Date built: 1959
Derbies: Derby del Sole (Napoli vs Roma); Derby delle Due Sicilie (Napoli vs Palermo);
Nearest Metro: Campi Flegrei (Metro Linea 2)
Best bar/restaurant: Bar Nilo
‘Osservatorio Vesuviano’ is the Napoli branch of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, and on certain nights they have observed small tremors and other seismic activity in the area. In other regions, this may be a cause for concern or even alarm. But luckily for the three million people who live in the shadow of one of the world’s most famous volcanoes, the great mountain is not stirring. Napoli is playing at home.
Inaugurated in 1959 to a crowd of 90,000 standing spectators who bore witness to a game against the old enemy Juventus, which ended 2-1 for the Azzurri, Stadio San Paolo has undergone many changes. The third-largest ground in the country, now it holds 54,726, San Paolo has been at the forefront of Italian football for the best part of sixty years.
Built in a brutalist style by architect Carlo Cocchia and originally known as the Stadio del Sole, it was renamed Stadio San Paolo in 1963. The ground, which is located in the Fuorigrotta area of Napoli, has been included among the venues for the 1960 Olympic football tournament, two European championships (in 1968 and 1980), and the 1990 World Cup.
It has also hosted the 1963 Mediterranean Games and the 2019 Universiade. The last of which brought around its current look. The old red bucket seats from Italia ‘90 were switched out for better spaced blue and white ones with a small reduction in capacity, a new blue running track (all so typical with Italian stadiums) was laid so it is at least fit for purpose now, two new large screens were installed losing a few more seats and the lighting and sound system were updated. Not quite a modern up-to-date stadium but an improvement.
However, on 4th December 2020, maybe the most important change in recent history was made when the name of the great old stadium was changed to Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, in honour of a man who was more than a player and more than a champion to the people of Napoli.
One thing to keep in mind with this club is that considering the size and scale of the city it’s amazing how Napoli is without question a one-team city. When walking around, you will be greeted with blue ‘N’s, flags, and Napoli images all around you. For those of you who want to be culture vultures and perform a kind of pilgrimage before taking in a game, there are two things you must do.
Firstly, you need to go to Bar Nilo. In the heart of Spaccanapoli you will find this bar which has a shrine to Maradona with some authentic “miraculous” hair taken from the great man. In the past, the hair was placed in a very simple case and it was presented as a holy relic. But the owners have, in my opinion, added unnecessary additions and made the shrine look cheaper and less special. However, the coffee is excellent, the cup will be incredibly hot, which is how it is served in Napoli and it really is a place of footballing pilgrimage. People from all over the world come and pay homage to a piece of the true barnet. It’s somewhere you must go.
Secondly, you’ll need to go to the Quartieri Spagnoli, or Spanish Quarter, to see Maradona’s mural. The area which borders Via Toledo was once extremely dangerous to go into, however, now the area is much safer. The face has been improved over the years but Maradona is still wearing the famous ‘MARS’ home jersey from the late 1980s.
The Maradona Mural in the Spanish Quarter is not to be confused with the more modern one in San Giovanni Teduccio by Jorit. Although in the same area as Bar Nilo there is an amazing piece of street art by the artist of the city’s patron saint, San Gennaro. Comparing the two though, I’m not sure which one is more revered.
Once finishing your ‘Camino di Napoli’ you’ll need to get some tickets. Buying tickets online is surprisingly difficult as to do so you need to have a tifosi card, which you need to apply for and costs €15 for three years of membership. You also need to have an Italian address for it to be processed. But if you are happy to buy one, once it has arrived, head to the ticketone website and follow the instructions, which are very straightforward. But it’s not something you can do at the drop of a hat.
Buying tickets in the city is by far a much quicker option and there are many ticketone/listicket outlets, or ‘punti vendita’ dotted around Napoli where you can get them. Most of which are run by honest hard working people and they are usually inside tobacconists or betting shops.
I would recommend a small place close to Garibaldi Centrale which is the main train station. If you’re coming to Napoli via coach, train, or plane, you’ll end up there.
It’s simply called ‘Tabaccheria’ with a brownish sign and it’s at 40 Corso Meridionale close to the Grand Hotel Europa. It seems to be family-run and there may be a queue when you arrive as it’s popular with locals and tourists alike.
Now, where to sit. Well, the cheapest tickets are in Curva A and B where the ultras are. However, always try to get seats in ‘superiore’ which is the upper section, because people may throw items towards the pitch.
If the team is playing badly; bottles and coins, if the team is playing well; fireworks, which are more like flash-bang grenades called ‘bomba di Maradona’.
I’ve gone to Curva A a few times and Curva B once and everyone is friendly as long as you admit your love for Napoli as a city. Each Curva has its own Ultra’s group and they are tenacious in every sense of the word. As mentioned before they can cause small earthquakes…
Their singing and support is all but non-stop. I was once at a game and with about five minutes to go Napoli conceded a late goal to seal the home team’s loss. There was sudden quiet and it was unnatural. You become so used to the constant noise that when it stops it surprises you.
In the Curva the ultras have their own area, which is typically taped off. Just don’t go into that section and you’ll be fine. Although wherever you are in the Curva, you may need to stand on your seat if you want to see the game.
Curva B is the more famous of the two Curvas and they are often shown on T.V. due to their love of flags and legend thanks to pop-culture, but from what I can tell both sets of fans are more or less equal.
Although with the famous no face, no name, policy ultras have, I’m probably wrong.
‘Distinti’ is also an area I’ve been to before which is the second cheapest. I went to the inferiore section and although it’s quieter with more families it was enjoyable and far from boring. I have to say though that the view from inferiore isn’t the best. If the action is on the far side of the pitch, it can be difficult to see. This must also be the case for the Curvas.
In terms of the actual price of tickets, it really is subjective. The opposition, the competition, even the form of the team. Of course, if you want to sit with the players’ wives it’s going to cost you a lot more than in other areas but then that decision is yours. But bear in mind that the view of the pitch (superiore or inferiore) will be somewhat similar due to the running track although I presume the experience would be very different.
Getting to Stadio Diego Armando Maradona is pretty easy, for most matches (if not all) using the Metro Linea 2 is perfect. On paper, it is an underground line but it feels much more like an over-ground service, and in fact, it is run by Trenitalia however it is part of the ANM (the city transport network).
Getting tickets for the ANM is very simple, I would recommend going to a tobacconist or newsagents and buying a ‘Biglietto Giornaliero’ (a day ticket) for €4.50, which gives you unlimited travel on any AMN network (buses, trams, metro, and funiculars) for that day. It expires at midnight so not giving you the full 24 hours but it does give you peace of mind when travelling around Napoli knowing you’ve got your ‘travel pass’.
You can also get a Biglietto Corsa Singola (a one-way ticket) for €1, it all depends on your plans before and after the game. From Garibaldi Centrale, it takes about thirty minutes give or take to Campi Flegrei (the stop you need for the ground) and then a small walk straight out of the station towards the stadium. You can also get off a Leopardi and walk down Via Giulio Cesare towards the stadium if the timetable isn’t being kind to you.
This point is important; you have to turn up early. I’ve spent as long as one hour waiting to be checked by security before being let into the ground. I would recommend arriving about one hour before kick-off for lesser teams and for more prestigious sides ninety minutes or even two hours before kick-off.
Other than the security checks there is another key reason for arriving early, and that is no-one cares about seat numbers, you get in the stadium find a view in your section you like, and stay there.
So if you have perfect seats and you turn up fifteen minutes before kick-off, those seats will be occupied by other people and no-one is going to help you. Having said that the last time I went I saw a person moved by stewards, but it’s a rare occurrence. It’s unfair and something that I really don’t agree with but this is the unwritten rule.
The situation inside of Fuorigrotta on match day has to be seen to be believed. People will be selling all manner of things; food, drinks, ‘borghetti’ a kind of coffee liquor, cigarettes, and of course Napoli merchandise which seems to be less than legitimate.
Be aware of pick-pockets and even the vendors themselves as they have a unique talent. They can cheat you out of money while making you laugh. Neapolitans have this strange charm and ability, it’s incredible really but it’s a risk for someone who hasn’t experienced it. The first time I went to San Paolo, as it was then, I bought, for my girlfriend and me, two rubber glow-in-the-dark Napoli bands. Cheap, cheerful, and fun. They cost me five euros and a cigarette….
In terms of food, you’ll be spoilt for choice, from parigina (semi-flakey pastry pizza sandwich), frittata di pasta (deep-fried pasta omelette), panino Napoletano (semi-flakey pastry rolled with cheese, eggs and salami), pizza fritta (a deep-fried folded pizza) and il cuoppo (fried seafood) . It’s all good and unique to the area. If you go to McDonalds, what is the point?
If you want to get a quick bite to eat or buy a beer and pop to the toilet I would recommend a place at 33 Via Giovanni Chiarini, which is about halfway up Piazzale Tecchio on the right-hand side if you’re facing the stadium. It will be packed but the service is quick and the toilet is better than inside the stadium.
Getting back to Central Napoli can is much more problematic than leaving.
If the fixture is in the afternoon or early evening, returning the way you came is probably the best option, there are usually plenty of Metro trains back into the centre before 10 pm.
However, if the game is a late evening kick-off, 20.45 for example, which is extremely common for high profile matches or other games picked for television the last Metro back towards Garibaldi is at about half ten meaning unless you leave the game early you won’t be able to catch it.
There are taxis in the area however these are few and far between, as the drivers actively avoid Fuorigrotta after games. There are night buses but due to the heavy traffic around the stadium, they are often late. In terms of walking, this would be ill-advised, you don’t want to stray into neighbourhoods where you may not be welcome. In conclusion, if you are attending a late evening match be aware that unless you’re staying close to the stadium getting back to the city centre will be difficult.
You may be thinking at this point, well this sounds like most stadiums in Italy, what makes Napoli different?
For me, it’s the people. The city lives and breathes football, the club and the city are as one and the team is a source of pride.
Napoli has a bad reputation within Italy; there is crime, it’s chaotic and dirty, there’s a lack of work but there is so much grandeur and greatness there as well. It’s truly a special place.
Napoli, the club and the city, is like its famous volcano. A thing of spectacular beauty, but with a wild passion underneath which at any moment can explode.
But as the Partenopei say:
‘Il vesuvio non uccide I suoi figli che gli dormono sul cuore’
‘Vesuvius doesn’t kill his children who sleep on his heart.’
Words by: James Nye.