I want to start things off by thanking everyone for their commitment and work in making this segment a success over the last week. Reading all your stories so far has been fantastic and it’s been great discovering the different paths you have all taken to find Napoli.
For me, I came to the club as a total outsider, which may seem bizarre given I’m the founder and host of Sempre! as both a podcast and a brand. I have zero Italian or Neapolitan roots nor any family members to call upon, I’m simply someone who went to Campania several times and came back each time even more captivated.
As I head into my fourth calendar year supporting the club, I thought I’d use this segment on our new site to give our followers and listeners a greater insight into the man behind the mic each week.
Born and raised in Glasgow, I grew up a supporter of Glasgow Rangers (Rangers FC) and continue to follow the club to this day, but how did a man in his 30’s from Glasgow come to find Napoli? Well, it all started in late September 2014, when my wife and I visited Sorrento on holiday, a destination chosen by her as she, “Wanted to try somewhere different”.
It’s easy to point to the natural beauty of the region; the sweeping roads of Amalfi, the captivating island of Capri, and of course the ominous presence of Mount Vesuvius as reasons why anyone would be taken in by Campania, but while these were a factor, it wasn’t what drew me to Napoli.
No, that would be down to yet another circumstance of chance, a meeting with a young Neapolitan man named Giovanni, who would be our tour guide to the Cantina Del Vesuvio and the summit of Vesuvius itself. My wife and I were picked up outside our hotel, the Hotel Bristol on the Via Capo, by the tour minibus and when Giovanni greeted us he was decked head to toe in Napoli attire.
The tour was fantastic, the food and wine at the Cantina was incredible and the views from Vesuvius were awe inspiring, but it was when Giovanni and I got chatting about football, that my interest in Napoli sparked to life.
Many will know that Rangers endured financial meltdown back in 2012 and were in the process of going through the lower leagues after reformation and demotion to the lowest rung of the professional game, something which was and still is widely celebrated in Scotland to this day.
Giovanni and I got speaking about Rangers situation and he mentioned the parallels with Napoli, who have also gone through financial meltdown, reformation, demotion and rebirth; for Napoli Soccer read Sevco, and just like De Laurentiis would buy back the name of SSC Napoli, Rangers new owners had to buy back the assets of Rangers FC, including the name.
I asked Giovanni if the football fans in Italy had allowed Napoli to move on and still recognise them as the same club that existed before their financial meltdown, or if they mock the “death” of their club, like fans in Scotland do with regards to Rangers; using the same logic applied in Scotland, Napoli today would not be recognised as the same Napoli that Maradona played for.
Giovanni looked at me somewhat bemused, like the idea of such behaviour was abhorrent to him, and as he puffed out his chest, he thumped the Napoli badge on his training jersey and proudly declared, “No, we ARE Napoli”.
I realised then that the Napoli fans have gone through the exact same heartache, the feelings of coming close to losing their club and watching it be reborn and resurrected whilst coming out the other side with their identity intact.
On that day, I found a kindred spirit, and realised that there was more to football than the goldfish bowl of Scotland. It became clear to me that in Italy the focus is on sport, whereas in Scotland there is a reliance on off-field topics to give the on-field stuff any semblance of relevance.
The Scottish game had stopped being about football and I needed an escape; I wanted to enjoy, no I needed to love football again.
The Napoli spark in me had been ignited by Giovanni, and from that day it only grew as I read more about the club, it’s history, it’s downfall, it’s revival, and more.
However, what amazed me was the following evening in the Piazza Tasso in Sorrento, when my wife and I were out for a meal and we bumped into Giovanni again. He greeted us like long lost friends; handshakes, kisses, warmth, humility.
We stood and chatted for a good 25 minutes; about our lives, what we do for a living, his aspirations for the future, and more. At that moment I felt like a local, like I’d bumped into an old friend from school back home. It was a surreal experience, it never once felt like I was chatting to a stranger in a country I was visiting for the first time. I would come to learn that it was simply the Neapolitan way.
The spark grew stronger, but with a new addition, for Neapolitans as people. Whether it was hotel staff, local shopkeepers, or tour guides, these people extended a remarkable warmth to complete strangers. No wonder one of the slogans for Visit Naples is, “Arrive as a tourist, leave as part of the family.”
Now, I’m a child of the 80’s and was a teenager in the 90’s when Channel 4 in the UK showed their weekly highlight show, “Gazzetta Football Italia” which was fronted by a (then) very young James Richardson. I was hooked, Serie A was the league to watch back then, where the best players in the world plied their trade and you seen things happen on a football pitch that simply didn’t happen at home.
Richardson didn’t just sell the league, the clubs, and the players; he sold a lifestyle. Back then I used to watch on with envy as they ran their weekly competition to be flown by Alitalia to Italy and take in a Serie A match of your choice. “One day”, I said to myself …
Now, I don’t want to chronologically go through every trip to the region to draw examples but I do have one more which is from my last visit to Sorrento when we stayed on the Marina Grande at the Hotel Admiral. The Marina is fantastic, a bustling, larger than life, colourful community closer to the hustle and bustle of Naples than the more leisurely streets of Sorrento above it.
This was the summer of 2016, and it was when I returned from this trip that I decided to start Sempre!
On the first day, after arriving and unpacking our bags, I decided to take a wander down to the Marina to get my bearings. However, there was one priority to be concluded; the purchase of my new Napoli home shirt, the first Kappa jersey since moving from Macron.
I took the 20 minute walk up into the town centre and purchased my shirt from the aptly named, “Football Shop” to be greeted by my old friend; a Diego Maradona mannequin proudly displaying the new kit (the photo below is from our visit the year prior).
So, where am I going with this you’ll be asking, after all it’s a piece about my love for Napoli, not a holiday recollection, but there’s method to my madness.
When I arrived back to the Marina, Napoli shirt now being worn, I was greeted by the most adorable little Neapolitan woman who was sat outside the Ristorante Zi’Ntonio.
This woman would become a friend for the duration of our stay, never allowing me to pass without a kind word, going as far as to come to the table my wife and I were eating at (at a different open air ristorante further down the Marina) and blessing us.
Her establishment had this huge Gonzalo Higuain flag outside, which had our now departed strikers face on it with the numbers 9 and 36 either side; his squad number and the number of goals he’d finished the season on. Little did she, or I, realise what events would unfold in the weeks ahead.
This little woman, who I would say was in her early 60’s at most, clearly loved Napoli, the passion in her voice when we spoke was like that of a proud mother, and when we spoke at length of the fact I was a Glaswegian Napoli supporter, she was gushing; “That is fantastic, you are not from Naples but have a love for our team.”
We also spoke about Higuain, and she lovingly called him, “The King of Naples”, and I have always wondered how she reacted to his betrayal. No matter, she allowed me to pose with the flag for a photo (as seen above) and no matter what Higuain did, it won’t diminish a wonderful memory.
Even as I wandered the Marina and the streets around it, I would be subject to scooters honking their horns and their riders shouting, “Forza Napoli”! I would go into grocery stores on the Marina for some shopping and again, because of the jersey being worn, the shopkeeper would hand me my change and say, “Forza Napoli” waiting on the obligatory, “Sempre” in return, which was greeted with the widest of smiles.
My wife joked one night late in our trip that I must look like a local celebrity because of the amount of adoration I was receiving. As jovial and tongue-in-cheek as her comment was, the truth was simply that the sight of the Napoli shirt was enough to evoke such a passionate reaction from locals.
And it’s that passion, that acceptance from the people there which turned the spark I mentioned earlier into a raging fire. In my entire time supporting Napoli I have never, despite being one, been treated like an outsider.
These people, these wonderful warm people, didn’t care that I was from Glasgow, that I was raised a Rangers fan, that I didn’t have any Neapolitan roots.
They seen that I had come to their region, wearing their team colours, and adopted me as one of their own, and for that I will always be thankful. I love that city, I love those people, and I love this football club.
If it wasn’t for them, Sempre! would not be here. They gave me the strength and the belief that I had a right to do this, I had a right to be the voice behind a show that would bring Napoli news to English speaking supporters across the world every week.
I cannot wait to return to Naples in May 2018 with Kenny and Raffa to take Sempre! to another level and bring our listeners even better content, and for me it’ll feel like going home to visit my second family. However, the main event will be my first visit to the Stadio San Paolo to finally see Napoli play in a Serie A match as the dreams of a 13 year old boy become reality for a 38 year old man.
The thing I love most about becoming a Napoli supporter is that it happened organically, there was no choice made, no conscious decision that I would start following this team. I’ve always said it, and will always maintain it; I didn’t choose Naples, she chose me. And for that, I am very thankful.
And finally to you, the Napoli community on Twitter, I cannot thank you all enough for the unwavering levels of support you have given not only Sempre! but me personally over the last 18 months. No-one has ever said I shouldn’t be doing this, that I’m an outsider who should know my place, you’ve accepted me; just like the people of Campania did.
And I’ll never forget it. Grazie a tutti e Forza Napoli Sempre.
By James McGhie Follow @jrmcghie