For what feels like the umpteenth time, on Wednesday the topic of a new stadium once more came to the fore as it was revealed by CalcioNapoli24 that talks were at an advanced stage between club President, Aurelio De Laurentiis and the Mayor of Melito, Antonio Amente.
This isn’t the first time Melito nor Amente have been mentioned, in fact it was only last month that Amente spoke on record to Radio Marte, insisting he had proposed not one, but two plots of land in excess of 30 hectares each for Napoli’s new home which would include a “Sports City” to house all of the Club’s needs.
Melito sits 12km north of Naples, 20 minutes by car via Scampia if you believe Google Maps, but the topic of moving home always raises an interesting debate amongst Napoli supporters, mainly because many rightly see the San Paolo as our spiritual home, one which is so enriched with the history of this great football club that to leave it would be an emotional wrench for many.
Many clubs have moved on from their spiritual homes, but the one that sticks in my mind as the most saddening is that of Arsenal who, after playing at Highbury, a ground which suited their style of play and support, suddenly moved to the clinical, modern, Emirates Arena. To me, Arsenal haven’t felt like Arsenal since they left, it’s almost like part of their soul didn’t make the transition. Younger football fans won’t know any different, the older heads amongst you may well get what I mean; and it’s this which I would hate to see happen to Napoli.
The issue with staying at the San Paolo however, is well known. Aurelio De Laurentiis has long been embarrassed and almost ashamed to bring guests from Europes top clubs to the ground, referring to it as simply, “a toilet”. Mayor of Naples, Luigi De Magistris, has long promised renovations to the stadium, including new sprinklers, away dressing rooms, press facilities, and new blue seating in the stands. However, much of this work has yet to be done, mainly the seating which remains unstarted despite work meant to be well underway in the summer.
The San Paolo now has press boxes, which can be seen in the main stand to the left of centre, and the away dressing rooms were finished shortly before the visit of Real Madrid in last seasons Round of 16 clash, but other than moving the tunnel from the iconic location under the Curva there has been little else done. Oh, my apologies, there are also Perspex tunnels above each set of stairs onto the field from the new tunnel as well as Napoli branded tarp covering the first few rows of the main stand.
Bottom line, you can see why De Laurentiis is growing impatient and frustrated with the Neapolitan council who simply will not sell him the land and stadium to allow him to create a home in Naples, that will not only aide the football club, but ultimately aide the city itself. Now, we’ve all heard about De Laurentiis plans for a “Theatre” style stadium which have, thankfully, fallen by the wayside, but for Napoli to continue to grow a new stadium may be the only way to do so because, like it or not, the revenue that Juventus pull in from the J Stad … sorry, Allianz Arena, cannot be underestimated.
If the council would make good on their promise to actually start the work that is scheduled for the San Paolo then perhaps De Laurentiis could be convinced to stay put, but on the flip side it’s no secret that De Laurentiis wants to do away with the Italia 90 influenced running track which not only ruins the view of the field for those in the lower tiers, but keeps the passionate and hostile Neapolitan faithful away from the players. Make no mistake, it makes a difference when you visit a rivals ground and their fans are right on top of you when you’re taking a throw or a corner.
There’s also the issue of capacity, with the San Paolo now limited to around 50,000 which, being honest, only sells out for the largest matches; namely those against Juventus or the biggest names in Europe, such as Real Madrid. The new stadium in Melito is said to be just 30-35k in capacity, a number which many on our Twitter page have commented is simply too low, with fears raised that there could fans priced out of tickets too easily. Naples is a city which picks and chooses its battles wisely, and when the fans speak they tend to do so with their feet and their wallets; just look at the crowds against Feyenoord and Leipzig in recent months. Napoli has never been a “Glory Hunters” club, it doesn’t have fair weather fans, and I think the idea of a 30-35k seater stadium is a sensible starting block looking at the crowds we get currently at San Paolo for various games.
For me personally, I’m torn. I’ll visit the San Paolo for the first time in May when the Sempre! crew visit Naples to take in the match against Torino on May 6th. Our good friend and co-host Marco “Kubani” D’Onofrio has already forewarned us what to expect, to not expect the kind of facilities we see in the UK and US, and that while we know it’s not perfect, to be prepared. I know why San Paolo means so much to Naples and Neapolitans, it’s the ground which has seen Napoli’s greatest success as well as it’s most despairing downfall. It’s the ground which has seen Napoli rise from the ashes, grow in strength, and come roaring back as a major force in the Italian game one more, standing agonisingly close to that elusive first Scudetto since the heady days of Diego Maradona himself.
So much history, so much tradition, so many memories. It’s always going to be hard to say goodbye.
I’ll sign off with this final thought; whilst the San Paolo is notorious and synonymous with the days of Diego Maradona, would winning the Scudetto this season not be a fitting send off?
Think about it, snatching the league championship away from the clutches of Juventus whilst residing at the shrine of Maradona before the curtain comes down and the torch is passed to a new generation of Neapolitan heroes to take the club forward into a bold new era at a new home where new memories, new legacies, and new legends will be born.
Maradona and the San Paolo will always be part of SSC Napoli … perhaps it’s time to move to pastures new to allow the club to evolve off the field whilst giving the Lorenzo Insigne’s and Dries Mertens’ of our generation a new fortress to forge legacies of their own for future generations.
By James McGhieFollow @JRMcGhie