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Visiting the Stadio San Paolo

Tuesday 16th May 2017
I recently took a vacation to the exciting Italian city of Naples, home to Pizza, Limoncello and of course SSC Napoli. With the team playing at home during my time in Campania, it seemed only fitting to visit 1990 world cup venue, the Stadio San Paolo.

As per, all my recent vacations, this excursion on the continent saw me pay a visit the local football team. The city of Napoli is a vibrant and authentic place, full of impassioned citizens which work as a metaphor for the football club.

The stadium is situated on the south-west outskirts of the city, in a remote industrial looking area. Prior to my matchday experience, I actually spent a few hours down the road at the nearby city zoo. A pleasant afternoon with some very happy looking animals (the goats especially), although some of the housings were a little run down – yet another perfect analogy for the setting of the game.

Walking several feet of the stadium, you instantly appreciate that this an older structure. Opened in 1959, the Neapolitan building originally held in excess of 100,000 spectators. The grandeur and size of the ground; hasn't been lost at all. Both outside and inside, the setting can leave you in real awe.
Entering the ground past the extensive security, there's a real old school feel about it. Unlike my previous trips to the Emirates and even Elland Road, the focus is seemingly just on the football. Everything else is secondary, if not non-existent. Inside the ground, there's very little retail opportunity. No opportunity to buy a shirt, keychain or even matchday programme – those marketing exercises are void of this ground. Outside, there are several vendors selling forms of merchandise but the authenticity of such products cannot be guaranteed by this reporter. You can, however, purchase bottles of Pepsi and water. Keep you hydrated and all. A very different environment to one here in England where seemingly every club is trying to flog you the replica shirt, teddy bear, cufflinks, mouse mat, you-name-it with their insignia on it.  You can still buy all of the above with the Napoli endorsement, but that's reserved for the club shop – several miles away in the city centre.

In the grand scheme of the season, this particular game may not account for the end all or be all of either team's fortune. Napoli has nearly assured Champions League football and Cagliari is in no danger of being relegated.

The game kicked off with real pace, I had barely enough time to take my seat – which for the record, wasn't very comfortable (again befitting with the total football approach to the ground), when Ghoulam delivered a cross from wide for Mertens to send the whole stadium into overdrive within just two minutes of kick-off. The mood erupting, with the home fans knowing they were in for a treat here.

With the goal coming so early in the match, it seemed to rattle the side from Sardinia as they looked second best in every department. José Callejón was a real pleasure to watch as he dominated his respective wing and constantly brought the home side up the pitch throughout the game. Despite the side bossing proceedings, this was the only goal of the first half.
The half time interval raced by in idyllic Neapolitan sunshine, knocking back consecutive bottles of Pepsi gave me a slight sugar rush and fittingly excited for the second half. Much like the first, it started with electric pace. Algerian international, Faouzi Ghoulam, again got forward and once more showed his fantastic awareness of forward plays. He carried the ball most of the pitch before playing an incredibly insightful ball for Dries Mertens, who again slotted home an early goal. Whilst Cagliari really hadn't offered anything they were still in it at just one down, this goal ensured they'd be heading back to the Sardinian capital empty handed. This lifted the crowd as both sets of Curva sections (the elevated areas, where most of the ‘very-passionate' fans sit) became very vocalised and led the whole stadium into song. Whilst my Italian is limited, the topics included praise for the manager, the players and utter disdain for Gonzalo Higuain.

The game continued in similar fashion, with Napoli having their way with the visitors with total confidence of the pitch. Spanish imports Callejón and Albiol both had decent efforts on goal, but neither managed to wrap the game up completely. Mertens, however, readied the sticky tape on the game as he let Insigne through on goal and gladly sealed up the game for the home side, with just over twenty minutes to play. The fans erupted into jubilation and a certain sense of pride, that one of their own, a Neapolitan had put his mark on the game. In return, he showed his gratitude by seemingly wanting to thank every fan in the San Paolo by applauding the majority of spectators by the touchlines.

After the third goal, there were a series of changes made by both managers, with just ten minutes to play both teams had exhausted their substitutes and the game had lost quite a bit of its flair. Deep into stoppage time, Farias, who had come on for the visitors in the 78th minute found himself through on goal, with just Reina to beat. The Napoli defenders did manage to scramble back, but none could prevent him from scoring. Reina who wasn't really tested throughout the game can be forgiven for this minor error so late in the game. It was to be the last action of the game; despite conceding the San Paolo continued to rock as the team put out a good showing and the fans showed their appreciation of the performance.
Highlights from the match I observed.

Altogether, a solid footballing experience full of passion and excitement. The fans and atmosphere truly make a day out at the San Paolo. The sheer enormity of the ground is very admirable, even if it does need some maintenance. These factors allow you to overlook the lack of merchandise, food and even the uncomfortable seat. It's a football club, and don't expect anything else than the raw passion it comes with.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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