Before the journey
That wonderful saying "see Naples and die" had another twist ahead of the Jack Army's visit as the Welsh media seemed to believe we were stepping into a first century gladiator battle instead of a Europa League game!
My stock response to the danger was "we will all be fine", but I eventually gave up telling people that I wasn’t going to die in some Italian battleground. Yes you have to be cautious, but having previously survived the San Siro and Stadio Olympico, I travelled feeling comfortable in the fact that it wasn’t going to be my final journey.
|Alec (centre), Eli and their Italian friend Alessandro|
If you wanted a degree of comfort in the company of fellow Jacks along with transport provided to the stadium, there were three clear choices: Naples, Rome or Sorrento. We opted for Sorrento as it was close, but not too close to Naples. Also we knew that Jim White SCFC tours had the round-trip sorted with a pre-arranged police escort, flashing lights, an English boozer, a rowdy mob and a sing song.
Before the match
As me and my boy Eli strolled down the Corso Italia in Sorrento looking for the proposed meeting place for Swans fans, we could hear the English Inn a few hundred metres before arriving. Hymns and arias followed by 'the scum came up and they’re going straight back down' blasted out across the peaceful town.
On arrival, there were around 30 or so Swans fans inside, most looked like they had been there since breakfast. The barman, Fabio, was draped in a Swans scarf with a Swans badge on his collar and he too joined in the songs albeit without understanding what the hell 'the scum' were or who Ki Sung Yeung or Vincent Tan may be.
Six Perronis and two hours later, we headed back to our apartment unbeknown that a group of Sorrento Ultras strolled in shortly after. Now, this bit is baffling: they approached the Swans fans who remained in the pub, asking if they would like to have a fight. Have times changed or is this a cultural thing? Back home, bottles would have been thrown across the bar and there would have been no polite invite to have a fight - it would just kick off.
Catching up with several other groups staying in Naples, they encountered the exact same experience. So it seems that anybody visiting Napoli in future just needs Italian lessons not body armour.
|Alec and co on the SCFC bus to the San Paolo|
The San Paolo
The Sorrento mob were first in a good half an hour before kick off, greeted by hundreds of riot police and a dozen Liberty stewards. None of either group spoke the other language so the entire translation was delivered by Alessandro, a friend of mine from Milan who had come down for the game.
The San Paolo is the worst of the big old stadiums in Europe - beyond basic to the point of being third world. Horrific facilities with the only catering being pre-packed sandwiches and Ritz biscuits to munch on from your plastic bucket seat. However, the atmosphere generated from the two curva ends was deafening. 15,000 thousand at either end and they didn’t stop all game. Despite our constant singing we did feel drowned out.
|Alec's view from the away end|
Oh how different it could have been. The Emnes chance in the first ten minutes. Bony one on one. Ash's late header. Bony's spin and volley. Our pace cut them open time and time again. We looked threatening on corners and they were very un-Italian in their defending of set pieces.
Pablo created havoc drifting around between the midfield and Bony did the same up top. He’s found his home in there and it will be interesting to see what happens when, not if, Michu returns. The turning point in the match came with bringing Neil Taylor on and playing people out of position. Nothing against Taylor but he isn’t a left midfielder and it was unfair to ask him to play it. It also wiped out our pace and width which is a huge part of our game and we never looked the same.
|The Napolitano nutters|
What riots? Despite the shockingly late arrival of the Rome and Naples port buses, the police did a fantastic job in keeping the supporters apart. The reputation of police aggression and a history of inciting riots wasn’t on view last week.
If anything their ignorance of multiple incidents of supporters throwing missiles was far too tolerant - almost as if it was accepted behaviour for us to be dodging Coke bottles. Even the customary 30 minute lock-in after the final whistle was relatively calm and they seemed to clear the surrounding escape routes very quickly with the help of half the Italian police force and a few copper choppers.
Going out of the Europa league at this stage is a safe exit I believe. We have bigger battles to win and any Jack would have taken elimination in Napoli at the knock-out stages back in July when this all kicked off.
We can be very proud of our achievements and have to keep the memories fresh, as it could be a while before we have the opportunity to experience a European tour once again. Onto West Brom and an anticipated three points that will go a huge way to securing our status as the only Premier League team in Wales next season.
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