On Soccer: Meet Decibel Bellini, the Booming Soundtrack to Napoli Goals

This is Bellini’s signature move, the trademark that has made him a sensation on YouTube and Instagram and has turned a local radio D.J. into a celebrity not just in his native Naples but much further beyond. Every club in Italy has a stadium announcer — a job the Italians call “lo speaker” but only Napoli has Daniele Bellini, the man everyone in this city knows as Decibel.

For the last seven years, Bellini, 36, has been employed as Napoli’s speaker. He inherited the role by chance. The previous incumbent was unable to attend a game in 2010 against the club’s bitter northern rival Juventus. Bellini was working as a D.J. at a local radio station, Radio Marte — known now as Radio Kiss Kiss — that covered Napoli’s games.

“I was about 10th in line for the job,” he said. “But a couple of people didn’t want to do it, a couple of others couldn’t do it that weekend, so eventually they said to me, ‘Right, you do it.’ ”

Napoli won that day, and Bellini was told to return the next week. “You have to remember that we’re very superstitious people in Naples,” he said. “It stayed like that for a year, maybe two: it was a game-by-game thing. I was always afraid that we would lose and I would be told that was it, but we won a lot of games that year.”

Bellini was given no instructions of note when he took the job. At most clubs, the speaker is not a position given a vast amount of thought: They read out safety and security messages — “telling people not to use lasers, not to light flares, that sort of thing” — announce the lineups, confirm substitutions, name goal scorers. “They are the basics,” Bellini said. “Everything else is just spectacle, just show.”

The show, though, is where Bellini excels.

San Paolo has long been one of the most intimidating stadiums in Europe. Though Napoli overhauled the dressing rooms before the visit of Real Madrid in the Champions League last year — to try to make the stadium seem a little less outdated — it remains a crumbling, menacing place, its hostility a badge of honor.

Maurizio Sarri, the Napoli manager, has described San Paolo as a “hell” for visiting teams. Zinedine Zidane found it “beautiful, but never easy.” Yaya Touré, the Manchester City and Ivory Coast midfielder, once said that his visit there was the “only time my legs have shaken before a game.”

Bellini — a fan himself — did not set out to change that. “I am not a protagonist,” he said. “The fans are the protagonists.” Instead, he said, he did what he could to harness their energy, to encourage it.

Most notably, when a player scored, Bellini would announce their first name five times, the fans responding with the surname. (He has a curious blind spot for the names of opposition players: there is a tendency for the occasional Alessandro to be named as Angelo, or a Pietro to become Paolo. Not very convincingly, he says it is not deliberate.)

“It all changed with Edinson Cavani,” he said.

Cavani, the Uruguayan striker now with Paris Saint-Germain, spent three prolific years in Naples, scoring 104 goals in 138 games. It was a record that Bellini thought warranted special status. “He wore No. 7,” he said. “So I thought one day I would say his name seven times. That was the start.”

7 volte Edinson Cavani come il suo numero di maglia CHAMPIONS LEAGUE Napoli Manchester city Video by Decibel Bellini

Soon, that became a tradition: every Cavani goal would be greeted by Bellini’s bellowing his name out seven times, the crowd following on, louder and louder. Bellini, an early adopter of both Facebook and Instagram, uploaded the videos to YouTube. They attracted hundreds of thousands of views.

His greatest hit, though, came in 2013. When another prolific striker, the Argentine Gonzalo Higuaín, scored in a Champions League game against Borussia Dortmund, Bellini announced his name nine times, another tribute to his jersey number. The footage went viral.

“I went on holiday to Jamaica a couple of years ago,” Bellini said. “I was in Trenchtown, where Bob Marley was born, with a guide. We looked in a bar, and there were some kids watching a Premier League game. One of them turned around, looked at me, and his face dropped.

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Decibel Bellini with fans outside Napoli’s San Paolo stadium before a Champions League match against Nice. Bellini brushes off the idea that he is anything but a “tiny” part of what makes the stadium special, but he is not entirely uncomfortable with being seen as a celebrity.

Credit
Angelo Antolino for The New York Times

“ ‘It’s you,’ he said. ‘Hey, man, Gonzalo! Gonzalo! Higuaín! Higuaín!’ I don’t know how they’d seen the film — it’s a bad area, they had old phones, no connection — and they did not know where Naples was, or even Italy. But they had seen it, in Trenchtown, in Jamaica.”

Bellini brushes off the idea that he is anything but a “tiny” part of what makes the San Paolo special. He is not entirely uncomfortable with being seen as a celebrity: he attends games wearing a hat with his name stenciled on it, and in a Napoli polo shirt; he grins when he is mobbed by fans. But he said that he still gets nervous, still fears making a mistake, still grows quiet as he nears the stadium, a “little transformation” that allows him to become his public persona.

“I do not have time to be emotional,” he said. “Quite often, I will go home and watch the games back on television, because I feel I haven’t really seen them. Just as a photographer sees things differently through the lens of a camera, I see them differently when I have a microphone. I have to work out who scored, if there was a deflection, if it was an own goal, and do it all in three seconds, and I have to get it right.” It is his job, and it is one he takes seriously.

Thanks to Higuaín, so do the players. Last summer, Bellini joined Napoli on its preseason retreat in Dimaro, high in the Dolomites. On the plane back, he sat next to Arkadiusz Milik, a Polish striker signed to replace Higuaín. Together with Milik’s agent, they spent an hour working out how best to announce his name when he scored.

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Decibel Bellini with Napoli’s Belgian striker Dries Mertens. Mertens loves Bellini’s full-throated announcements of his goals so much that he asked him to perform at his wedding two years ago.

Credit
Angelo Antolino for The New York Times

“They take an interest,” Bellini said of the players. “They know their names will be shouted to the stadium, so it is logical they want to make sure it is done the best way. I speak to all the new players to find out how they want me to do it.”

Not every name has the natural rhythm of Cavani or Higuaín, but Bellini finds a way to make it work. Though he acknowledges a name like Mertens does not scan “quite so well,” it has not stopped him trying. The thornier issue is bellowing his name as many times as his squad number dictates: Mertens wears 14. “I have got to 11,” Bellini said.

He knows there will always be some who “do not like what you do,” but he accepts that he is now, both internally and externally, part of the club’s identity: He functions as a social fixer for many of the players, seen by them as a friend, and is “a tradition” for fans on matchday.

Indeed, so ingrained is he in the Napoli experience that he performed as a D.J. at the wedding of Jorginho, a Brazilian midfielder, last summer. The year before that, he was in the congregation when Mertens married.

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