The Derby del Sole between Napoli and AS Roma is always an intense and passionate encounter, but particularly when the sun is shining on both sides and they are battling it out with the traditional powers of Italian football in the peninsula’s north for silverware in Serie A.
Although the Giallorossi won the 2022 UEFA Conference League, the sparsity of silverware claimed by the duo over the last few decades has meant that they collectively represent the fight against northern supremacy. The Partenopei have not won a Serie A title since the days of Diego Maradona (1989/90) and the Lupi last lifted the scudetto in 2000/01.
However, while they share that common goal and current Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti, who is the last person to take Roma within touching distance of a league title, provides another link between the clubs, a rivalry that was once genial, has grown increasingly bad-tempered. Witnessed by the violent clashes between supporters at motorway services when Serie A returned from the World Cup enforced break.
Why is it called the Derby del Sole?
Despite first meeting in the 1928 CONI Cup, which Roma won 4-1, it was in the 1970s and 1980s, when both sides were becoming major forces in Italian football, that the Derby del Sole (Derby of the Sun) nickname was born. With two clubs and their massive following seen as the symbol and strength of the centre-south part of the country, the milder climate and more sunshine than their rivals in Milan and Turin delivered a subtle, if obvious, moniker.
Their association as more southern powerhouses was seemingly embraced by supporters and fixtures at the Stadio Olimpico in the capital and the (now-named) Stadio Diego Armando Maradona were played out in party-like atmospheres. This celebrating of their respective sides, rather than the aggressive chants aimed at belittling their opponents more common now, may also have contributed to the warmth in the naming of the clash.
The end of the friendship
When reigning champions Napoli travelled to Rome on 25 October 1987, Roma supporters were less hospitable than usual. Having seen their Derby del Sole opponents clinch a trophy that they themselves had paraded around the Olimpico four years earlier, the home fans’ frustration had been simmering ahead of kick-off. It didn’t help matters that Napoli had the best player in the world – and arguably of all-time – in their ranks.
With the passion of the Olimpico crowd transferring into vitriolic abuse and rolling down onto the pitch from the terraces, the players fought the physical battle denied to the fans by segregation on the turf and eventually violence broke out.
Roma took the lead just after half-time through Roberto Pruzzo and when Careca and Alessandro Renica were sent off within nine minutes of each other, a fight ensued.
In the wake of the clashes, Partenopei midfielder Salvatore Bagni incensed the Roma fans by gesturing at those in the Curva Sud and the nine men equalised when Maradona assisted Giovanni Francini, and held on for a 1-1 draw. Although Bagni apologised for his role in escalating the angry scenes that followed, but it resulted in the fixture being classified as high-risk and supporters living in the Campania region banned from travelling.