As a relatively young Napoli fan, causes for celebration have been few and far between. I’ve seen just two Coppa Italia and one Italian Super Cup victories in my time as a supporter. I’ve also however, seen my fair share of disappointments. In fact, as a Napoli supporter, almost but not quite seems to be our mantra. 2015 was our year in the Europa league, almost but not quite. 2016 was our year in Serie A, almost but not quite. 2017 was our chance to prove ourselves against the globe’s best, almost but not quite. In each of the last three seasons, I’ve seen my team reach the cusp of achieving something memorable, only to fall short in crucial moment. Napoli’s toothless performance in Ukraine, Zaza’s scorcher at the J stadium, and Ramos’ headed goals will remain burned in my memory as reminders of some of my biggest disappointments as a Napoli fan.
This all sounds dramatic, in many ways I am lucky to support a club as successful as Napoli; it could be a lot worse. It just seems to me that over the years, the Partenopei have done a tremendous job of raising expectations only to come up an inch short time after time. Perhaps we’re systematically unlucky – the Dnipro match was ruined by a botched offside, Zaza’s strike was took a massive deflection before ending up in the back of the net, and Napoli drew Real after winning their group – or perhaps the hopes I’ve invested in my team are naïve and misplaced. Despite all this, the outlook doesn’t have to be so gloomy. I wouldn’t trade my fandom in for that of any other team. The highs and lows of supporting the Azzuri are unlike much else in football. Though I’ve often felt short changed by results, the crushing disappointments have only made the successes that much sweeter, even though I’ve had to seek refuge in smaller even symbolic victories.
The Champions League tie with Real Madrid was one of the most special moments I’ve lived as a Napoli fan, second only to the excitement leading up to last season’s second Juve clash. Although the rational part of me expected little, knowing Madrid to be much stronger and more experienced, deep down, I had faith in my team. When Lorenzo Insigne curled the ball into the net at the Bernabeu, I, along with all other Napoli fans, could dream. Perhaps the impossible was going to happen. Finally, a 3-1 score line dampened my spirits. Rationally, I knew it couldn’t realistically be overturned. But then, once again, the Azzuri allowed me to dream. For 45 minutes, the men in blue pushed the pace of play and made a comeback seem not only possible, but probable. The first half of the second leg was the happiest I had been watching Napoli play in a long time, I truly believed they would do something special.
Needless to say, the second half held a reversal of fortunes. Real’s two goals in quick succession poured water on Napoli’s fire. At the time, I was bitterly disappointed, a few hours later however I am both proud and appreciative of what my team has done. Of course it would have been much sweeter had Napoli won, but I realise now that much of being a sports fan is about enjoying the ride. Although the journey in the Champions League ended in the round of 16, we got to jump out of our seats, we got to celebrate, and we got to dream. Napoli don’t have the firepower of Europe’s giants but to see them go toe to toe with them, even if only for a short time, was magical. Hopefully soon we can jump the final hurdle and escape the shadow of our past near misses, but until then, we must celebrate the little things and enjoy the ride as it comes. Forza Napoli Sempre!