Vengeance And Rage: In The Stadium With Napoli Hard-Core Soccer Fans

After their companions were shot over the weekend in Rome, a visit with ultra soccer fans in Naples, Italy

"Ultra Style"
"Ultra Style"
Guglielmo Buccheri and Grazia Longo

Last Saturday’s Coppa Italia soccer final between Napoli and Fiorentina was overshadowed by a shooting that injured three Napoli fans, including 29-year-old Ciro Esposito, who remains in a serious condition.

According to Italian media quoting police sources, so-called ultra fans of a third team — AS Roma (the game was held in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico) — are accused of using smoke bombs to ambush a group of Napoli fans. When the victims responded, Daniele De Santis, one of Roma’s ultra leaders, allegedly pulled out a gun and started shooting.

Two La Stampa reporters joined Napoli’s ultras for Tuesday’s home game against Cagliari and smelled revenge in the air.

NAPLES — It took a while, but finally the general consensus came. “We’ll go to the curva, but only for Ciro.”

Napoli’s ultras decided on their own to go the curva section of Naples San Paolo stadium, since their leader Gennaro De Tommaso, a prominent figure among the team’s raucous fans, has to stay far away from all soccer games for the next five years for past incidents of inciting violence.

Ciro Esposito’s condition was on the minds of many throughout the stadium Tuesday for the regular-season game against Cagliari. The other preoccupation weighing was finding those who were to blame. “It was all premeditated, done on purpose,” one person says. “There were 30 of them, maybe more.”

Outside the stadium, where the lights were shining on the surrounding streets, there’s a thirst for revenge. The authorities know this, and a police chopper can be heard circling overhead.

Rome is the enemy city, and the Romans will always be their rivals. As the club's President Aurelio De Laurentiis carries the recently won Coppa Italia cup around the field to celebrate the weekend’s victory, everyone is chanting in unison, “Romano bastardo.”

The “bastard” in question is Daniele De Santis, 48, who was arrested Thursday in connection with the shooting.

Smelling revenge

Everybody is talking about Ciro, their comrade, their fellow supporter. The area of the curva where the 29-year-old Neapolitan came to watch every game is empty. “Stay strong, Ciro,” reads a banner above the area.

Usually, the ultras wear black shirts with “Free Speziale” written on them — Speziale being Antonio Speziale, the Catania ultra imprisoned for the 2007 murder of policeman Filippo Raciti after a Sicilian derby — but today they’re not. “If anyone wants to wear it, they will be identified and banned from all sporting events,” Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano announced earlier this week.

The ultras wanted to scream about Rome being the enemy the entire way to the stadium, but they were stopped by officers. They stopped them and that was it, but there will be a protest about it on Saturday.

In front of curva A, a rough debate is on between truly hard-core ultras and those who want to defuse the tension. “Sooner or later we’ll make them the Roma ultras pay,” someone says. “They were shooting. They used arms after being seen because their ambush failed.”

San Paolo Stadium is dark, and the air is strangely heavy. Eventually, when the first half is nearly over, people finally begin cheering on their team: “Forza, Napoli!” For the first time in the game, the weekend’s events in Rome — which seemed to have almost been holding the stadium hostage — are momentarily forgotten.

Napoli's “ringleader,” Gennaro De Tommaso, isn’t there. He’s been banned. “Genny isn’t the boss, and we don’t put him on the railings with the microphone in his hand,” another ultra says. “We’re not all as unruly as he is.”

It’s not just die-hard, tattooed fans here in the crowd. There are couples and families here too. At one point, rolls of toilet paper in Roma’s yellow-red colors stream down, thrown from the upper stands. The atmosphere in the curva is boozy, and the smell of marijuana and smoke bombs mix. Then, there are the chants slamming the Roma fans for what happened to Ciro. But there are also moments when San Paolo goes quiet.

The evening winds down with an easy 3-0 win for Napoli, but there are more big games on the horizon. And you can’t escape the overwhelming feeling that revenge is coming.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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