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Stadiums in Naples: San Paolo & others

  The San Paolo stadium in Fuorigrotta    

The original big-league football (“soccer”) stadium in Naples goes back to the enthusiasm of the prominent Neapolitan industrialist and sports entrepreneur, Giorgio Ascarelli (1894-1930). He was responsible in 1926 for founding the first city-wide football club in Naples and then getting the national association to expand the Italian league such as to include Naples. (Also see "Early Football in Naples.") He had the stadium (photo, left) built on his own property and with his own money. By today’s standards, it was small, with a capacity of about 20,000 spectators.  The stadium was first called the “Partenope,” then the “Vesuvio” and then simply the “Ascarelli stadium” in tribute to the man who made it all possible and who died suddenly just a few days after attending the opening game in February, 1930. (It was a satisfactory opener; Naples came back from 0-2 against powerhouse Juventus to tie at 2-2!) The stadium was located in back of the main train station and was obliterated by bombings in WWII. The area is still called the “Ascarelli Quarter.”

In 1934 financial difficulties following Ascarelli’s death caused the team to relocate to another stadium (photo, left), one financed and built by the Italian state in the late 1920s up in the Vomero section of Naples. It was originally called the "October 28th Stadium" (a Fascist reference to the date of Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, which brought the Fascists to power in Italy). Later the name was changed to the current one—the Arturo Collana stadium (after a journalist who was president of the Naples football club). It held over 30,00 spectators and was the Naples home stadium until 1959. The “Collana” is still an active multi-purpose sports facility and has undergone numerous renovations over the years. The stadium has a certain interest for historians of WWII in that it became a German internment camp in 1943 for captured members of the Italian resistance due to be shipped to Germany; as such, the area around the stadium became the center of the active resistance movement against the Wehrmacht culminating in the so-called “Four Days of Naples.” The square adjacent to the stadium is today called Piazza Quattro Giornate (Four Days).

In 1959, the Naples soccer team (currently doing well in “serie A,” the top league in Italy) moved to the new San Paolo stadium in Fuorigrotta, a western suburb near the Mostra d’Oltremare. The stadium then underwent extensive renovations in 1989 in preparation for the 1990 World Cup. Those renovations and the supplemental construction in the area were to have included a new underground train to get people to the games. Only a cynic would note that that train line didn’t open until 2007; after all, they did get the stadium finished on time! San Paolo seats sixty-thousand crazed fans and is the third largest in Italy.

Currently, there is a popular movement to have San Paolo stadium renamed for Diego Armando Maradona, Argentine superstar who played for Naples from 1984-1991, leading the team during its most successful period, one that included two Italian A-league national championships (1986/87 and 1989/1990). Maradona is easily the most popular athlete in any sport ever to compete in Naples. Ironically, he played for Naples during the regular 1990 season when he was also on his own national team of Argentina for the World Cup games held at various sites throughout Italy. Argentina played Italy in one of the semi-final matches; it was played at San Paolo in Naples. Maradona was so well-liked by his Neapolitan fans that he even got away with encouraging them to root for Argentina. The fans took it good-naturedly and even gave him a round of applause when he scored the winning penalty kick against Italy. There is, however, a problem; Italian law prohibits public buildings from being named for any person who has not been dead for 10 years.

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