It was meant to be an evening of sport but it turned into something much worse; a demonstration to the world of the malaise at the heart of Italian football and a metaphor for Italy’s continued decline.
Although Napoli triumphed in the Copa Italia against Fiorentina last week, the game will be long remembered both for the violence before kickoff that left three injured, one critically, outside the stadium, and also the unedifying site of the Captain of Napoli apparently negotiating with the leader of his side’s Ultras, or hard core fans. The newspapers were unanimous in their verdict: the Corriere dello Sport said the next morning: ‘Napoli triumph but this football is shameful.’ Reuters reported that ‘Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement which is Italy’s second largest party, wrote on his blog under the headline “The Republic is dead” that the cup final was like a funeral which confirmed the failure of the country’s leaders and institutions.’
Like Italy itself, Italian football or calcio is in a bad way. Only one team from Serie A qualified for the last 16 of this year’s UEFA Champions League, against 4 each from the UK and Germany and 3 from Spain. Beyond this poor performance and lack of competitiveness, the last few years have also seen a betting scandal, corruption, match fixing, repeated off pitch violence and far-right hooliganism, disgusting racism against players, useless administration, poor security and drab games played in ageing, half-filled, crumbling stadia.
The San Paolo stadium in Naples is no different; built in the 1950s and very atmospheric, it is a decrepit concrete pile with poor access, no facilities, no merchandising, terrible seating, no corporate hospitality suites, and a complete lack of stewarding. The stadium is owned by the local council and with other demands on available funds, the stadium is neglected. In fact, in all of Serie A, only Juventus in Turin owns its own stadium allowing it to generate match day revenue. The remainder are dependent on TV rights and/or rich benefactors.
The glory days of Maradona, Van Basten, Maldini and Vialli of the 1980s and 1990s are long gone. Today Italian football is at a crossroads and, should the situation regarding racism and violence continue, Italian clubs could find themselves out of European competition completely. Perhaps they need this jolt. More widely this BBC article looks at the funding problems of Italian football. It concludes by staying that major investment is needed to stop the rot. But investors are unlikely to put their hands in their pockets whilst Italian football remains dominated by the sort of thuggish antics and sluggish reaction of the authorities as seen in Rome last week.