Naples, Italy – A young man grabs his friend by the shoulders and shakes him, overwhelmed with joy. “We did it! We won! We beat them! We beat the North!”
In the second half of Thursday night’s match with Udinese, Napoli’s Victor Osimhen scored the goal that secured the team’s place as 2023 Italian Serie A champions.
The last time Napoli won the title was in 1990 and before that in 1987. Both victories came from a team led by Argentine football legend Diego Armando Maradona, a beloved and sacred personality to Neapolitans even today.
For many people in the southern city, Italian football is much more than a sport. While the game is a way for people to enjoy themselves and be proud of their team, it is also seen as a political battle between the deeply divided north and south of the country.
The southern Italian region of Campania, of which Naples is the capital, has a youth unemployment rate of about 50 percent, more than double that of the north. The region has a severe poverty rate that is almost three times the national average, and the percentage of people at risk of social exclusion or poverty is close to 40 percent.
This neglect by the state coupled with discrimination fans face when attending matches in the north, such as being spat on and calling out ethnic slurs, creates a kind of southern patriotism that is reflected in the pre-Italian unification symbols that adorn many Napoli flags adorn. and scarves.
Thursday night’s title win was more than three decades in the making, and the festivities were of historic proportions with hundreds of thousands of Neapolitans celebrating in the city’s streets and squares.
The festivities are expected to last well into Friday as the city will welcome the team from Udine.