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 game with Udinese, Napoli player Victor Osimhen scored the goal that secured the team’s place as the 2023 Italian Serie A champions.
The last time Napoli won the title was in 1990 and before that 1987. Both wins came from a team led by Argentine football legend Diego Armando Maradona, a beloved and saint-level personality for Neapolitans even today.
For many people in the southern city, Italian football represents much more than a sport. Although the game is a way for people to enjoy themselves and to have pride in 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 nearly three times the national average, and the percentage of people at risk of social exclusion or poverty is nearly 40 percent.
This neglect by the state paired with discrimination that fans face when they attend games in the north, such as being spat on and called ethnic slurs, creates a kind of southern patriotism that is expressed in the pre-Italian unification symbols that adorn many Napoli flags and scarves.
Thursday night’s title win was more than three decades in the making, and the celebrations were of historic proportions with hundreds of thousands of Neapolitans partying on the streets and squares of the city.
The celebrations are expected to last well into Friday as the city will welcome the team back from Udine.