The day Maradona conquered Naples and won the protection of the Italian mafia

Maradona celebrates his first Scudetto with Napoli

The streets were crowded. On the tables of the bars, on all the places, beyond the poor and bare balconies from which one saw only smiles and emotion, one celebrated. Cars, motorcycles and even public transport buses offered a deafening roar in the Neapolitan space.

“Oh mamma, mamma, oh mamma, mamma, mamma/Sai per che, me bat il corazón?/I saw Maradona, I saw Maradona,/I saw Maradona,/and they are innamorato”

And in fact, the Neapolitans were “in love” and their hearts were beating. The song was everyone’s song.

This city where every morning four million people wake up defying their unequal fate, this Sunday, May 10, 1987 it was different for them. They were united by the magic of Diego and the miracle so many times demanded of San Gennaro of a “scudetto”. An Olympic tour that would place them in history to be part of the powerful exclusive list of those from the North: Juventus, Inter, Milan… Even if it’s “once in a lifetime”.

I will allow myself to refer to part of the column that I wrote on the occasion of being the special envoy of The graphic to such an important event.

“(…) The Neapolitan people are believers but formidable. And basically, superstitious. Churches have never been so crowded as they have been for the past three days. But, at the same time, the climate was developing little by little. A fatal ray opposed the previous explosion but, little by little, they were released. First balconies, then facades, then streets”.

Diego Armando Maradona celebrates the Scudetto with Napoli among teammates and fans who invaded the stadium
Diego Armando Maradona celebrates the Scudetto with Napoli among teammates and fans who invaded the stadium

“On Saturday, the Neapolitan people had beaten the formidable and everything was dyed in the colors of their group. Moreover: the pool figures supported the unanimous idea that one could not fail. On Friday the number 47 came out, which here means “Il scudetto” (The championship) and on Saturday the number 11 came out, which represents God (Maradona, the God of football). It cost the capitalists a loss of eleven million dollars. But it is clear that everything is possible here (…) Without the ghost of fate and having broken the habit of not anticipating, the tifosi of Naples had no doubt that they would witness the most glorious day in their history: the day of the scudetto”.

“The absolute certainty that they had it after half an hour. After Carnevale’s goal, after a fantastic wall with Giordano who ended a game started by Maradona in style. A minute after this ecstasy, the poster announced Atalanta’s goal against Inter. This meant that even losing, Napoli was champion. And a tarantella sung by 90,000 vibrating throats underlined it. Campioni, campioni, campioni. The cry contained for sixty years sounded like a prayer”.

“A brilliant and driven man overcame his physical limitations and fatigue to lead an entire team. It was Maradona. Opposite, another Argentinian, Ramon Diaz, we were also proud. The danger for Naples only passed through him. They lowered it as best they could and after a foul from Renica al Pelado the draw came. Baggio finished the free-kick just outside the box at the big man Garella’s post. The 1-1 cooled without worry. Of course, by listening to the Atalanta-Inter scoreboard”.

“The second half was boring. With the draw, Napoli were champions and Fiorentina were saved from relegation by reaching 24 points which permanently took him away from Brescia, Empoli, Ascoli and Atalanta, from where the second team relegated with Udinese will come. The 22 players and even the referee only wanted him to reach the 90th minute. And if not, that Gentile, the libero of Fiorentina, says it, who passed it to Landucci, his goalkeeper of the fifty meters, or Renica himself who, in a less exaggerated way, did the same”.

“When Pairetto, after a lateral, asked for the ball and marked the end, one hundred and twenty men, including police and carabinieri, posted themselves on the sides of the field. The dreaded invasion did not take place. On the contrary: the 86 boys and 109 photographers mixed with about twenty leaders and the players were able to hug each other, approach the stands to offer them flowers and start the Olympic tour in two groups: one, led by Garella and Bruscolotti, left by curve A towards the presidential box. And the other, led by Diego, went to the other side towards the same goal. Both groups should converge on a common point to unite and return to midfield. There, a huge Italian flag awaited them as a sublime symbol of what has been achieved”.

“From the four stands came a last gasp. A unanimous sigh that shook our soul. Diego, Diego, Diego. It was just screaming. Just that: his name.

“The city continues its celebration. Music and noise merge in a limitless carnival. “Diego, Diego, Diego” resonates in the ears and in the soul. He is a child of Fiorito, a boy of La Paternal, the son of the family who lives in Devoto. Argentinian pride. A touching Argentinian pride”.

Part of the Napoli team celebrating the Scudetto
Part of the Napoli team celebrating the Scudetto

The referee blows the final whistle. The stadium explodes. He jumps. Open your arms. And run, run… A boy in jeans and a blue sports jacket approaches him, leading a frenzied marathon. He wins everyone. This is the man he wants to hug before anyone else. It is his brother Hugo Hernán, el Turco, and behind him, and confused among the thirty crazy revelers, his other brother, Lalo. The three kiss each other, they kiss for a long time and with emotion. And no one can untie them. There is the Maradona man, the sanguine, the warm and fraternal Diego, beyond the player. The Maradona that smells. You have just received a new title: Italian Champion with Napolia club that had never reached it in sixty years of history”.

“He’s the man who moves from the stands, he who seduces with his magicthe marker of the times, perhaps one of the ten most famous men in the world…”.

I come back to today. And to my memories. The police, with two motorcyclists trained to clear the way between people, took us to the house in Via Capece 5, the house of the Maradonas.

Our photographer and friend Ricardo Alfieri (h)stayed at the San Paolo stadium to send his photos to The graphic, from an AP office Diego put two “double-width” guards in black suits so that once the transmission was over, which took a long time, they would take him to the place of the celebration.. It was an unknown geographical point, without address or references. A castle 50 kilometers from Naples.

It was one of the happiest times for the family. Bloated, in an emotional state of tears and hugs, Claudia and her baby Dalmita, Don Diego and Doña Tota, Coco Villafañe and his wife, his brothers Lalo, el Turco, Mary and her husband Gabriel “La Morsa” Esposito, they thanked God for being the agents of the maximum fulfillment to which a family, then united, could aspire. No one in the world could be happier. And those first toasts were with descending and uncontrollable tears.

Before midnight, when the carnival was in full swing in the streets and in the houses, we arrived in a small town near Naples called Pola. There would be the party with Diego, his family and his friends. had fixed everything Guillaume Coppola with the owner of the house for a long time. Bruno Passarelli, correspondent for The graphic in Italy, -exquisite writer and journalist-, Ricardo Alfieri and I, we would be the only members of the press invited.

The streets of Naples full of fans celebrating and praising Maradona
The streets of Naples full of fans celebrating and praising Maradona

We leave Naples and its crazy endless party. By a winding road, dark and silent, we enter a quiet town. Calculating distance versus time didn’t take us more than 60 kilometers from Diego’s house.

Our car was the fourth to arrive. The guests and the Maradona family were already inside. Don Diego and Coco Villafañe were about an hour ahead. We parked on a pulseless street. Only a huge castle was visible to our right. An apple, almost. Yes long walls of more than thirty meters covered with small bricks which could well be of Norman style.

On the structure, in the symmetrical openings of the highest part, three men with shotguns in firing position guarded our entrance to the castle. They were the owner’s guardians.

We were received by Don Diego and Coco Villafañe, the party’s volunteer barbecues, while a discreet, confused guard among the guests watched over each of us.

When Ricardito Alfieri arrived, they greeted him with a smile: “Welcome dear friend… You see, no pictures here. In other words, we will tell you when you can do it. And only to the Maradona family and as far as possible at any location, not identifiable. Oh please no photo, no eh, Mr. Beppo”. Clearly, Mr. Beppo was the host of such a celebration.

Don Beppo sat at the end of the table. His family surrounded him, children, grandchildren, nephews. And Coppola, surely happy with the agreement to have brought him no less to the hero of Naples.

While the children ran and the small orchestra offered tarantellas and songs with wounded tango, Don Beppo toasted with other “Don Beppos” of the region for such a demonstration of power. The whole city was in the streets, the whole city was experiencing its most fantastic convulsion and Don Beppo, he had the captain of the team in his castleto the best player in the world, to whom he had offered the first Scudetto in the South and whom he protected and will have to protect during his stay in Italy because Don Beppo was none other than the most “illustrious” boss of the Camorra of Naples. And as such, he had “regional” agreements with the Sicilian Mafia and the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta.

Cover of the Graphic with Diego celebrating
Cover of the Graphic with Diego celebrating

Guillermo Coppola’s deal was sealed: he took Diego and he already had “protection”.

at the time of cutting the giant cake of almost a meter in the colors of Napoli and the image of Diego transformed into a funny decorationDon Beppo walked to the table, took the knife and penetrated the dough. In the middle of the party, Diego approached the table and invited the capo to accompany him to dance. We all dance. And when Alfieri wanted to immortalize such a pleasant moment with a photo, two giants fell on him: “La photo su il padrone non é possibile signore, prego…”. In other words, Don Beppo, as we were told, could not be photographed, not even with Diego.

Everything changed. It is an inexorable allocation of time. However, something remains unchanged: the devotion the Neapolitans feel for Diego Armando Maradona. Even of those who were not born but who feel the pride of knowing that Diego is part of their Neapolitan identity.

KEEP READING:

Alcohol and drugs kept him from boxing, but he came back and won the world crown in Las Vegas.
The day Passarella threatened Maradona before the ’86 World Cup: ‘If you do drugs, I’ll hit you’
From deep affection to blows: the incredible anecdotes of the relationship between Maradona and Bilardo
X-ray of the exciting first chapter of ‘Bilardo, the football doctor’: everyone goes by, from Maradona and Ruggeri to Flaco Menotti

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