouki.
Revenge of the underdogs
This win is about so much more than football. It’s a symbol of the inequality between Italy’s wealthy north and the poorer south.
“Young Neapolitans are often forced to emigrate to northern Italy in search of a job and a better life,” says Napoli Today journalist Franco Romano.
“And so for them, winning the league is a form of social revenge against the superpowers of the north.”
“To win the league anywhere south of Rome is like winning 10 trophies in Milan or Turin,” says another fan, Enrico.
Neapolitans still endure hostile taunts from their northern rivals about crime, poverty and even cholera outbreaks.
“If you were born in Naples, football is part of your blood,” says Gaetano, who is dressed head-to-toe in football kit. “Our blood is [Napoli] blue, it’s not red.”
One of the thousands of Neapolitans who has moved to Milan to find work, he travelled to Naples with his whole family to experience this moment. He wants to share his passion for football with them.
“It’s something that comes from the heart. I’ve been waiting 33 years for this win. I am full of emotion, of passion, of faith… words cannot explain what I’m feeling.”
A consecration of Naples
When Naples won the league thanks to Maradona, the city had been destroyed by a violent earthquake a few years previously.
“The city was struggling. Poverty was everywhere,” says Massimo Romano.
“The win with Maradona represented a rebirth for Naples after a time of extreme difficulty.”
But things are very different now.
“Naples still has a lot of problems, but it’s become a European city with lots of tourists, one that is well known outside of Italy,” adds Romano.
For a city that is so devoted to its football team, this is a day that will be cherished for years to come.
“Today’s victory represents the consecration to a success that Naples has been experiencing for several years.”