‘Naples is crying tonight’: Italy pays tribute to Maradona

Diego Maradona, who has died aged 60, holds a special place in Italian football fans' hearts after leading Napoli to its two greatest victories.

'Naples is crying tonight': Italy pays tribute to Maradona
People in Naples gather to mourn Diego Maradona, their best-loved player. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

The Argentine footballer, who spent golden seven years playing in Naples, is considered the city's 'patron saint of football' after helping it win the league for the first time in 1987 and again in 1990 – an achievement it never matched before or since.

Napoli fans fly a flag showing Maradona's face. Photo: Roberto Salmone/AFP

Hundreds of fans flooded into the streets of the city's Spanish Quarters after the news broke that Maradona had died of a heart attack, many of them lighting candles beneath a huge mural of the Argentine.

“Ciao, God of Football,” read paper signs affixed to the walls of the working-class neighbourhood, while fans left flowers and messages. “In Naples, he's a king,” one woman told RaiNews24.

Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

All the lights and spotlights were turned on at the Stadio San Paolo, which the city's mayor has suggested renaming in Maradona's honour.

“Ciao Diego,” Napoli football club tweeted.

Maradona spent seven years at Napoli between 1984 and 1991, scoring 115 goals.

“Diego made our people dream, he redeemed Naples with his genius,” tweeted Naples Mayor Luigi De Magistris.

“Diego, Neapolitan and Argentine, you gave us joy and happiness! Naples loves you!”

Maradona's career in Naples ended in a 15-month ban for cocaine use, and was tainted by a subsequent conviction for not paying millions of euros of taxes while at the club as well as reports of links to members of the local mafia.

But he remained lodged in Neapolitans' hearts and continued to loom large – literally – long after he left in the form of murals dedicated to him on buildings all over the city.

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

While he avoided Italy for a few years in the wake of his tax conviction, his image appeared as a semi-religious icon on street corners and in shop windows, with devoted fans praying for his recovery throughout battles with ill health.

Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

The city inaugurated an official museum to Maradona in 2005, named M10 after the number on the back of his sky-blue Napoli shirt.

Visitors to Naples' Maradona museum in 2005. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

But there were many other tributes: Maradona cropped up everywhere from tattoos to the city's famous Christmas nativity scenes.

'Thanks Diego': A Naples fan shows his Maradona tattoo. Photo: Roberto Salmone/AFP

Photo: Roberto Salmone/AFP

In a basement in the working-class neighbourhood of Secondigliano, an unofficial museum gathers the relics of Maradona's career, tended by the son of the caretaker of the San Paolo stadium who became a friend of the legend's family.

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Maradona returned to Naples several times over the years, including for a ceremony in 2017 that made him an honorary citizen of the city.

Fans celebrate Maradona's visit in 2017. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

On Wednesday Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora, a native of Naples, paid tribute to Maradona.

“The death of Maradona is terrible news. He was more than a champion, he was a football genius, an absolute champion,” Spadafora said.

“In an unrepeatable season he represented the dreams and hopes of the people of my city. Naples is crying tonight.”

Diego Maradona on his arrival in Italy in 1984. Photo: AFP

Napoli's current captain, Lorenzo Insigne, said Maradona was a “true Neapolitan”.

“You gave everything for your people, you defended this land, you loved it. You gave us joy, smiles, trophies, love,” wrote the 29-year-old.

“I grew up hearing the stories about your exploits, seeing and reviewing your endless games. You were the greatest player in history, you were our Diego.”

All of Italy's league matches this weekend will start with a minute's silence to mark Maradona's death.

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PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

The Tokyo Olympics were Italy's best Games yet, with Italian athletes taking home more medals than ever before. Here are the highlights.

PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs and Gianmarco Tamberi celebrate after winning golds in the 100m sprint and high jump. Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

With ten golds, ten silvers and 20 bronzes, the Azzurri representing Italy in Tokyo were tenth on the medal table overall and top in Italian sporting history.

Previously the most medals Italy had ever won at a single Olympics was 36, which the country hadn’t equalled since the Rome Games in 1960.

READ ALSO: ‘Do Italy just win everything now?’: Celebrations after Italian athletes take Olympic gold

As well as a ceremony at the presidential palace in September, Italy’s Olympic champions will be welcomed back with prize money from the Italian National Olympic Committee: gold medalists are awarded €180,000 each, while silver medallists get €90,000 and bronze medallists get €60,000.

And then there’s the glory: after an exceptionally successful summer of Italian sport and music, Italy’s Olympic team dubbed their athletes “stupor mundi” – Latin for ‘the wonder of the world’. 

Italy’s gold medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Men’s high jump: Gianmarco Tamberi

Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi couldn’t have been happier to share the gold with his fellow competitor Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar, in what was hailed as one of the most touching moments of the Games. 

  • Men’s 100m: Lamont Marcell Jacobs

Relatively unknown long jumper-turned-sprinter Lamont Marcell Jacobs was in the form of his life when he outran the favourites and hurtled to first place in the biggest race in men’s athletics. He’s the first Italian ever to qualify for the Olympic final of the event, let alone win it.

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 4 x 100m relay 

Lorenzo Patta, Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Eseosa Desalu and Filippo Tortu pulled off an astonishing victory by the smallest of margins, with Tortu flinging himself over the finish line to snatch gold from the favourites, Great Britain, by just a hundredth of a second. It was another historic first for Italy: the country has never before won the event, and the last time an Italian team got onto the podium was at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (silver). 

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 20km race walk: Massimo Stano
  • Women’s 20km race walk: Antonella Palmisano

Antonella Palmisano cemented Italy’s domination of the walking competition when she followed up her teammate Massimo Stano’s gold with her own victory a day later. She actually performed slightly faster at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but that time only earned her fourth last time round.

Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP
  • Track cycling, men’s team pursuit

Italy’s four-man team set a new track cycling world record by completing 16 laps (4km) in just 3:42.032. While Great Britain had long dominated the event and Denmark were reigning World Champions, no Italian team had won it since the Rome Olympics of 1960.

Photo by Greg Baker / AFP
  • Karate, men’s kumite -75kg: Luigi Busa
  • Rowing, lightweight women’s double sculls 
Valentina Rodini (L) and Federica Cesarini (R) celebrate their win in the lightweight women’s double sculls final. Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP
  • Sailing, mixed multihull – Nacra 17 foiling
  • Taekwondo, Men’s -58kg: Vito Dell’Aquila

Vito Dell’Aquila won Italy its first gold of the Games, at the age of just 20. It was his first Olympics but at this rate, it won’t be his last.

Photo by Javier SORIANO / AFP

Italy’s silver medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Artistic gymnastics, women’s floor exercise: Vanessa Ferrari

Arguably Italy’s greatest competing gymnast, 30-year-old Vanessa Ferrari proved the value of experience when she became the first Italian to win an individual Olympic medal for women’s artistic gymnastics.

Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP
  • Men’s individual archery: Mauro Nespoli
  • Men’s kayak single 200m: Manfredi Rizza
  • Fencing, men’s foil individual: Daniele Garrozo
  • Fencing, men’s sabre individual: Luigi Samele
  • Fencing, men’s sabre team

Fencing has long been one of Italy’s strongest sports, and these Games were no exception. Altogether Italian fencers took three silvers and two bronzes in both team and individual events. 

Italy’s Luca Curatoli (L) competes against South Korea’s Gu Bongil in the men’s sabre team gold medal bout. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
  • Women’s skeet shooting: Diana Bacosi
  • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay
  • Swimming, men’s 800m freestyle: Gregorio Paltrinieri 
  • Weightlifting, women’s 64kg: Giorgia Bordignon
    Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

    Italy’s bronze medals at the 2020 Olympics

    • Women’s individual archery: Lucilla Boari
    • Women’s featherweight boxing: Irma Testa

    Irma “Butterfly” Testa made history as the first Italian woman to win an Olympic medal for boxing, a victory she dedicated to all of Italy’s female boxers.

    Photo by Luis ROBAYO / POOL / AFP
    • Women’s cycling road race: Elisa Longo Borghini 
    • Track cycling, men’s omnium: Elia Viviani 
    • Men’s 10km marathon swimming: Gregorio Paltrinieri 

    Gregorio Paltrinieri is one of the best long-distance swimmers there is, holding the men’s world record for the 1500m freestyle. He comes home from Tokyo with two medals: silver in the 800m freestyle, and bronze in the gruelling 10km swim.

    Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP
    • Swimming, men’s 100m breaststroke: Nicolo Martinenghi
    • Swimming, men’s 100m butterfly: Federico Burdisso
    • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m medley relay
    • Swimming, women’s 800m freestyle: Simona Quadarella 
    • Judo, women’s -52kg: Odette Giuffrida
    Photo by Franck FIFE / AFP
    • Judo, women’s -63kg: Maria Centracchio
    • Fencing, women’s épée team
    • Fencing, women’s foil team 
    • Karate, women’s kata: Viviana Bottaro

    Accomplished karateka Viviana Bottaro won Italy its first Olympic medal in karate, which made its debut at the Tokyo Games. 

    Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
    • Rowing, lightweight men’s double sculls
    • Rowing, men’s four
    • Rhythmic gymnastics, group all-around

    Nicknamed le Farfalle (‘the Butterflies’), Italy’s five-woman rhythmic gymnastic team provided one of Italy’s last medal-winning performances on the final day of the Games, and one of the most spectacular.

    Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
    • Weightlifting, men’s 67kg: Mirko Zanni 
    • Weightlifting, men’s 81kg: Antonino Pizzolato
    • Wrestling, men’s freestyle 97kg: Abraham de Jesus Conyedo Ruano