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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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