Napoli 2 Udinese 2 – Stadio San Paolo – Saturday 31st January 2009
We got off the train at Campi Flegrei yet still there was no one around. We could see some promising signs that a game was due to take place, but there was a distinct lack of fans. There were police out in numbers, street vendors and merchandise stools but it was as if the fans had gone on strike. I again checked my ticket to see if the kick off time was right, and sure enough it was. As we reached the stadium we could hear where the fans were – all inside already! With 30 minutes to go before kick off most fans obviously were inside and trying to raise the roof. But first we had to get in. We headed round to Curve B and started to queue with the rough looking tifosi, with a police helicopter flying over head. Again queuing went out of the window as fans simply jumped over barriers to get to the front of the queue. At this point we were supposed to have our ID checked against the tickets but the gate stewards weren’t actually interested. We then went to the second check point where another steward took our ticket and put it in a bar reader. Again, this was irrelevent for the tifosi who just crammed into one of the turnstiles to push through. Good to see these new changes making a real impact.
So we were inside the stadium and we headed up to the top of Curve B for a fantastic view of the whole stadium. We headed up to the back row of the stand where we sat with the chain smokers, including one guy who through the course of the game smoked 42 cigarettes (I counted the butts at the end of the game) which means his match day habit would probably cost him nearly a £1,000 per annum – three times as expensive as the actual seat!
It appeared that the kick off had been delayed due to problems in the Udinese team getting to the stadium. They were blissfully unaware of the abuse being aimed at them by the home fans and it took a stern word from the referee for them to leave the pitch, returning five minutes later to a crescendo of noise and smoke – oh yes welcome to the world of Italian policing where fans can openly bring fireworks into the stadium, which when they burnt out they simply threw them into the lower tier.
The game started off at a cracking pace as Napoli needed to make up for a surprise 3-0 home defeat to Roma a week earlier. They went at Udinese’s throat, using the pace of Lavezzi who was being watched by West Ham and it was no surprise when he opened the scoring in the 24th minute after a very fast break through the middle. The goal came against the run of play and Udinese could feel hard done by with the goal. The goal was a move that the greats of Maradonna, Zola and Di Canio would have been proud of. The new look Napoli had gone back to some of their traditional ball player roots with players like Zola and they were one of the few teams in the league who believed attack is the best form of defence. They had had a great first half of the season, finishing at Christmas in the top five but their form since had been poor.
Three minutes later it was two as Hamsik headed home after being completely unmarked. The few hundred travelling fans could not believe what they were seeing. Udinese had played some nice football but somehow found themselves two goals down. This was a team that had a cracking start to the season but had also fallen away in the run up to Christmas. But they rolled their sleeves up and pressed forward. Five minutes later a silly push on the Udinese forward and the referee pointed to the spot, ignoring the deafening abuse that rained down on him. Italian international Antonio Di Natale stepped up and sent the Napoli keeper the wrong way in possibly the first shot on goal he had had to face.
With time running out in the first half a wild cross in from the left was met on the volley by Udinese’s Fabio Quadgliarella and the ball flew into the corner to equalise for Udinese. As the Italian international ran to the corner to celebrate it was interesting that there was as many claps for a stunning goal as there was boos and abuse. Just to prove that quality does rise to the surface and deserve respect. The half time whistle was the queue for more abuse for the referee but on the whole the high scoring draw was a good representation of the first half.
The second half didn’t quite hit the heights of the first half. Napoli shaded the exchanges and should have wrapped the game up if Lavezzo would have taken one of the two chances that fell to him with time running out. One surprise though was the lack of histrionix on the pitch which led to an overall impression of two teams who played the game in the right spirit.
On the final whistle the fans headed out swiftly but we lingered for a while to take a few pictures and savour the surroundings. With only a few hundred spectators left in the ground the arena lost alot of its magic and felt soul less, with poor facilities for the fans. However, it did mean I had ticked off the missing link in the top 25 and I could return to the hotel for a few beers and look forward to a day of culture.
About the San Paolo Stadium
The San Paolo is one of the great stadiums in Italy, and is the third biggest behind Milan and Rome at the current time. It was originally constructed in the late 1950’s, with a huge renovation carried out in the late 1980’s in time to host some of the most dramatic matches of the 1990 World Cup Finals including the Semi-Final between Argentina, led by local hero Diego Maradona, and the host nation which the South Americans won on penalties. Previous to this the club played at the Stadio Arturo Collana in Vomero which is now the home of Internapoli who play in Serie D.
The stadium is a huge bowl, with a small lower tier, almost completely shaded by the upper tier that alone can hold over 65,000. The stadium does have an athletics track which does mean views are poor from some seats. In the early part of this century the stadium has been closed on three separate occasions. It lost most of its roof during some huge storms, forcing the team to play its games in smaller stadiums in the region. Then in 2001 local flooding caused the stadium to be closed once again.
Apart from the 1990 World Cup Finals where the stadium hosted five games including England’s dramatic win versus Cameroon, it was also used in the 1980 European Championships for three matches including the 3rd/4th Play-off game between Italy and Czechoslovakia. The stadium also welcomes the national team on a regular basis – the last time was in September 2006 when Lithuania were the visitors for a 1-1 draw in front of 50,000 fans.
How to get there
The stadium is located in the western part of the city, not too far from the bayside. The view across the bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius is very impressive. The nearest station to the stadium is Campi Flegri which is seven stops from the centre of the city on the FS Metropolitana line towards Bagnoli. Allow yourself 15 minutes to complete the journey. As you exit the station, the stadium will easily be visible up the hill through the trees. For a more detailed view on Football in the Naples area, go to Footiemap.com.
Getting a ticket
The stadium rarely sells out these days, although crowds are definitely on the up from the dark days of Serie C and bankruptcy in 2002. Tickets can be bought for most games on the day prior tothe game from the ticket offices on the road up from the station or from any listicket office in the city centre. Away fans are located in the Distinti Curve A, whilst the Napoli Ultras are in the Curve B although it is safe to sit here as well.
Tickets are also sold in the city centre from newsagents and in a number of sports shops from 14 days before home games. Prices start from €18 for a place in the Curve to over €100 for a Tribuna seat.