BLOG ITALIA
Thursday October 18 2012
When Napoli won it for the South

Alex Fusco looks back at the 1986 Juventus-Napoli tie, a match that changed the course of Italian football history and also the balance of the country’s North-South divide.

Despite being officially unified for over a century, Italy was still a fractured and fragmented country in 1986, one divided by dialect and torn between tradition and progression. The industrial North looked down at the mezzogiorno with a mixture of contempt and condescension, seeing only an economic deadweight that pulled against the development of the affluent Northern regions. Deemed backward, primitive and ungovernable, the South experienced only a cloying humiliation at the hands of self-serving Northerners who took away far more than they gave back.

The fracture between North and South translated conveniently into the world of football. Since its inception in 1929, Serie A had been dominated by the North, with teams from Milan and Turin emerging victorious in the race for the title no fewer than 44 times over the half-century. Football seemed to be reflecting the relative social and economic success of the two ‘kingdoms’ – whilst Juve danced their way to 20 Scudetto victories, Napoli meandered around mediocrity, regularly heckled by away supporters with chants of ‘Lavatevi, Lavatevi’ – wash yourselves!

Until that is, a boy from Fiorito arrived. Diego Armando Maradona, the most technically gifted player the world has ever seen, landed in Napoli in 1984. Eighty thousand Neapolitans attended his official unveiling at the San Paolo, singing with almost religious fervor ‘Diego take charge! If it doesn’t happen now it never will’. Despite the fatalistic echo, the Napolitani need not have worried – within two years, it had happened, and Diego had become a God.

The turning point came that November afternoon in Turin, when the Southern side finally overcame their inferiority complex – that afflicted the entire region – in truly mesmerizing fashion. Despite beating both Milan teams at the San Paolo, it was the capture of Turin that proved a catalyst for changing the Neapolitan mentality, instilling a sense of assured self-belief in place of hesitating expectation.

Led by French wizard Michel Platini, the Old Lady of Italian football carried herself with the swaggering nonchalance of a wealthy aristocrat, boldly sweeping through the Division seemingly on her way to yet another Scudetto. Napoli, on the other hand, were at this point still slightly ill-at-ease, like a peasant in a palace, having never previously savored a title success.

First blood went to the home side, as Michael Laudrup struck just after half-time. Then the Argentine genius awoke, exchanging a glance with Salvatore Bagni that simply said ‘we can win this’. After three strikes in a breathless half hour, from Moreno Ferrario, Bruno Giordano and Giuseppe Volpecina, the Partenopei emerged victorious. “Everyone was celebrating, going mad,” remembers Maradona. “Napoli! Napoli! They were screaming.”

The pendulum had swung away from Turin and Napoli began the most successful period in their history. Two second place finishes, another Scudetto, two Coppa Italia trophies and a UEFA Cup followed over the next four years. Maradona became a deity. The honorary Neapolitan came to represent the chaotic, flawed beauty of the South, standing against the relentless dominance of the North. And winning.

This weekend, two teams from opposite ends of the geographic and cultural spectrum of the peninsula, level on points but differing in virtually every other respect will face each other in Turin. Though the home side is perhaps the slight favorite, an away victory could herald a new era of dominance for a Napoli side headed by an exceptionally talented South American.

More than that, it could restore faith in a region that has retreated back into the dark shadow cast by the North, crippled from the inside by Camorristi and struggling beneath the weight of chronic unemployment.

The spirit of Diego still hangs heavy over the port city. Come Saturday evening, Neapolitans will be hoping their team can take divine inspiration from the El Pibe de Oro and redress the balance between North and South once more.

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Have your say...
Napoli as a city could be one of the best in the world but between La Camorra, pick-pocketing and its litter problems (there were still some dirty neighborhoods when I went last year), it holds the city back. It should be and deserves to be in a better condition.

It's great for southern Italy to have Napoli doing well in Serie A. Realistically Napoli is the only team from the mezzogiorno who can scare the northerners. Palermo is too unstable and Puglia and Calabria don't have big enough teams.
on the 20th October, 2012 at 2:40pm
Forza Napoli. Can't wait for this match. With both teams on top of the table, this should be a cracker. Juve bubble has to burst sooner or later and what a perfect opportunity than for it to happen at home. 2-1 to Napoli
on the 20th October, 2012 at 12:14pm
I know many Neapolitans and they are all proud of being Italian. Diego tried to play mind games in Italia 90 and it may have worked on a few but nearly all of Napoli backed Italia in that game. Going back to what the article is about, its great to see Napoli back challeging against the top sides again. Maradona was a great player that lifted a good side where this side is a more balanced side with very good players. Can they win Serie A. Would be good to see a side from thesouth win the Scudetto
on the 19th October, 2012 at 7:22am
Actually Jacek, as a proud Barese-Canadian, I feel the need to stick up for Napoli here (a rare occurrence indeed!). Neopolitans did NOT support Maradona and Argentina in the '90 semi. In fact there was a large banner in the stands which said "Maradona, Napoli loves you, but Italy is our country". So let's give credit where credit is due. Even though they areuch maligned by the rest of the country, "i Napuletan" knows what comes first!
on the 19th October, 2012 at 7:05am
can napoli do what no one has done 4 a while? I'd love to c them lift d scudetto.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 6:49am
What an interesting peanut gallery comment that "Juve were lucky to have no Champions League commitments". No football fan could make this comment. If this is luck, then every club in Europe would be aiming for a mid-table finish. Can we please leave stupidity behind?
on the 19th October, 2012 at 6:48am
These are different times Alex and certainly Cavani is no Maradona by any means. Nonetheless, a good article!
on the 19th October, 2012 at 12:48am
Jacek = ill-informed. Naples and the region of campania are the most beautiful in the world, Turin is an ugly shadow compared with it. Juve will never have the class that Napoli has in the treatment if players, Juve dispatches players like the wind with no second glance no matter what theyve, del Piero anyone?? Napoli treats players like gods, and all this players want to do is give bag, you will never have players like Cavani and Hamsik because they have too much class to go to Juve
on the 18th October, 2012 at 11:24pm
I don't know where Jacek gets his misguided information, but Naples actually rejected Maradonna's request for them to cheer on Argentina during the World Cup in 1990, instead telling him 'We love you Diego but Italy is our home'. Naples is Italy.
on the 18th October, 2012 at 10:40pm
Funny how you call Juve lucky for having no CL commitments. Juventus is doing great and they have without a doubt the strongest team in all of Italy. No doubt about it, the Juventus and Napoli first teams might be very challenging, our benches' quality has a huge gap between them. Juve has way more depth and even though they lack a real good striker like Napoli has in Cavani, we still scored 2nd best last campaign, after Milan.
on the 18th October, 2012 at 8:42pm
If Napoli come fast and furious against Juve in the opening half, put a guy on Pirlo, and don't give Juve anytime to think and dominate the tempo - it'll give this tiring Juve side some major problems and they could very well flounder and lose their first match since May of 2011. As a Juve fan, I hope we dominate right outside the gate.
on the 18th October, 2012 at 5:28pm
Napoli will come back with three points..!! time to payback, what juve did to them at Bejing..!Forza Napolitano
on the 18th October, 2012 at 5:16pm
... Traditionally the Derby D'Italia is Juve vs Inter, but this year its definitely a Juve-Napoli affair. It should be a great game on Saturday. I naturally hope Juve win, but Napoli are a team that should be respected. Forza Juve!
on the 18th October, 2012 at 4:49pm
I'm a Juve fan, but have always admired Napoli. My earliest memories for Napoli are just after they lost their golden generation of players and had players like Taglialatela in goal, Boghossian in midfield and Rincon in attack (No disrespect to those guys intended). Mazzari's a great coach, with an amazing team, but I think it lacks depth. In my mind that is the one thing that can stop them from winning the Scudetto. They made Italy proud with their CL performances last season...
on the 18th October, 2012 at 4:42pm
Napoli will lose badly in Torino.

End of discussion.
on the 18th October, 2012 at 4:39pm
There's a big paradox - Naples is considered culture-wise one of the most important italian cities ("vedi Napoli e poi muori", Fellini's films etc.) and yet as far as I know it's as anti-italian as it gets (supporting Maradona's Argentina versus Italy, jeering during Italy's anthem before the Supercoppa match). By the way, Neapolitans really do have some hygiene-issues (I'm referring to the garbage crisis a few years back or hasn't it been solved yet?). Can't imagine Turin flooded by trash.
on the 18th October, 2012 at 3:40pm
Even then Napoli did not have good finances and professionalism (Maradona missed training regularly). Today the club is free of mafia links and has not been tarnished with the betting scandals. A Napoli win on saturday will be a remarkable achievement but not a surprise. Napoli have been moving towards becoming the best team in Serie A for years now, Juve got lucky last season because they had no Champions League commitments. Forza Napoli!! Forza Cavani!!
on the 18th October, 2012 at 3:36pm

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