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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 December 2004, 15:40 GMT
Movie man plots Napoli's revival
By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Naples

Diego Maradona
With Maradona, Napoli tasted unprecedented success
A strong smell of fresh coffee wafts along the corridors of Napoli's San Paolo stadium, past the photos and trophies of more successful days.

"Just savour this aroma," says Giuseppe in the club kitchen, carefully pouring four small cups.

There is a murmur of approval from the club coaches and managers standing around the table, suddenly oblivious to the chanting crowds outside.

This is less of a pre-match ritual, more a religious rite. Giuseppe holds up the coffee pot.

"There's 20 years of history in here," he says, tapping the lid. "Maradona drank from it, and we haven't cleaned it since."

Today without any football glory to talk of, or hide behind, all we see is the pain. Soccer is a bandage
Paolo Barbuto, football correspondent, Il Mattino

Back in the 1980s, Diego Maradona catapulted Napoli football club into the limelight and on to win numerous league and championship titles.

The team became a beacon of success amidst the grinding poverty of southern Italy.

But the dream finally ended this summer when Napoli Calcio was declared bankrupt with debts of over 70 million euros, many pointing the finger at mafia entanglements.

After losing a bitter legal battle to avoid relegation, Napoli now finds itself flailing in the country's third division, Serie C.

Films to football

The man promising Napoli's renaissance pushes his cup forward for a drop more of the hallowed golden era.

Aurelio de Laurentiis is a celebrated film producer with a passion for southern Italy.

He bought Napoli football club this summer, renamed it "Napoli Soccer", and set it up in 15 days to be ready for the start of the season.

His strategy is to invest in a young squad of players and to use his unique experience from the movie business.

Aurelio De Laurentiis
Mr De Laurentiis hopes to turn the club fortunes around
"Selling rights is something I can do left-handed. I can get Sky and Murdoch on the phone like that..." He clicks his fingers.

"I understand the importance of serving our nine million Napoli fans worldwide and running this operation like a successful company."

He leans forward confidentially. "I want to create a strong symbol of this city. It's the only way to improve the depressed south of our country."

The businessman suddenly turns movie director.

"For me, Naples represents the life. My father was from Naples, my mother was from the north of Italy. Only in my father's house were the tomatoes really red.

"All cities in Italy are black and white, only Naples is in colour."

Mafia war

Life in Naples is more colourful than usual right now, but not in a good way.

In the grip of a bloody mafia turf war, daily shootings have become unremarkable, and rising unemployment inescapable.

For many fans living with these problems in the impoverished Neapolitan suburbs, their team's relegation was the last straw.

"I felt so bad when our team went down into Serie C," said Alexander watching the game.

"You can't understand...it was like torture playing these tiny teams away at village stadiums. When the ball goes out, kids in the park kick it back...that hurts."

Gennaro (left)
Life-long fan Gennaro (left) says the only way is up

His friend Raffaele nods. "The only thing that can make us forget the problems of our city, and the problems with mafia killings right now is our team," he says.

"I have no job here, none of us do ... we live for Sundays to try and forget everything."

Gennaro, who has supported Naples all his life, says: "We're really at the bottom now. At least now the only way is up."

Neapolitans are not only banking on Mr De Laurentiis to restore their pride but also their earnings.

Outside the stadium, the stalls of blue and white Napoli memorabilia are deserted, racks of scarves flap forlornly in the wind.

"We estimate that when Napoli is playing in the first division, 1m euros are pumped into the local black economy every Sunday," says Il Mattino's football correspondent Paolo Barbuto.

"That's for people doing non-official jobs like finding car park spaces, selling tickets and scarves," he explains.

"Now imagine that in Serie C, Napoli loses 1m euros every Sunday.

"What do those people do? They are trying to earn that money in other ways...not legal ways. There's more crime around here now."

Fervent fans

Napoli may be at the bottom, but it has not lost the intensity of its following.

Up to 30,000 fans still religiously come to the stadium.

Although the singing and cheering is decidedly muted, this home crowd is larger than the turnout at some first division games.

Napoli fans
Napoli fans have remained faithful to the club
"Life for the fans isn't any worse because Napoli is in Serie C," says Mr Barbuto.

"When Maradona was playing and Napoli was winning, the problems of this city were the same. There was still mafia, there was still poverty.

"Today without any football glory to talk of, or hide behind, all we see is the pain. Soccer is a bandage."

But with so much violence and suffering right now in Naples, everyone wants the feel-good football bandage back.

As the new club president, Mr De Laurentiis drives away from the stadium, a sea of faces press up to his car window.

"Take us back to Serie A, take us back to Serie A," they chant.


SEE ALSO:
Napoli on the brink
02 Aug 04 |  Europe
Napoli to honour Maradona
24 Aug 00 |  Europe


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