The Tears of a Clown

Now if there's a smile upon my face…

Ultras Napoletani!

A few short years ago I was lucky enough to pay several visits to Napoli in the Campania region of Southern Italy, having friends there. I had some fantastic experiences in that country and visited beautiful, wondrous and interesting places. One incredible experience was when I visited a Serie A football match between Napoli and Roma in the San Paulo stadium in Naples. It was the most incredible experience in and around a football match I’ve had anywhere, and I’ve had one or two of those over the years.

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We visited some beautiful, wondrous and interesting places. One incredible experience was when I visited a Serie A football match between Napoli and Roma in the San Paulo stadium in Naples. It was the most incredible experience in and around a football match I’ve had anywhere, and I’ve had one or two of those over the years.

My pal and I were dropped at Pozzuoli metro and travelled along Linea 2 to the daunting San Paulo Stadium, home of SSC Napoli, then (and now again, happily) of Serie A. Picking up a couple of imagesouvenirs of the day, we overheard reports of trouble before the game as we sat sipping cafe alfredos in a cafe bar opposite the stadium. A few minutes prior to kick-off we lined up and picked  up the free newspaper from the turnstile, customary at the games, and headed high up in the stand towards our bench seats.

‘Why are we sitting so far back, mate?’ I asked my friend.. I soon found out. From before the first kick and until the final whistle and beyond a thin hail of full plastic water bottles descended towards the ball boys trackside of the pitch. Inevitably some didn’t make the distance and ended up hitting the unhappy recipients in the first few rows of the stand…

The game was a crucial one for both teams. A Napoli defeat would have seen them relegated to Serie B of the Italian League whilst conversely a victory for the men from Rome would have award them the league title. Things, as you can imagine, were extremely tense.

Once inside, the San Paulo was just incredible. I’ve been in some very big and impressive sports stadiums in my life but the atmosphere in there was absolutely electric and incredibly passionate and loud. The area where the despised travelling Roma fans were penned in was under almost constant attack by the Napoli boys from before the kick-off. From a distance it was like a scene from the Keystone Kops as each Napoli rush at the segregating fence was replied to with baton charges by the Polizia, repelling them backwards, only for them to regroup and charge again.

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Napoli were 2-1 down late into the game with the superb Francesco Totti and Gabriel Batistuta pulling the strings for Roma against the plucky Neapolitans. Napoli finally equalised however to make it 2-2 and all hell was let loose. I’d rarely seen scenes like it. Us two Brits were being hugged like we were long-lost brothers, all was well with the world…until we left the ground.

Once outside, we quickly saw several police cars ablaze as a riot sparked up in the streets. Me and my pal decided to shelter in a shop doorway as thousands of youths ran amok outside the stadium, running back and forth in pitched battles in the streets. One Napoli fan apparently lost a finger whilst setting off a flair, we heard.

We rendezvoused up a quiet lane away from the warfare with another friend and drove the short distance to his home in the attractive Vomero district which sits high above much of Napoli and offers a grandstand view of the city. We sat safely up on his outdoor balcony and watched the rest of the scene unfold whilst sipping cold beers. It was truly spectacular with imagefires blazing around the San Paulo, and loud explosions at regular intervals. Huge crowds of youths were still charging around the area long after the game, being pursued by a beleaguered and tiring Polizia.

Later on in the evening my friend and I caught the funicular in safety down from Vomero and took a walk around the bay in sunny Mergellina to meet our respective partners in Garibaldi Square for food. It was as though we had entered a different world and suddenly the events of the day seemed almost surreal. There was a curt reminder however later that evening when we walked back to the railway station to catch the metro back to Pozzuoli. The Metro station was a site of total devastation, completely trashed. Metro staff were already busily repairing the station like it was just another day, sweeping up glass, repairing woodwork and replacing windows. For a Napoli – Roma clash that’s probably not too far from the truth.

Forza Napoli!

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March 25, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | 2 Comments

The Italian Chapel, Orkney

Orkney is a group of seventy islands some ten miles off the coast of Caithness in the Highlands of Scotland, twenty of which are inhabited. I have to confess to a slight fascination, if not affinity to Orkney as my late father went to work as a young man on the submarine base, Scapa Flow there, though I have little knowledge of his time on the islands in his days before he joined the Merchant Navy just prior to WWII.

The Italian Chapel, Orkney

Although visiting the Highlands and Islands of Scotland many times, I have never yet managed to make the sojourn to Orkney and that is to my regret. For a comparatively small place, The islands of Orkney have much to offer the visitor, including some of the finest examples of Neolithic dwellings such as Skara Brae and various monuments. Once under Norwegian rule, Orkadians still refer to the major island in Orkney as ‘the mainland’ as opposed to the Scottish mainland. The afore-mentioned Scapa Flow has been a natural harbour since the days of the Vikings and has a too remarkable history to be merely glanced through here. Today I want to concentrate on a building, built with much love and faith, that has become a visitor attraction over the decades since WWII, The Italian Chapel which sits on a barren hillside on the island of Lamb Holm. Orkney saw some 550 Italian prisoners captured in North Africa brought to it’s shores in 1942 and Camp 60 consisted of 13 huts and became the Italian POW’s home until 1945. The Italians looked after their new ‘home’ creating concrete paths and flower gardens whilst one prisoner, Domenico Chiocchetti created a statue of St. George fighting the dragon which still stands to this day. The statue was ingeniously crafted by barbed wire covered with concrete – two of the main resources available to the prisoners.

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One resource not available to the Italian prisoners was that of a chapel and after consultation by a new camp commandant, Major Buckland and the camp padre, Father Giacombazzi, it was decided that two back-to-back Nissen huts would be provided for the purpose. the prisoners themselves would be charged with making the building into a chapel. Here is the part of the story that I find so touching. The Italians set to, constructing an altar from concrete, painting the glass of the windows. Some items were purchased from the prisoner’s own meagre funds. Chiocchetti himself painted the intricate decorations of the inner walls. A wrought iron screen was engineered by a former iron worker who had spent time in that occupation in the USA whilst other prisoners worked on plasterboarding to make it resemble brickwork. Others created a belfry atop the small chapel and a head of Christ which sat above the doorway. The ending of the war meant that the finished place of worship was only used for a short time ironically though it soon became a visitor attraction. Domenico Chiocchetti, after staying in Lamb Holm initially to finish his labour of love, kept up his association with the chapel however, firstly through a BBC-funded return to re-paint his masterwork and a few years later on, in 1964, to donate 14 wooden Stations of the Cross. In 1992 on the 50th anniversary of the inception of the chapel’s construction, eight of the original Italian prisoners of war came back to visit their chapel in an emotional reunion. Sadly Domenico Chiocchetti was not amongst them being too unwell to travel. Domenico passed away in his home town of Moena in 1999 at a grand old 89 years of age. He left the people of his adopted home with a building of rare beauty, one that was built from love. The Italian Chapel still stands as a testament to peace after those years of conflict and as a symbol of the islanders and the Italian’s kindredship and kindness towards each other despite the rigours or war.

Domenico Chiocchetti, 1910 – 1999

March 24, 2008 Posted by | Archives: The Marathon Diaries, On The Road | , , , , , , | 9 Comments