Thursday July 3 2014
‘Italy is our country’

24 years ago on July 3 was the 1990 World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina, shrouded in drama and controversy. Dave Taylor remembers.

“There were sections of Italians in the crowd who were not against us but cheered on Maradona,” whined the normally rock-solid Azzurro striker Aldo Serena. Yet that complaint was the least of the anomalies before, during and after the 1990 World Cup semi-final between holders Argentina and hosts Italy.

Other incongruities included a porn video, a female MP, internecine racism, tainted media commentary, out-of-touch local politicians and misinformed international football heroes. All told it was all a little extraordinary and at times it seemed the whole tournament was built around the expectation that the Azzurri would walk away with the Cup. However, fate reared its ugly head in the final four as they came up against Argentina and Diego Maradona at his ‘home’ stadium, Napoli’s San Paolo on July 3 for a game that was more than a little ‘piccante’.

Part of the heat was due to the duplicity of the media and their seemingly dirty tricks campaign against Argentina and especially Maradona. In the weeks leading up to tournament one of the main insults was the well-publicised release of a pornographic video called ‘Cicciolina ai Mondali’. This film starred a noted Member of Parliament-cum-porn-star, La Cicciolina, and an overweight actor whose portrayal of Diego was not only under the belt but well below it. By the start of the tournament the offensive had moved into top gear and apart from the somewhat negative media spin, everywhere they played there was a backdrop of ferocious insults and incessant jeering.

So how did this sorry state of affairs evolve? What could help explain the vilification of the Napoli captain outside of Naples and Argentina? In social terms some of it was down to the anti-South/Naples rhetoric typified by Umberto Bossi’s federalist Lega Nord - Northern League - party.

In addition to all this a united front of politicians, football commentators and players also asked Napoli fans to back the Azzurri as they now faced Argentina. Maradona had to say something and remarked that he felt it was ironic that the great and the good should now be urging Neapolitans to be good Italians and back the Nazionale, when generally the city was ignored.

“I don’t like the fact that now everybody is asking Neapolitans to be Italian and to support their national team. Naples has always been marginalised by the rest of Italy. It is a city that suffers the most unfair racism,” he said. 

Naturally there was a backlash and surprisingly from two who should have known better - Pietro Lezzi the Socialist Mayor of Naples and the Azzurri’s Sicilian born striker Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci. “It is not true that Maradona’s city is discriminated against by the rest of Italy,” blurted the Juventus forward.

Living in Tuscany and Naples in the 1980s I don’t know where Schillaci felt he lived but it was not the country I experienced. Apart from the obvious, Toto himself was labelled a terroni, an everyday insult hurled at Neapolitans and southerners in general. Abusive banners were common currency in Serie A’s northern stadiums with messages like: ‘No to vivisection use a Neapolitan’ and ‘Welcome to Italy Neapolitans’. One particular banner in a World Cup game was directed at him personally, condescendingly reading: ‘Hey Toto, not bad for a Sicilian’.

On the morning of the game, Maradona mischievously highlighted this attitude and asked Napoli fans to consider what he had done for the city and its club, which of course was reported as ‘a provocative request’: “For 364 days a year you are considered to be foreigners in your own country. Today you must do what they want by supporting the Italian team. Instead I am a Neapolitan 365 days a year.”  

Most media outlets would have you believe the build-up to the semi-final was hijacked by Il Pibe but most Neapolitans were not fooled by this blatant propaganda.

They responded by applauding Argentina and its national anthem throughout, the only time it happened in the tournament. Yet in the Curva B, where the hardcore Napoli fans stood, some responded to their captain with a banner that read: ‘Maradona. Naples loves you but Italy is our country’. Nonetheless a sizeable minority certainly backed Diego. 

Outsiders could never ever hope to understand what Diego meant to the citizens of Naples so they complained when the atmosphere was not 100 per cent pro-Italian. “It was a different atmosphere from Rome,” recalled Serena. “We noticed it as soon as we arrived at the stadium.” Of course by hook or by crook the Azzurri played all their games in Rome and the semi-final was their first in ‘enemy’ territory. The players tried not to let it concern them but nonetheless Aldo missed his penalty in the shoot-out and left the pitch in tears after a game that remains indelibly inked into Azzurri fans’ minds, sadly for many of the wrong reasons.

Have your say...
I love Italy. There are a few idiots in Italy who lack the sophistication to behave like normal human beings. The ultras especially are just a bunch of idiots.

Prandelli has betrayed Italy. He was planning an exit to Turkey during the World Cup. Nothing but a quitter and a traitor.

Balotelli is a head case who should never be allowed to even see an Azzurri shirt again. His bad attitude and lack of passion and hard work embarrasses Italy.

We are better than this. Let me coach Italy !
on the 14th July, 2014 at 5:17am
I totally agree. It was suicide playing in Maradona's home stadia in such a crucial game. It was a shame, but those prejudices were most certainly prevalent. Nice read, grazie.
on the 11th July, 2014 at 10:13pm
Italy's consciousness should be posited within 3000 years of shared history, albeit a tumultuous history. To say that England is older politically therefore more unified in its patriot fervour is a poor excuse that Italians must overcome. Italy is a complicated country, much more so than most if not all European nations. You have the Church that kept Italians loyal to popes rather than the state and successive foreign invasions over the past 2000 years. Italy will always be disunited. Sad...
on the 6th July, 2014 at 3:55pm
Took my two sons ( 14 & 9 ) to the San Paolo to see Napoli . It was Cavani s last home match and he equalised after Siena had taken the lead.The locals were friendly talking the international language of football the panninis gorgeous , ice cream too, Vesuvius provided the back drop in the sunshine , Hamsik scored the Winer (93 minutes)and 60 000 tifosi all sang " oh vita mia" as we made a quick exit to Campi Flegrei train station, my Napoli experience was wonderful so we're the Neapolitans! !
on the 6th July, 2014 at 3:46pm
This article has nothing to do with Messi. It's pathetic that people find a way to write letters rubbishing Messi when he's not mentioned and the article is about a totally different subject
on the 6th July, 2014 at 2:50pm
Sanrella makes an excellent point about English & Italain Patriotism & football.Remember England is a much older county then Italy (several hundered years more) and has had consistent stable governemnt for 300+ years meaning the plebs are well in line here. However its a myth that everyone in England supports the national team, they dont. 1/3 of urban English have Irish granparents, Man United & Liverpool hardcore fans are both anti-Engalnd. United fans regularly chant ARGENTINA! @ away games.
on the 6th July, 2014 at 11:34am
Maradona will always be the greatest. No other footballer has come close. Messi has not done 1/2 the things Maradona could do on the field & Pele still thinks he is a legend in his own mind.
on the 5th July, 2014 at 8:31am
I have been to games in Italia the last couple of years, and every match I went to their was Racism galore. I watched Juve/Roma, and my fellow Juve fans(just a small few) where always making monkey sounds when Gervinho touched the ball. But they would drown it out with Boo's(very clever). I still Love Serie A and Calcio PER SEMPRE!
on the 5th July, 2014 at 3:21am
I lived in Rome at that time. I was lucky enough to get tickets to see three Italy games at the new Stadio Olimpico.
I remember watching the game near the Piramide in Rome on a maxi schermo. What a night. The sense of deflation after the final miss was huge. The next day Rome was silent. The shock and disappointment was total.
on the 4th July, 2014 at 2:05pm
Maradona for me has better credentials than Messi.

He dragged Argentina to World Cup victory although Messi is now halfway there.

He won the league with Napoli and although I didn't see that he has always been credited with making all the difference.
He also played against the mean defences of Italy back in the day when we had great defenders.

Messi on the other hand is/was surrounded by great players at Barca and plays it safe staying in a league where 6-0,7-0 is common.
on the 4th July, 2014 at 9:43am
England are still obsessed with the old british empire and when they ruled the world.Still having such a thing as the commonwealth games shows their reluctance to let go.

Thats why England are so well supported by their fans abroad.It's not about the football its about the English arrogance demanding the world acknowledge them and take notice.

Italian fans on the other hand tend to think more about their club sides rather than the national side
which is why Italy are poorly supported.
on the 4th July, 2014 at 9:38am
For all that Messi has done even if he wins the world cup this year he will never be on a par with Diego. Why? Diego won the world cup with a team of nobodies! He also took a team that had never won the Italian league or anything in Europe and with his presence completely transformed the team. Messi has always played at Barcelona with superstars around him that helped him achieve greatness. Messi is still the best around now though!
on the 4th July, 2014 at 6:46am
Maradona was 100% correct then and it is still true today. As a Neapolitan Im ashamed to be Italian, I don't support the national team, I SUPPORT NAPLES
on the 4th July, 2014 at 5:45am
Who could blame Maradona? I'm born & bred in Australia but my blood is still Italian, more so Napolitan. Having been to Italy as recent as 9 months ago I went to a Roma V Napoli game & could only get tickets in the Roma section. By the time we left the game my son & I hated Romans & could not wait to get out of the city. The racism against Naps is disgusting.
on the 3rd July, 2014 at 10:40pm
Maradona did magnify a specific fault line in italian social life for sure, but I don't think the south perpetuated the idea much. But it showed Maradona's ability beyond being a footballer - he was a true leader. Messi is not so clean - he is ego centric and a control freak - he wants no one to come near him in either national or club - it shows in Argentina - he rarely passes to anyone with any direct goal threat. Stats prove it.
on the 3rd July, 2014 at 9:07pm
of course there will never be another Maradona but do not side line Messi. He is a fantastic footballer. It’s the media that claims Messi is better. Messi is humble and a gentlemen. By the way, if Argentina wins the world cup, will that put Messi on par with Maradona??
on the 3rd July, 2014 at 7:17pm
Ugh...way to remind me of that sad exit in what very well could have been a terrific ending on home soil :( That semifinal always lingers in bad memories. Thankfully 2006 happened to put some of it to rest. But darn you Zenga!!! :)
on the 3rd July, 2014 at 5:25pm
How the hell is Italy going to deal with racism directed against black players such as Paul Pogba or Mario Ballotelli when it cant even deal with the racist taunts directed at "half-black" players and people from the south of the country? Racism and Italy are now intertwined in the foreign subconscious and is one of the reasons along with broke owners and lack of will from politicians to deal with the collapse of Italian football why Calcio Italiano is consuming itself.
on the 3rd July, 2014 at 5:01pm
I am a proud Napolitano & vociferously support the Nazionale. You must be a steaming pantload of a stooge living under a rock to be racist in 2014. Naples loves Maradona but Italy is our country.
on the 3rd July, 2014 at 2:47pm
Fantastic article Dave and an excellent look into the anti-southern bias that still exists in the peninsula. Maradona experienced this first hand, and his words are still just as true 24 years later.
on the 3rd July, 2014 at 2:26pm
Nice article. There is only one Maradona, there will never be another one. There are many Maradona wannabes, the most recent one being Messi, but they'll never reach the greatness he reached. Will Messi ever be idolized by his club the way Maradona was? I highly doubt it.
on the 3rd July, 2014 at 2:12pm

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