Naples was introduced to us as ‘beautiful chaos’. It certainly is. When you set foot in this city carved in stone, it’s almost like stepping off a time machine. Napoli, as the locals call it in Italian, is holding on to its culture and tradition in a fiercely changing world. It is in the south of Italy. It is in a part known for some of the best views on the world. It is the gateway to the Amalfi coast and the Mediterranean, a part of the planet that Hollywood has made the most of. The city in itself is Italy’s third biggest.
We found ourselves in Naples on an evening when Napoli, the football club that the Resident Deity of Naples — Maradona — played for; was playing Frankfurt in the Champions League.
Last afternoon, when we got to Naples, the fervour was tangible. There was a pulse in the air. It was raining quite heavily, and football fans were all perhaps praying to Maradona for the skies to clear up. There was a football match that no one wanted to miss.
Days before the clash between Napoli and Eintracht Frankfurt, Italy banned German fans from watching the game in Naples. But well. You probably need to be a little crazy to worship a game like football as much as Germans and Italians do. So, 600 Eintracht Frankfurt fans sneaked into Naples to watch the match last night. Hours before the game began, they set the city centre on fire. Literally. Not in a good way.
These unruly German fans clashed with the Italian police. They set fire to a police car and threw stones at buses on the streets and it quickly descended into complete chaos.
A kilometre or so away, we were a group of 20-something people out on a street-food walk through the heart of Naples. We were at the home of Italian actress Tiziana Tirrito, sitting down for a dinner of pasta and Vesuvian wine when alerts flashed that riots had broken out in the city centre. The match had not even begun, by the way.
Some of us wanted to go see the game between Napoli and Eintracht Frankfurt. The idea had to be abandoned for something comparatively safer, like watching it at a pub, with a mug of beer, maybe.
We soon wrapped up our quintessential Neapolitan dinner and walked out into the city. Half the group left for the hotel while some of us headed towards the city centre to see what was happening.
There weren’t a lot of people on the roads. We ran into two Italian policemen who told us that they had shut most bars in the city to keep unruly fans from causing more havoc. But they did point to a few that were open and screening the match.
On the way, two locals took us the other way, to pubs that were livelier. When we found one open, it was a different experience. There were people on the streets, outside the pubs, their wine and beer mugs in hand, cheering for Napoli as they struck goal after goal against the Germans.
“Cheer for the blue jerseys,” said a fellow traveller, “The others are the ~wrong~ team here.”
We left this pub behind and walked into another where there was no football but the bartender played us some English Blues. The Ginger Spritz felt refreshing after our long walk through Naples.
When we walked out, the city had calmed down. The match was over. There were some celebratory sounds wafting across from the other part of town but the streets were mostly empty. There was the occasional motorcycle zooming through the street with no care or concern in the world. “Watch out for the motorbikes and stay out of their way,” was our first brief before walking out into Naples. We did. Stayed out of their way.
From a wall, a massive mural of Naples’s patron saint San Gennaro looked upon us as we crossed the street towards the hotel back into the beautiful chaos. Right under him was a smiling Maradona. Napoli had defeated Eintracht Frankfurt after all.