NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Before Gaetano Manfredi was elected mayor of Naples in 2021, he was a university professor specializing in seismic engineering — preparing and designing buildings to withstand earthquakes.
As Manfredi rose up to become chancellor of the University of Naples Federico II, a study was commissioned to measure the impact of fans celebrating goals scored by the Napoli soccer club inside what is now known as the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
“The engineering department building is near the stadium and there’s a seismograph there that whenever Napoli scored would record enough shaking that it nearly registered as an earthquake,” Manfredi told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
So what magnitude might the university seismograph record when Napoli wins its first Italian league title in more than three decades? With a 17-point lead and seven games remaining, the first chance to clinch comes this weekend — a long holiday weekend for May Day (Europe’s Labor Day).
“We can’t predict what the number will be but there will definitely be a lot of vibrations,” Manfredi said, flapping his hand up and down to simulate the trembling. “An earthquake. A big earthquake of joy.”
The mayor isn’t exaggerating.
Support for Napoli is akin to religion in the southern city and the team hasn’t won Serie A since Diego Maradona led the club to its only two Italian championships in 1987 and 1990.
“The passion for soccer in Naples is one of the biggest passions in the world,” Manfredi said.
It’s so great that Neapolitans have cast aside their superstitions about celebrating — or even mentioning — the word “scudetto,” or title, before it happens and have been decorating the city with streamers, banners, flags and life-size cardboard replicas of Napoli players — all in Napoli blue.
The title could also be a lift socially for Naples, a city that has had problems with trash removal and crime and is seen as a poor southern cousin to the traditional northern soccer capitals of Milan and Turin.
“If we do this thing, we’ll remain on the walls of Naples forever,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said — avoiding the word “scudetto.”
Every neighborhood in the city, from the steep and narrow alleyways of the characteristic Quartieri Spagnoli to the more modern Fuorigrotta area where the stadium lies, has its own style of celebrating.
One banner stretching over the street in the Forcella neighborhood of the historic center, which is known for its mural of San Gennaro, the city’s patron saint, reads “Scusate per il ritardo” or “Sorry for taking so long” — a reference to the title of a 1983 film directed by and starring local actor Massimo Troisi, as well as the 33 years since Napoli’s last title.
“We’re unique. There’s no other place in the world like Naples. Naples is an open theater,” local taxi driver Giovanni Murri said, in a reference to a poem by Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo.
A saying heard often these days in the city goes, “Celebrations in Naples are unlike anywhere else.”
As the mayor explained: “It’s because Neapolitans are cheerful. The cheerfulness of Naples is famous around the world.”
Naples has waited so long for this that the city is preparing for multiple celebrations.
There will be the spontaneous eruption when the team clinches the title — which could go on for days, weeks, or even months.
“Obviously we don’t know when that will happen or what will really happen,” the mayor said.
Then an organized celebration will be held downtown in Piazza Plebiscito on June 4 after the club is awarded the Serie A trophy following the final game of the season.
“It’s going to be like celebrating New Year’s Eve twice — actually (bigger) than New Year’s,” said Vincenzo Masiello, who runs the ’O Vesuvio trattoria and pizzeria in the Quartieri Spagnoli.
In order to avoid congestion downtown and a scene like the chaos when Argentina’s squad returned home with the World Cup trophy, simultaneous celebrations will be organized by the city on June 4 in different neighborhoods, including one in Scampia, the gritty northern suburb exposed as a crime-infested underworld in the “Gomorrah” book, film and TV series.
Even 2½ years after his death, Maradona’s legacy remains a strong attraction in Naples.
In the Quartieri Spagnoli, a huge mural of Maradona acts as an unofficial museum to the former Argentina great.
“It’s a problem in terms of overcrowding,” Manfredi said. “It’s a sort of secular cult, which is really appreciated.”
The mayor said that on days of big Napoli games or in holiday periods, up to 30,000 people visit “Piazza Maradona” daily, which makes it one of Italy’s most visited attractions.
“Even after his death, he still brings people to Naples,” said Antonio Tortora, another local taxi driver. “He’s a saint.”
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