Juventus vs. Napoli: A tale of Italy’s regional divide

Juventus versus Napoli is one of Italian football’s classic rivalries. On the field, it has pitted some of Serie A’s finest players against each other; the goal-scoring genius of Juve’s Roberto Bettega and Napoli’s José Altafini, the creative panache of Michel Platini and Diego Maradona, and the enduring loyalties of Alex Del Piero and Marek Hamsik. Both teams have prestigious histories and both have laid claim to glorious eras, albeit Juve’s being far greater in frequency.

However, this rivalry cannot solely be viewed through the prism of football. For Juventus and Napoli possess distinct identities which are inextricably tied to their geographical locations. The Bianconeri are a symbolic powerhouse of Italy’s north and the Partenopei a defiant representative of its south. This dynamic was exemplified when Maradona’s Napoli won their first Scudetto in 1987, breaking the hegemony established by the Northern triumvirate of Juventus, AC Milan and Inter. In the city, mock funerals were held for Juventus. Naples finally had a riposte to their overweening Northern foes: “May 1987, the other Italy has been defeated, a new empire is born.”

Each time Juventus and Napoli meet, these regional identities are accentuated, laying bare profound divisions. And this deep-rooted territorial rivalry is often manifest most vehemently within Italy’s stadia.


The concept of Campanilismo is crucial to understanding the socio-political and cultural nuances that underpin rivalries such as that between Juventus and Napoli, and for that matter, many others across Italy.

Deriving from the Italian word Campanile – meaning bell tower – Campanilismo is a very specific phrase used to symbolise Italy’s fierce and proud local identities. In English, it is perhaps best translated as a fervent form of local patriotism. And patriotism is crucial here. For whilst the term is traditionally associated with vigorous support for one’s country, in Italy, Campanilismo can often trump national identity. As a friend from Siena once told me:

“In Italy, Campanilismo is fierce and in Siena, we have a strong link with our past, which is still very much alive today. The rivalry with Florence, for example, dates back centuries, to the battles and wars fought between the cities from 1200 to the mid-1500s for the dominion of Tuscany.”

As elucidated, these localised identities are very much rooted in Italian history. Italy remains a young nation-state. The Risorgimento – an ideological and literary movement that helped arouse national consciousness among Italians – culminated in the official unification of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Before this, the Italian peninsula was fragmented. Any sense of collective identity was defined by civic pride, particularly during the Renaissance era when civic states such as Florence, Venice and Milan battled for supremacy on the peninsula. Italy’s consciousness as a nation was non-existent. Fast forward and some of these underlying divisions remain.

This is epitomised by the North-South divide. So much so that Nicholas Doumanis, author of ‘Inventing the Nation: Italy’, observed that the Northern and Southern halves of the peninsula appear in social, cultural and economic terms to be two very different countries. At its most simplistic, this discrepancy is based on prosperity, with the Northern regions generally more affluent than those in the South.

These divisions are reified and fomented by political parties such as Lega Nord (Northern League), a federalist, separatist and right-wing party which has often attacked the idea of Italian unity by claiming that the South is a burden on the nation. Its political programme advocates greater regional autonomy and at times secession of the North all together, which Lega Nordists often colloquially refer to as ‘Padania’. The party has particular strongholds in the Veneto and Lombardy, where it won the largest per cent of the vote in the latest regional elections.

This has direct implications for Calcio, which as sociologists Alberto Testa and Gary Armstrong have argued, has constantly mirrored the socio-political environment in Italy. Indeed, cultural and regional divides remain conspicuous, illustrated by the fact that whilst the Italian national team were competing at Euro 2016, an unofficial Padania side was represented at the 2016 Confia World Cup – a tournament organised for states, minorities, stateless peoples and regions unaffiliated with FIFA. These conflicting identities are just as prevalent in Italy’s domestic game.

Territorial Discrimination

You may not have realised it, but whilst watching a game between Juventus and Napoli, you will have probably heard a chant that the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) would deem territorial discrimination.

Traditionally, Napoli fans have been subjected to chants referring to crime, poverty, the eruption of Vesuvius and cholera outbreaks in the city. It must be acknowledged that such chants are by no means the preserve of Juve fans, nor Northern clubs, with supporters the length and breadth of Italy revelling in the chance to deride their regional rivals.

Juventini, for instance, are constantly mocked for being ‘Gobbi’ (hunchbacks). Depending on the myth, this can be a reference to the club’s luck (Italian superstition has it that hunchbacks are lucky), to the guilt of being weighed down by stolen titles, or to their fans, many of whom traditionally worked in the Fiat factories of the Agnelli family, and thus developed hunches as a result of their backbreaking work. In actual fact, these explanations have been tacked on to the true origins of ‘Gobbi‘, which can be traced back to the 1956 campaign, when the unflattering design of Juve’s playing shirts meant they did not sit properly on the player’s shoulders – hence the nickname ‘hunchbacks’.

Ironically, many supporters of fellow Northern clubs also label Juve supporters, ‘terroni’. This is a derogatory term for Southern Italians which roughly translates as peasant, and can be traced back to the large-scale migration of Southerners, many of whom worked in the Fiat factories in Turin and consequently became Juventini. In summary, many tifosi believe it is their right to mock, denigrate and discriminate against each other.

In 2013, the FIGC sanctioned this right and decided to punish episodes of territorial discrimination in the same way UEFA punished racism, with partial or full stadium closures. A year later, this standpoint was revised, and these incidents are now included alongside offences such as letting off fireworks, obscene chanting and inciting violence, which are punishable with fines. The FIGC’s retreat constituted an attempt to placate supporters, who had fulminated against what they perceived as a draconian clamp down on their right to express their traditional rivalries.

In 2013, the Ultras of Inter and Juve made statements imploring fans across the country to join them in singing those “famous chants of territorial discrimination”. Even Napoli fans, so-often the brunt of such sentiments, joined this display of solidarity by unveiling a typically sardonic banner against Livorno which read: “[We are] Naples, cholera-sufferers. Now close our curva!”. Though paradoxical, many club supporters are staunchly united behind the idea of being opposed.

The severity of territorial discrimination has also been dismissed by more high-ranking figures in Italian football. Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has previously suggested that chants asking Mount Vesuvius to “wash Naples away” are risible and just a “provocation.” Similarly, AC Milan vice-president and CEO Adriano Galliani declared that territorial discrimination cannot be compared to racial discrimination, labelling it a “different matter altogether”. Others like former Juventus coach, Antonio Conte (a southern Italian from Puglia), have taken a less favourable view, condemning “ugly chants” that incite any form of discrimination.

Whatever the perspective, fixtures such as Juventus against Napoli invariably rouse such displays. Indeed, its recent chequered history has seen a ban placed upon Napoli fans attending matches against Juventus in Turin. Even those in possession of the Tessera del Tifoso are unable to travel, and this was upheld for the latest chapter in this symbolic rivalry. Regardless of the Napoletani’s absence, however, territorial discrimination was – and will continue to be – voiced loud and clear.

This can be viewed as an example of grimly satirical humour, or as another insidious facet of Italian fan culture. Either way, such rivalries conflate a number of socio-political issues, illustrating how Italian fans are both united and divided by their visceral passion for Calcio.

Words by Luca Hodges-Ramon:@LH_Ramon25

Luca is Managing Editor of The Gentleman Ultra and has also written for outlets like The Guardian Sport and These Football Times.’