The biggest party in Naples’ history hinged upon the result of a football match over 500 miles away towards the Croatian border.
Napoli had already spurned their chances of winning the Serie A title at home by failing to beat designated patsies Salernitana on Sunday.
And the long-planned celebrations looked set to be postponed once more as Sandi Lovric gave Udinese a shock lead.
But Napoli weren’t about to be denied for a second match running. Victor Osimhen, whose performances this season have been getting Premier League sporting directors all hot and bothered, fired home an equaliser after half-time.
“It is an amazing feeling, we have waited so many years for this moment,” Osimhen later told DAZN.
“To be able to deliver the Scudetto to the Neapolitans is something that we will never forget in a hurry and will continue to live in our hearts for the rest of our lives.”
The final whistle in Udine both confirmed Napoli’s third Serie A title and kickstarted the madre e padre of festivities.
The 10,000-strong travelling support steamed onto the pitch, as decades of frustration at both their football club’s dedication to bottling and the sidelining of their city in wider Italian culture joyfully overflowed. Some, understandably, began cutting up squares of turf as treasured souvenirs.
Back in Naples, thousands had packed into the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona to watch the live stream from Udine and greeted the final whistle with the mass release of water from tear ducts.
And fireworks, which must have been stored since the Second World War, were fired into the air with glee during simultaneously the longest and shortest night for scores of Neoplitians.
Even the Neopolitan heretics that aren’t football zealots – RIP their eight-hour slumber – must have felt pride at sticking one over the rich & arrogant clubs of the north; this was the first time the Serie A title had left Milan or Turin since 2001.
There’s nowhere you’d rather be than Naples tonightpic.twitter.com/swwIrFWzr7
— COPA90 (@Copa90) May 4, 2023
“Seeing Neapolitans happy is enough to give you a sense of that joy they are feeling,” Napoli boss Luciano Spalletti told DAZN.
“These people will look to this moment when life gets hard, they have every right to celebrate like this.
“You feel a bit more relaxed knowing that you’ve given them this moment of happiness.”
Napoli’s previous two titles came in the days when Diego Maradona bestrode the city like a demi-god, with the title lifted in both 1987 and 1990.
Following those glory days the club fell into what felt like terminal financial decline, relegation and bankruptcy; the club were playing in Serie C just months before Italy won the World Cup in 2006.
They have won the Coppa Italia three times in the past 11 seasons but, like Liverpool’s yearning for the Premier League title until 2020, it is the Scudetto the Napoli fans craved. Dreamt about. Allowed themselves to believe that this was the year, until the inevitable heartache.
🇮🇹🎇 Napoli will not sleep tonight… pic.twitter.com/sD8KnEjkTr
— EuroFoot (@eurofootcom) May 4, 2023
Which is why last night was such a cathartic moment for both Napoli and the city of Naples. There’s a danger, after striving for something for so long, that reaching the summit can feel strangely underwhelming. Like you’ve built yourself up for a moment where reality can never match your expectations.
As the streets of Naples convulsed with joy, soundtracked by alcohol-fuelled chants of “We have one dream in our heart. For Naples to become champions again,” you knew that the participants would bottle the euphoric feeling and sip on the contents for the rest of their mortal days.
Next season, and the prospect of losing one or more of Kim Min-jae, Stanislav Lobotka, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Osimhen, can wait for another day.
For now, Naples will continue to indulge in the kind of celebrations we all yearn for our football team to engineer. We’re both dumbstruck with awe and green with envy.
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