I'd heard that procuring tickets for Serie A fixtures had become a little more arduous since the Italian government attempted to clamp down on increasing levels of violence at games towards the end of last season. I ordered my ticket from www.ticketone.it and was instructed to pick it up at the stadium prior to the match. The Carlo Castellani stadium is a fifteen minute walk from Empoli station. It wasn't signposted but I'd come prepared, armed with a multimap printout. In picking up my ticket, I used my newly learnt (that morning) pigeon Italian to get me to the collection point. This turned out to be four little huts, three unmarked and one with a sign saying 'Press and VIPs only'. I queued up for twenty minutes at one of the unmarked ones and and was then told to move to another as mine was an 'internet only' collection. A little sign wouldn't have gone a miss. Fans of queuing would then be delighted to note that fifteen minutes in another line later and bingo; I had my ticket. I had to present my passport before they would hand it over and then had to show it again twice more before gaining entry. A couple of tips then, namely, get there early and take your passport if you want to get in.
Empoli don't have a club shop. There were several stalls outside the stadium but they had all arrived from Naples and only sold Napoli t-shirts (predominantly Maradona ones), scarves and flags. As with a lot of games abroad, match programmes were 'gratis' and laid out on the seats beforehand.
So what of the Stadio Carlo Castellani then!? Well forget your traditional four stands, this one had eleven! Ten of these were uncovered and of those nine were temporary looking structures similar to those behind one goal of the much loved Withdean Stadium, Brighton. I was in the main two-tiered covered stand on one side which had two more stands either side of that and the largest stand opposite was an open two-tiered affair which ran the length of the pitch and contained most of the home support. Of the eleven, Napoli fans were packed into six and half of them. An incredible show of support for a fixture over four hours away from Naples. They must have had five-six thousand at least. I often hear fans use the lack of a roof as an excuse for a poor atmosphere. Au contraire Blackadder. The Napoli ultras ensured a wall of noise for ninety minutes. One regular song was accompanied by fans running down the stand to the front, running back to the top, then over to the left and you've guessed it over to the right. Great to watch, dangerous to to be near was my verdict.
The game itself was fairly uninspiring, lit up only by the officials luminous clothing. Empoli were fairly solid but lacked any striking prowess. Any hope Napoli had of taking three points were diminished when they withdrew livewire Argentinean striker Ivan Lavezzi. A Carlos Tevez rather than Maradona type player both in appearance and ability who was a the centre of everything they had to offer. His partner up front, the Uruguayan Zalayeta has scored seventeen goals in over one hundred and ten appearances. It was not hard to see why, he was turgid.
I don't think it would have taken much for the Napoli fans to ignite. As it was, each unfavourable decision was greeted with a hail of bottles and next to me a couple of seats were ripped out when Blasi was shown a yellow card.
Refreshment wise in the ground, you could buy water and rather splendidly about six different varieties of cheesy biscuits. Around the pitch there were five randomly parked cars, a huge yellow semi circular inflatable advertising not a lot and everybody's favourite; the extendable players tunnel.
After the game I saw a rather menacing looking firm who had taken their belts off and were slapping them into their hands. Police helicopters hovered overhead and indeed the next morning in the papers I read of clashes outside and at the station in which one Empoli fan had his middle finger cut off. Having said that, I didn't feel personally threatened. The stand I was in was half Empoli, half Napoli. When one chap asked me who I supported, instead of a punch, my reply of 'Brighton and Hove Albion' was met with the usual combination of mirth and hilarity.
So a highly original stadium and a great day out, save for large parts of the match. After arriving back to Florence by train I rewarded myself by uncorking a bottle of Chianti and gorging myself on some magnificent Pecorino cheese.
Stadium nerds like myself might want to know that during my trip I also visited Fiorentinas Stadio Artemio Franchi which was very tricky to enter as they were training at the time but I did get in and also the Stadio Romeo Anconetani in Pisa which was a breeze to enter and brilliantly located a two minute walk from the leaning tower.