Napoli fan reporter Alessio Costabile poignantly reflects on his side’s valiant effort against Real Madrid on Matchday 2 of the Champions League group stage
The life of the fan living far away is a rainbow of tight schedules, crowded subways, cold meals and kilometres of walking. My rainbow starts at 6:30AM, with an alarm clock going off in a Roman flat, crests in a public office until 3:30PM, and begins its descent aboard a bus, a metro and a high-speed train that stops in Naples, at home.
From the halls of the Central Station to the tube, from the streets of Fuorigrotta to the outside of the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, where I indulge in the usual beer at the usual kiosk, everything is quivering. A kid is convinced that we can actually play a trick on Real Madrid. One of the more pessimistic fans is sure the evening ends in rout, while one cautious lad reminds us that some teams are blessed by the football gods, and that some coaches are struck by fortune’s lightning. He says tonight we’ll likely face a mix of the two, and that our boys will thus have to be particularly concentrated.
I, meanwhile, am just enjoying the moment after entering the stadium very early. I’m in a sector where, if you get the wrong seat, you end up feeling the game more than actually watching it.
Twenty minutes before the start I’m joined by my mate Tullio, who complains about the traffic and how it took me less time to get here from Rome. Even though I came from Rome, which is 223 kilometres away, while he came from Acerra, only 26 kilometres away. I witness the well-choreographed dance of the marquee waving in the centre of the pitch, the Maradona roaring as the Champions League anthem sounded, and referee Clement Turpin whistling the start. Finally, the ball starts rolling.
The script unravels as predicted, there’s no point in sugarcoating the pill: they attack, we defend, with our hopes relying on Piotr Zieliński, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen’s attacking threat.
There’s a couple of good chances coloured in blanco, covered on this night by the black of the second uniform, before we earn a corner that bounces off the crossbar onto Leo Østigård’s forehead, and he finds the net. The ground is shaking, Daniele ‘Decibel’ Bellini shouts "Leo," from the speakers and the crowd shouts back, "Østigård!" Suddenly, everything seems possible.
But then the inertia of the match is hijacked by 20-year-old lad from Stourbridge: Jude Victor William Bellingham. He first steals a ball from our captain Giovanni di Lorenzo, serving Vinicius for the equaliser, then resists Frank Zambo-Anguissa's timid tackles, burns Østigård before scoring Madrid’s second.
There are rumbles of debacle on the stands, with the crowd murmuring about how Napoli always collapse in the second half, Rudi Garcia has not properly read games, and Real Madrid have the Luka Modrić card ready to play. Revolt and discontent hover in the air.
The second half can only be described as 'classic Napoli'. We enter the pitch with the perfect mood and around ten minutes in, we earn a penalty, which Zieliński converts, despite the crowd’s insistence on Osimhen taking it.
For the next twenty minutes, we give the Spaniards very little breathing space, with the crowd cheering every sprint, tackle and touch with immense fervour. But then the football gods I mentioned earlier stretch out their hands and fortune’s lightning strikes. A Madrid corner is cleared only as far as Fede Valverde, who unleashes a piledriver that almost shatters the crossbar and bounces off the back of a blameless Alex Meret into the net to seal our fate on the night. A long and well-deserved applause erupts from the stands at the full-time whistle. The crowd knows it was almost impossible to do much better.
My rainbow goes out on a bus that takes me back home late at night, among sleeping children and parents watching the highlights from their smartphones. No pots of gold at the end of this one, but I’m happy to settle for an evening worthy of being remembered in its own way.