Champions League Away Days: Ultras & Police Escorts At Napoli vs. Arsenal

Half a thousand Gooners in the the dank pit that was Napoli's San Paolo stadium, swathes of screaming Ultras around us - "Not quite the Emirates, this."
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Half a thousand Gooners in the the dank pit that was Napoli's San Paolo stadium, swathes of screaming Ultras around us - "Not quite the Emirates, this."

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Champions League Away Days: Ultras & Police Escorts At Napoli vs. Arsenal

I feel a surge of bodies behind me. Suddenly, I'm forced through a human barrier of surly Italian policemen. It's about to kick off, and I'm not talking about the game - that started 10 minutes ago. Around 500 of us have only just arrived at Napoli's San Paolo Stadium, and venomous abuse is being directed at the Italian authorities.

Having endured the longest, most frustrating police escort of our lives, this is understandable. In an effort to avoid contact with Napoli's Ultras, we'd been taken on a road trip around the whole city, and a journey that was supposed to take half an hour took closer to two hours.

They try pushing us back but can do nothing to prevent the force of half a thousand angry Gooners piling towards the turnstiles. Before I know it, I'm sprinting up Napoli's decrepit, graffiti ridden staircases. In a moment of drunk, adrenaline fuelled rage, I spit in the direction of the riot police to my right, and continue running.

I've done smarter things.

Out of breath, we finally reach the away end. My eyes immediately turn to the Napoli Ultras to our right, singing at full decibel and waving their flags with typical Neapolitan passion. An Arsenal fan beside me lights a fag. For a moment I forget this is allowed in Italian stadia. In front of me are lines of Italian stewards, all wearing their own Adidas footwear accompanied by a builders' hat. Must be used to objects being thrown at them, my mate observed. Not quite the Emirates, this.

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After riding our luck on several occasions, Napoli eventually take the lead. The San Paolo erupts; the passion from the stands is something I've never witnessed before. It's intimidating but simultaneously spine-tingling. As the players celebrate, the bloke on the touchline shouts on his microphone: 'GONZALO!', responded to by deafening cries of 'HIGUAIN!'. Over, and over again. Flares and other forms of pyro begin to appear from the stand of Ultras at the opposite end of the stadium. Those to our right shortly follow suit. It was this kind of atmosphere which compelled me to make this trip. I smile, wryly.

Napoli score a consolation goal in the dying embers and soon after, the full time whistle blows. We'd been treated like animals, missed the first fifteen minutes and watched our team lose poorly, but still, I felt a sense of satisfaction, on a personal level at least. I'd come to Naples, not been stabbed in the arse and experienced an atmosphere that I doubt will be beaten. And that's what football is all about, no?

As we began our police escort back to the port, it soon became apparent that it was going to be just as infuriatingly and unnecessarily long as the previous journey. Small groups of unflinching Napoli fans greeted us with middle-fingers at seemingly every street corner, and we were eventually dropped off at a place completely different to where we were told we would be. By this point, such incompetence was of no surprise, and we hopped in a taxi back to our hotel.

The following afternoon was spent in Rome, and its relative calmness and cleanliness was a pleasant change of scenery. A relaxing afternoon was just what was needed: only two days later I'd be in Manchester for our next biggest game of the season.

Follow Reuben on Twitter, @rlewisafc