Written by Luke Taylor, from the Culture Division.
Sometimes, certain things need specific attention and a passionate outlook. Football is one. Coffee is another. And when those two collide, it is truly a synergy of two art forms. Tommaso Starace is a man who lives and breathes coffee made the proper Italian way, football and more specifically, Napoli (both the city and the team). A cult hero within Naples and football, Starace is a jolly face among the Neapolitans and with good reason. Each and every day, for the last 45 years at the club, he has been donning Napoli colours, a smile and a big silver Mokka pot as he works his way around the training ground and pre-game dressing room handing out espressos.
For nearly 45 years, Starace has been tasked with preparing the kits before the players arrive for training and matches. A pretty standard job in football, indeed. But in the true Neapolitan style, Starace seems to put a romantic spin on it. With his silver pot in hand after laying the kits out, he builds fantastic bonds with footballers over a shared love of coffee. Oh, how beautiful!
Starace started at Napoli working in the city HQs kitchens in 1977 before moving to the kit room in 1986, a pretty special year for Napoli. Seen as not only a kit man but also a friend, father figure and barista without officially having any of those titles.
One of the key relationships Starace developed was with the late Diego Armando Maradona due to the timing of Maradona’s rise to his pinnacle and Starace’s move to the kit room. In 1986, Maradona helped Napoli win the Coppa Italia and the Scudetto in that season, cementing him as the greatest player in Napoli’s history and the best player in the world at the time. Tommaso Starace was there alongside Diego and the team during Napoli’s golden years. Bringing smiles, joy and a whole load of espressos along the way as well. 1986 was such a crucial year for Maradona, with his performance for Napoli not even being his top feat. In the World Cup, Maradona carried Argentina to the trophy in Mexico. 4 years later, Argentina went into Italia 90 as hosts and due to this significant connection Maradona and Starace had, the Neapolitan barista/kitman was drafted in to the Argentina set up for the tournament.
Starace has developed relationships with tonnes of players who have come and gone through Napoli’s doors. Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik of note, two of who stayed in touch with Starace well after they departed from the Italian club. One to note was also Dries Mertens, who was often posting videos with Starace and his Mokka pot before Napoli games alongside emulating Starace’s infamous dance moves and stick-out tongue combination.
As beautiful as the relationships he has built are, Starace stands for more than just that. He embodies perfectly a proper football person and how a football club should function. Football is losing its soul (a phrase which is slowly becoming a cliche) but characters like Starace in the dressing room keeps it alive just that little longer. Combine that with a passion for coffee and a high-spirited personality and you have yourself a Neapolitan king. Maybe we should get him some of our Forza Italian Roast to put in his pot for this season…