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

Maradona feasts on the Scudetto with Napoli

The streets were packed. On the tables of the bars, in all the squares, transcending the poor and bare balconies from where only smiles and emotion could be seen, people celebrated. Cars, motorcycles and even public transport buses offered a deafening roar in the Neapolitan space.

“Oh mom, mom, oh mom, mom, mom / Do you know why my heart beats? / I saw Maradona, I saw Maradona, / I saw Maradona, / and I’m in love”

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

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

I will allow myself to resort to a part of the chronicle 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 tremendous. And fundamentally, superstitious. The churches have never been as crowded as in the last three days. But, at the same time, the climate was growing little by little. A fatal ray opposed the previous explosion but, gradually, they were released. First some balconies, then some fronts, then some 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 tremendousism and everything was dyed with the colors of their squad. What’s more: the pool numbers supported the unanimous idea that you couldn’t fail. On Friday number 47 came out, which here means “Il scudetto” (The championship) and on Saturday number 11 came out, which represents God (Maradona, the God of football). This 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 beaten the habit of not anticipating, the Napoli tifosi did not doubt that they would attend the most glorious day in their history: the day of the scudetto ” .

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

“A brilliant and motivated man overcame his physical limitations and his fatigue to lead an entire team. That was Maradona. Opposite, another Argentine, Ramon Diazwe were also proud. The danger for Napoli only passed through him. They lowered it as best they could and after a foul by Renica al Pelado, the draw came. Baggio finished off the free kick at the door of the area to the post of the big man Garella. The 1-1 cooled without worrying. Of course, listening to the Atalanta-Inter scoreboard”.

“The second half was boring. With the draw Napoli was champion and Fiorentina was saved from relegation reaching 24 points that definitively distanced him from Brescia, Empoli, Ascoli and Atalanta, where the second relegated team will come from along with Udinese. The 22 players and even the referee only wanted it to reach the 90th minute. And if not, let Gentile, Fiorentina’s libero, say so, who passed it to his fifty-meter goalkeeper Landucci or Renica himself who, less exaggeratedly, did the same”.

“When Pairetto, after a lateral, asked for the ball and marked the end, one hundred and twenty men, including policemen and carabinieri, stationed themselves on the sides of the field. The much feared invasion did not take place. Quite the contrary: the 86 boys and 109 photographers mixed with a score of leaders and the players were able to hug each other, approach the stands to offer them flowers and start the Olympic lap in two groups: one, led by Garella and Bruscolotti, started through curve A towards the presidential box. And the other, led by Diego, started on the other side towards the same goal. Both groups would have to converge towards a common point to unite and return to the middle of the field. There, a huge Italian flag was waiting for them as a sublime symbol of what was achieved”.

“From the four stands came a last sigh. A unanimous sigh that shook our soul. Diego, Diego, Diego. She screamed only that. Just that: his name.

“The city continues its celebration. Music and noise are confused in a carnival without limits. “Diego, Diego, Diego” she rings in the ears and in the soul. He is a kid from Fiorito, a boy from La Paternal, the son of the family that lives in Devoto. An Argentine pride. A touching Argentine pride”.

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

The referee gives the final whistle. The stadium explodes. He jumps up. He opens his arms. And he runs, runs…. A boy in jeans and a blue sports jacket comes towards him leading a wild marathon. He beats everyone. It’s 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 embrace, they kiss long and emotionally. And no one can untie them. There is the Maradona man, the sanguine, the warm and fraternal Diego, beyond the player. The Maradona who feels. He just got a new title: Italian champion with Napolia club that had never achieved it in sixty years of history”.

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

I return to today. And to my memories. The police, with two motorcyclists trained to open the way between people, took us to the house at Via Capece 5, the home of the Maradonas.

Our photographer and friend Ricardo Alfieri (h)stayed at the San Paolo stadium to dispatch 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 required 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 moments of the family. Plethoric, 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 actors 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, while the carnival was in full swing in the streets and in the houses, we arrived at a small town near Naples called Pola. There would be the celebration with Diego, his family and his friends. had fixed everything william coppola with the owner of the house for a long time before. 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 endless crazy celebration. Through a winding road, dark and silent, we enter a quiet town. The calculation on the distance according to time moved us no 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 had been about an hour ahead. We parked on a street with no pulse. Only a huge castle was visible to our right. An apple, almost. AND long walls of more than thirty meters covered with small bricks that could well be of a 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 custodians of the homeowner.

We were received by Don Diego and Coco Villafañe, the volunteer barbecues of the celebration, while a discreet guard confused among the guests kept their eyes on each one of us.

When Ricardito Alfieri arrived, they warned him with a smile: “Welcome dear friend… You see, no photos here. I mean, we’ll tell her when she can do it. And only to the Maradona family and as far as possible on any place, not identifiable. oh please no photo, no eh, Mr. Beppo”. Obviously, Mr. Beppo was the host of such a celebration.

Don Beppo was sitting at the head of the table. His family surrounded him, children, grandchildren, nephews. And Coppola, surely content with the agreement of having brought him no less than to the hero of Napoli.

While the children ran around and the little orchestra offered tarantellas and songs with some injured tango, Don Beppo toasted with other “Don Beppos” from the region for such a demonstration of power. The whole town 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 castlethe best player in the world, to whom he had given the first Scudetto to the South and whom he protected and would have to protect while he lived in Italy because Don Beppo was none other than the most “illustrious” Camorra boss 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 agreement was sealed: he took Diego and he already “had protection”.

at the time of cutting the giant cake of almost a meter with the colors of Napoli and the image of Diego turned into a funny decorationDon Beppo went to the table, took the knife and penetrated the dough. In the middle of the fun, Diego went up to 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: “The photo su il padrone non é possibile signore, prego…”. In other words, Don Beppo, as we had been told, could not be photographed, not even with Diego.

Everything has changed. It is an inexorable attribution of time. However, something remains unchanged: the devotion that 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.

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