Football, or calcio as it's known in Italian, holds a special place in the hearts of Italians. It's not just a sport, but a way of life, and one that is deeply ingrained in the country's culture and identity. IMAGO's photographer Antonio Balasco captured the triumphant season of SSC Napoli through his lense and helps us understand the culture in the Mediterranean city in the South of Italy.
“Football in Naples is the metronome of the city.”
Antonio Balasco, born and raised in Naples, has always been passionate about photography and started pursuing this career after a redundancy in his IT career. In our interview, we asked him about the impact of football and the SSC Napoli on the city and the daily life and mentality of the people. Balasco describes it as a determining factor on how people feel and how they go on with their day.
Instead of going to church or a Sunday mass, they go to the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, to attend the game of the Partenopei. Even after the game finished, the discussions in the vibrant streets, bars and cafés about the wrong pass, the goal or a yellow card go on and the mood of the city changes whether the blue and white were victorious or not.
“If the team wins, the week proceeds well. If it loses, the whole city mourns.”
Players turning Superstars
The domination of Napoli in this year’s Serie A campaign and the resulting atmosphere in the Mediterranean city throughout the year underlines the sheer enthusiasm of the Neapolitans for their football team. The team, coached by Luciano Spalletti, played incredible offensive football and dominated their opponents with a disciplined high pressing line and a rock-solid defense. Their style of play enthralled all fans spectating the game in the stadium or in front of their televisions.
Especially two players stood out throughout the season and gained attention from the international football world beyond Naples. The dynamic duo of Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen and Georgian winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia were more than a handful for opposing defenders in every game they entered the pitch. The Georgian dribbling wizard has also earned himself the nickname “Kvaradona” by Napoli tifosi, because of his incredible skill to take on opponents and breeze past them.
Kvaratskhelia kissing the Napoli badge.
Kvaratskhelia taking on his opponent in his typcial fashion.
Kvaratskhelia celebrating his goal against Juventus.
Kvaratskhelia dribbling past defenders during his wonder goal.
The Influence of El D10S
Diego Maradona’s influence on Naples is hard to overstate. Maradona, who passed away in 2020, was an Argentine football player who joined the Italian club in 1984 after falling out at FC Barcelona, following a violent clash in the Copa Del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. At the time, Napoli was a relatively small team in Italy, and they had never won a major championship.
Maradona quickly became a sensation in Naples, leading the team to two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990, as well as a UEFA Cup victory in 1989. He was not only an outstanding player on the field and regarded as one of the best football players in history, but he also became a cultural icon off the field. His success with Napoli brought a sense of pride to the city and its people, who had long felt overlooked by the rest of Italy. He also helped to break down social barriers in Naples, as people from all walks of life came together to celebrate his success.
Maradona’s legacy in Naples continues to this day. He is revered as a hero by many Neapolitans, and his image can be seen throughout the city, from murals on buildings and in alleyways to statues in public squares. He remains a symbol of hope, inspiration, and resilience for the people of Naples, who continue to face challenges but are proud of their city and its rich history.
Red flares tributing Maradona’s 62nd birthday
A fan from Argentina in front of his idol’s mural.
Fans display the jerseys of Maradona’s favorite clubs.
Fans paying tribute to their idol 2 years after his death.
“Football in Naples is a form of social revenge and a way to compare oneself against the North.”
Antonio Balasco answered, when asked to describe the root of the passion for football in Naples. He added that the people’s pride of the team and their territorial belonging, translates into a social redemption, as a sort of revenge from local miseries, discomforts, and insecurities. This highlights the importance, football plays in the social fabric of Naples.
For many Neapolitans, “Il Calcio” provides a platform to assert their identity and pride in their city and region, and to compete on a national and international level against the more affluent, powerful and established regions from the North. The success of the SSC, particularly during the time when Diego Maradona was playing for the team, provided a sense of hope and inspiration to many people in Naples, and it helped to uplift the city and its people in the face of economic and social challenges.
Describe to us your connection to your work as a photographer, particularly as you
followed and immortalized this historic season for Napoli
“One Scudetto in Naples is worth ten Scudetto’s elsewhere.”
This phrase is a famous saying from a friend of Antonio Balasco, who owns a bar in Naples and supplies him with his daily coffee. “It makes you understand that what is happening is something magical and does not happen very often and can hardly happen again in the forseeable future.”, Balasco says.
In another article of The Game, which featured Antonio Balasco, we asked him which role photography has in the world and he answered historical testimony. “This is one of those moments, thirty-three years have passed since the last Scudetto. I was 5 years old, now I am 38, nothing can be more historical than that.”
Antonio Balasco is one of the many in his generation, who experienced the many ups and downs in the city of Naples, and to which this championship title means so much more.
Is there a specific image from the season that stands out for you?
“The final jubilation after the Serie A game between Napoli – Juventus, on Matchday 18. Napoli dominated their rivals from the North and the game ended 5-1. We came from a defeat in Milan against Inter 1-0, but in that game I understood that we were really strong , from there on we were unbeaten for eleven consecutive games.”, he answered.
The long awaited moment
Napoli have ended their 33-year wait for a Scudetto on Matchday 33 of the Serie A in a 1-1 draw against Udinese Calcio. The point meant that they could no longer be caught by chasing Lazio. Around 13,000 Napoli tifosi travelled to Udine in the North of Italy, to support their team and experience the deciding moment live in the Dacia Stadium. The celebrations kicked off when Victor Osimhen scored the drawing goal in the 52. minute of the game.
Article and Image selection by Johannes Häring.