Inter vs AC Milan, Lazio vs Roma, Juventus vs Torino - all strong candidates for the title of Italy’s hottest derby. Yet the ‘derby de la lanterna’ between Genoa and Sampdoria can also light up the country, and boasts a special flavour of its own according to national coach Marcello Lippi.
"I’ve had the opportunity to experience the biggest derbies but none have the feel of the Genoa one. It’s less noxious than the others and it’s perhaps that which makes it the nicest derby,” said Lippi, who experienced Milan and Turin showdowns as well as the so-called ‘derby d’Italia’ between Juventus and Inter during spells coaching both clubs.
It may not have the profile of the Milan, Rome or Turin showdown but fans in Genoa live out their rivalry with no less a degree of passion. With both clubs dropping out of the top flight at different times, it is only the pair’s recent renaissance that has brought it back into the Serie A spotlight. But this is a derby that dominates conversations long before and after the 90 minutes on the field of play; like all the best rivalries, it runs all year round.
For centuries Genoa’s ‘lanterna’ (lighthouse) has guided ships into the harbour of this city on the northwest coast of Italy, making it an obviuos choice to describe the meeting of the country’s oldest club, Genoa Cricket and Football Club, and one of its youngest, UC Sampdoria.
Founded in 1893, Genoa won nine league titles and one Coppa Italia before Sampdoria had even seen the light of day. Samp were born out of the 1946 merger of two other clubs, Sampierdarenese and Andrea Doria, yet soon became the biggest rivals of the Grifoni. They even enjoyed a brief moment at the Italian football summit at the turn of the 90s, when the Blucerchiati boasted the fearsome Gianluca Vialli-Roberto Mancini strike pairing.
Genoa fans are found predominantly in the centre of the city, with their Sampdoria counterparts in the outlying areas. Their rivalry was exacerbated by the emergence of the first ever ‘ultra’ supporters’ group – the Ultras Tito, named after Ernesto ‘Tito’ Cucchiaroni, the Argentinian forward who shone for Samp in the late 50s and early 60s. Genoa’s tifosi soon followed suit, ensuring that for close to 50 years now, this rivalry has found colourful expression in the stands as well as on the pitch.
Facts and figures
Sampdoria wasted no time in delivering a statement of their intent to displace Genoa as the city’s top dogs, inflicting a 3-0 defeat on the Rossoblù in their first derby encounter on 3 November 1946. The two teams have crossed swords 84 times since, with Samp having the better of things, recording 30 wins to Genoa’s 20 with 34 matches drawn.
The record books show impressive individual feats on both sides, with Genoa’s Guglielmo Trevisan and Samp’s Adriano Bassetto both registering five derby goals apiece. Giuseppe Baldini, meanwhile, hit one goal for Andrea Doria, three for the newly formed Sampdoria, and then another for Genoa after defecting to the enemy camp in the 1950/51 season.
The Stadio Luigi Ferraris, known also as the Marassi for the district where it resides, is a riot of noise and colour on derby day. Genoa can boast no recent success to match the Serie A and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup double that Sampdoria achieved in 1991 before reaching the following year’s European Champion Clubs’ Cup final, yet the older club’s fans still waste no opportunity to remind their rivals of their place in the natural order.
A word in the ear
"For us Rossoblù, the derby is a way of keeping down the upstarts – of telling them that we were there first and underlining to them that they only came later,” said Andrea D’Angelo, vice-president of Genoa in the 80s. " We feel like we’re the team of the city while they are just a district club.”
The current president, Enrico Preziosi, added his own fuel to the fire before the derby last autumn when he said: "We already know that however the derby ends, we’ll stay ahead of Samp and will be for a long time.”
As a player, Sampdoria coach Luigi Del Neri, once thrilled the blue half of the city with a derby goal scored direct from a corner. He knows as well as anyone what this match means to the supporters. "It’s not just any match, but the derby. It’s not just two teams on the pitch but a whole city. It is like a Champions League final. Being higher up in the table counts for nothing. We can’t play not to lose the game, we have only one result to aim for – a victory. "
Tensions run high although the Samp supporters found an original way of defusing them at a derby back in 1981, when they released some rabbits on to the pitch kitted out in rossoblù, provoking a lengthy delay while the playing surface was cleared of furry intruders.
Though Genoa posted an exceptional fifth-placed finish in 2008/09, they have found life more difficult since the departure last summer of Diego Milito and Thiago Motta to Inter Milan. Sampdoria, for their part, have looked to the sparkling attacking duo of Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini to return to the upper reaches of Serie A. Presently fifth, the Blucerchiati have their sights on fourth place and a Champions League qualifying berth.
As they prepare to ‘visit’ their rivals, ninth-placed Genoa have little at stake in terms of their league placing. But try telling that to their supporters on Sunday night.