#10: MARADONA

Drugs, Slums, Sports

The organized crime system oppressing the city of Naples, Italy is known as the camorra. The Neapolitan bingo game in which each number codifies a secret meaning is known as tombola. This is the camorra’s tombola.

This number actually refers to beans in Neapolitan bingo, but the truth is that ten means just one thing in Naples: el pibe de oro (the golden feet), la mano de Dios (the hand of God), or simply: Diego Armando Maradona.

Here, you use your feet as much as your hands and children start to play as soon as they can walk;  the whole city is a huge football field.  In Naples, football fandom is pure faith, and a collective weekend ritual that involves old and young, rich and poor, workers and unemployed, illiterate and professors, people you would never suspect of hooliganism suddenly turning wild when their team is on the field.

In “Dante’s circle” –as Naples' San Paolo stadium was baptized by the English press- Neapolitans love Maradona so much that no other blue-shirted football players may wear the number 10. In the 1980s, hundreds of Diego Armandos were born, baptized in the Argentinian player's cult by their parents. One hair from Maradona's head is still in a shrine in the city, untouchable.

What the “invincible hero” did for Naples went far beyond sport. Maradona was Southern Italy's payback to the rest of the world – especially to the big football leagues of the north of Italy who considered the old Mediterranean capital with disgust and contempt, and he was adored and venerated like a god for it. And as for all gods, everything was permitted or forgiven for Maradona, including his extravagant friend: the poet, Latin lover and camorra founder, Luigi Giuliano.

Giuliano, or Lovgino, a nickname for his success with women, was also known  as 'o re, the king, and the neighborhood of Forcella was his kingdom. Under his reign, this area of the city -once reputed for criminal attacks, murders and freely-traded drugs- became a party home base of cocaine, women and champagne for Maradona. A photograph confiscated from Giuliano's house in 1986 shows the football player smiling with Giuliano and his brother in the clamshell-shaped bathtub of their house. Now, those smiles, like those years, are gone for good.

After Lovgino's decision to become a pentito and collaborate with the Italian law, his son was murdered and it is very probable that Diego’s old friend the ‘o re now lives in police custody in a secret location until he unveils all the secrets of the Neapolitan camorra.

After his golden youth, Diego Armando had his worst years.  As the legendary writer Eduardo Galeano wrote, Maradona“made money with his feet but he paid with his soul”. In his decline, the player had to deal with drug addiction, obesity, illnesses and a continuing case with the Internal Revenue Service, which has forced Maradona to leave Naples or pay millions in back taxes.

These joys and disgraces of a footballer and his city were forgotten just for one day on June 10, 2005, to pay tribute to Maradona's friend and fellow football player Ciro Ferrara: the former was allowed to go back after 14 years of absence, to the place where Maradona was finally called“the king”. When this king got back, San Paolo stadium blazed with “a purely delirious event, a tribute never seen before in the history of sports”.

 

Further reading:

Where supporters still see an epic sport, camorra today just see money rolling on a green field. “There was one moment when everything changed: football stopped being just a game and became power”. Besides being the favorite game of mafiosi, since they put their claws on the legalized gamble of betting with a presumed illegal income of 2 billions per year, camorra exercises its own fascination on footballers. In recent years, Milan football ace Mario Balotelli has asked for a tour of the camorra in Naples, explaining that he wanted to see “the factory of cocaine” in Scampia, Naples.