(choo – chaa – ree – ELL – lo)
“Ciucciariello” is the endearment of the word “ciuccio”, meaning “donkey”; the ciucciariello is the symbol of the local football team, SSC Napoli. The ciucciariello is beloved not only for this reason, but also because it is seen as a stubborn but smart creature who does not shy away from work, but knows when it’s time to stop and relax.
Football (calcio = kick, in Italian, more often simply dubbed ‘o pallon’ = the ball in Neapolitan) and Napoli share an almost visceral link: Napoli IS football, Napoli breathes football and dreams football. This sport is more than a mere physical activity for children, youngsters and even grown-ups: it’s like a cult, people are fanatical to the colours of the team, as tin them they can find a stronger local identity than in the abstract concept of a State, Italy, that often loathes and despises the southern part of the country and its inhabitants. Plus, the game it’s damn fun, and the choreographies in the local court, Stadio San Paolo, are visually stunning!
For decades, since the end of the XIX century, when the first italian teams were formed, ‘o pallon’ was seen as an additional field of rivarly between the rich and haughty Northern Italy against the pauper, backward Southern Italy: teams from the North, especially from Milano (Milan and Inter) and Torino (Juventus) monopolized championships, backed by wealthy owners who could afford to buy and pay the best players and referees. When Maradona (D10S) led Napoli to win two scudetti against all odds, in two championships in which Berlusconi and his never-ending arrogance and brutality owned Milan and italian football, the city saw the fulfilling of a long-desired vendetta against a man and a part of the country who despised and ghettoized neapolitans and other southerners. The ciucciariello, a hard-working humble but at the same time obstinate animal, is the symbol of the team and, in many ways, also of the city.
But why is the lowly donkey the symbol of a football team? To understand the motivation, let me tell you a traditional tale of neapolitan folklore, the tale of a man named Domenico Ascione and called “Fichella” by his friends: the poor slob eked out a living picking figs (“fichi”, from which the nickname “Fichella” derived) at night and selling them during the day. He was helped by a barely living donkey, covered in sores for the hard toil he was subject to. During the day, the poor donkey was so beaten and drained that he could tread no more than for a hundred steps before falling to the ground, exhausted, no matter how hard Fichella pushed him.
Back to Napoli and its symbol. In principle, the actual mascotte of the team was a prancing horse, a proud symbol…for a humble team. During the first year of its existence, in a young league dominated by northern teams, Napoli couldn’t hold its own against better squads: after a sound loss against one of those teams, when commenting the defeat a journalist said that “the prancing horse of Napoli looked more like the ‘ciuccio of Fichella’, alive, yes, but battered and in bad shape”. From that moment, the worn but still living humble donkey became the symbol of the team, and in many ways Napoli is like that stubborn animal: battered, exhausted, but never broken.