Napoli fans are counting down the days until their team finally ends a three-decade Serie A title drought and takes the crown back down south after decades of dominance from the big clubs of the country’s richer north.
The Scudetto will come to southern Italy’s biggest club and city for the first time since 1990, when Serie A was widely considered the best league in the world and Diego Maradona was still strutting his stuff in Naples.
A 17-point lead at the top of the division with seven matches remaining means the question is when rather than if, and Napoli will be crowned champions this weekend if they beat regional rivals Salernitana and Lazio fail to win at Inter Milan.
It has been 22 years since any team apart from the big three of Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan won Serie A, with Roma dethroning their local rivals Lazio in 2001.
Between them the ‘strisciate’, or striped teams from Turin and Milan, have won the league a total of 74 times, making a title for Napoli a massive event not just for the city of Naples but for the south as a whole.
A huge party is expected to kick off in a chaotic, frequently derided one-club city which is often targeted by what in Italy is called “territorial discrimination”, a sort of racism historically directed at the south similar to the prejudice Irish immigrants faced in anglophone nations.
– ‘An isolated case’ –
Italy’s north-south divide is as stark as it has ever been.
According to the country’s official social economic indicators salaries, employment and access to education health services, education and culture are all significantly better in the north.
GDP per capita in northern regions Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna is around double what it is in Calabria, Puglia or Campania, the region of which Naples is capital.
Lucio Lamberti, a professor at the Polytechnic University of Milan and an expert in economic strategy, says that Napoli’s title is “an isolated case of success which Naples deserves but which won’t close the divide”.
“In the South there is a feeling of being children of a lesser God, and symbolic successes like the Scudetto can feel like a sort of revenge for the people,” says Lamberti.
This season teams from the south and central regions of the country have also been having their day in the lower divisions, with Frosinone from Lazio set to be promoted to Serie A as soon as Monday.
In the deep south, Bari, who are owned by Napoli owner and movie impresario Aurelio De Laurentiis could yet snatch Serie B’s second automatic promotion place but are more likely to have to try their hand at the play-offs.
– ‘Scudetto is for us’ –
Meanwhile Catanzaro, from Calabria, have been Serie C sensations after an incredible season in which they ensured promotion to the second tier in March.
“Lower league football is a difficult financial proposition right now, especially so in the South and in Calabria in particular, which doesn’t have a lot of businesses capable of investing sponsorship money,” Catanzaro’s owner Floriano Noto, who also runs a chain of supermarkets, told AFP.
“I’m lucky compared to other owners because I have an activity which puts me in contact with a number of businesses up north.
“We’re a poor region and sport for us has a huge social importance, it teaches us how to live together… This Scudetto is also for us Calabrians, a reason to be proud.”
However not everyone in the South will be cheering on Napoli. The big northern three, and in particular Juventus, have huge support all over southern Italy and Napoli are also rivals of other clubs in the lower half of the boot.
Salernitana’s hardcore fans have asked Napoli fans in Salerno, which is just down the coast from Naples, to not celebrate the title in the city.
“Italian football is about to see a team question the power of the clubs up north,” Salernitana ultras wrote last month, “but that has absolutely nothing to do with us.”