Serie A Story tells you everything and anything about your favourite club and their record in one of Europe’s toughest leagues.
It would be tawdry to say that the team founded between the fires of Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields has had a heated and volatile history but it is too much of an overcooked analogy to ignore.
From Maradona to Zola to Hamisk, to dissolving and being brought back like a pheonix from the flames by film mogul and scourge of British women’s hygiene Aurelio De Laurentiis, the Partenopei have a rich history in the Italian top flight and as many cups and titles as relegations.
It’s fair to say that the Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli has experienced many highs and lows during its 104-year history – title chases, European exploits and even the odd drop down to the perilous depths of Serie C. The Campania club has competed in Serie A 63 times and lifted the Scudetto on two occassions since they were formed by Englishman William Poths as a football and cricket club in 1904.
Despite his best intentions, Mr Poths had to witness the club splinter into two factions – the Naples Football Club and US Internazionale Napoli – as locals and foreign sailors decided to operate in their own teams. However, financial constraints drew the two teams back together in 1922, even after the divided Naples managed to lift the Lipton Challenge Cup three times during this period.
By 1926, the amalgamation that was FBC Internaples had been renamed Associazione Calcio Napoli under the presidency of Giorgio Ascarelli. Ascarelli’s men would lay the foundation for the one that would challenge to be in the inaugural Serie A season in 1929.
With the final table seemingly decided, Napoli had to face Lazio in a bid to claim the final Serie A spot. However, the decider ended two apiece and the FFIC took the decision to exempt both teams from relegation, expanding the league from its proposed 16 teams to 18.
Ups and Downs
Under the stewardship of William Garbutt, the Neapolitans managed a noteworthy fifth-place finish in the first season of the country’s premier competition, and would go onto be a fixture of the division up to the outbreak of the war. Napoli wouldn’t survive the global conflict as members of Italy’s top flight suffering relegation alongside Modena in 1942.
Despite the fall from grace – and seven swift managerial changes – Napoli called on some formidable players during this period, most famously Giuseppe Innocenti and Paraguyan-cum-Italian hitman Attila Sallustro, who netted almost 140 times for the Partenopei up to 1937 and etched himself in the hearts of the adoring Neapolitan support at the Stadio Giorgio Ascarelli.
When the team did return to the top flight following the cessation of hostilities, they were stationed at the Stadio Arturo Collana (now home of lowly Internapoli Camaldoi SSD) following the destruction of their previous home, Napoli spent time flittering between Serie B and A. Eventually a modicum of assurance was earned with Napoli enjoying a longer spell in the top flight, even managing to bag a Coppa Italia in 1962.
In keeping with the club’s infuriating yo-yo nature, manager Bruno Pesaola witnessed the team drop back into Serie B in 1962/63 in what would be the first of his many turns at the helm of the club between the 1960s and the 1980s. However, they could not be held back for long and were soon up among the top dogs shooting back into the 1965/66 season, grabbing an unexpected third-place finish and entry to the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
Over the next two decades Napoli would really begin to stamp themselves on the top division, and even if they didn’t contest the title fiercely year-on-year, the Partenopei did manage a second-place finish in both 1967/68 and 1974/75, two third-place finishes in 1970/71 and 1973/74, and even earned their second Coppa Italia in 1976.
One reason that the Neapolitans remained such an enduring fixture of the division in this time was the uncovering of a core of excellent players lining up in the azzurre shirts, as the stability at the club enticed a better calibre of players to the Stadio San Paolo.
Dino Zoff joined from Mantova in 1967, hometown hero Antonio Juliano bossed the midfield, a young hotshot called Giuseppe Bruscolotti lead the frontline, Omar Sivori joined at the back end of his golden spell from Juventus and Brazilian great Jose ‘Mazola’ Altafini joined from Milan. Mazola would go on to be the joint highest scorer in Serie A history with Giuseppe Meazza, netting 71 goals during his seven years in the South of Italy.
However, as players came and went, their league form began to suffer, and although Napoli managed another third-place finish in the 1980/81 season, it would seem that the dawn of the 1980s was destined to be a downturn as the club found itself fighting hard to avoid slipping back into the whiles of Serie B, only just surviving by the skin of their teeth in 1982/83. It would seem something drastic was needed to ensure that the Azzurri remained a Serie A force.
The transfer the world was waiting for took place on June 30, 1984. After a series of spates with the Barcelona President, world-beating Argentine Diego Maradona completed a world-record move from the Camp Nou to southern Italy. Over the next seven years, the £6.9 million signing would play a pivotal role in the transformation of the Partenopei from also-rans to Scudetto champions.
Alongside Ciro Ferrara, Brazilian ace Careca and Fernando De Napoli, the diminutive Argentine would help the Neapolitans finish third in 1985/86 having made the San Paolo an impenetrable fortress for visiting sides. The following year the team would land both the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia. However, despite starting the following season as favourites, Napoli would lose out to Milan on the final day in what was the beginning of the Rossoneri’s golden spell.
Maradona continued to bag his fair share of goals during his tenure at Napoli and the Azzurri remained title contenders during his time but the wizard number ten’s stay would culminate in the 1989/90 when the newfound icon of southern Italy blasted the Neapolitans to Uefa Cup success, overcoming Juventus, Bayern Munich and VfB Stuttgart on the way to the title.
The same season, the Azzurri landed the Italian championship two points ahead of Milan, after a bizarre set of circumstances which saw Napoli awarded two points against Atlanta after a fan hurled a coin at Brazilian midfielder Almeao’s head. After his whirlwind romance with the southern Italians, Maradona would be gone in the wake of Italia 90 after being handed a fifteen-month ban for failing a doping test.
Napoli would stay a main part of Serie A until 1997/98, even managing a fourth place finish in 1991/92 and Uefa Cup qualification in 1995, but the club had seen its heyday for the time being and struggled to pose a credible threat to the top of the division before slipping into Serie B.
Attendances remained high and support was strong, but the financial burdens saw the club drop even further to Serie C before Aurelio Laurentiis decided to get the club back onto its rightful footing. In 2007/08, Napoli would follow Genoa up to the top tier again and make the first steps to returning to the 1980s prominence under the guidance of Edy Reja.
In their first season back among the country’s leading lights, the Partenopei would manage some big scalps, such as 3-1 victory over Juventus at the San Paolo, and go on to land a credible eighth-place finish. The future certainly looks bright for the Neapolitans, with Laurentiis currently warding off countless advances to some of the young gems currently lined up in the famous sky blue of the Campania outfit.