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Location: Genova, Italy

Hello, and welcome to my blog. I'm 30, and as you may have guessed from my blog's title, I'm working in Italy. Genova to be precise. I've been here since June 2008 and don't know when I'm going back to Scotland, if ever. I went to America a couple of years ago and wrote a lot of waffle. If you're bored, why not look at

Monday, 30 September 2013

Back where it all began (for me at least)

Dear friends, if you shift your focus about one inch to the south, you will see the second part of my book. I won't be putting every chapter up, I don't think, but I hope you enjoy this while it lasts.

Back where it all began (for me, at least)

U.C. Sampdoria v A.S. Roma, 25/9/13, Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa

Kilometres covered: My house to the stadium = about 1.5 km x 2 = 3km
Euros spent: 25 euros

One month to the day since my first and last trip round Italy, I really pushed the boat out for my second foray into watching calcio. The gruelling voyage of discovery to watch Sampdoria took me about 15 minutes, which was most satisfyingly easy. The game was a Wednesday night affair, and given that I had work on the Wednesday afternoon and then again on the Thursday morning, venturing too far from home would have been tricky.

So, after starting with Il Toro, game number two was Sampdoria versus Roma. In a way, this game brought me back full-circle to my Italian football origins, if that doesn't sound too poncey. When I was but a child, my first interest in Italian football blossomed through Gazzetta Football Italia with James Richardson, and Roma winning the Scudetto. Playing for them at that time were Totti, Batistuta, Montella and Delvecchio, but over the years three of them departed, Totti's arse got much bigger, and I lost interest in obsessing over football, instead embracing other pastimes that teenagers enjoy.

Then, when I came to Italy in 2008, my first game was watching Sampdoria play Juventus. Compared to Scottish fitba' and straining to watch a match at Easter Road through the rolling sleet, this was a revelation. It was sunny! I (probably) wore a T shirt! There were flags, banners and flares a kimbo! It was another world.

Since then, I found myself becoming a member of another parish, so this game felt a bit like crossing over to the dark side. When I went to buy my ticket from the Samp store I was unreasonably worried that people might see and judge me, so I went in camouflage. Initial reconnaissance done, I was ready to go behind enemy lines to see what information I could glean.

My inside man was Simone, who for much of this chapter I owe a debt of gratitude to. If he ever wants to come to the stadium with me, he's more than welcome, although I suspect this offer will not be taken up. Before all that though, you may be interested to know a little about the team.

Unione Calcio Sampdoria in their current incarnation were pretty late to the Italian football party. A hybrid of two teams from Genoa (Sampierdarenese and Andrea Doria) who had been around since the 1890's, it wasn't until 1946 that the Samp we see today were formed. Their strip is pretty unique, and combines aspects of both their disparate parts: the blue of Andrea Doria, and the red, white and black of Sampierdarenese. In a world of black-and-another-colour vertical stripes or one-hue shirts, it's refreshing to see something different once in a while. For football strip anoraks out there, the
Dundee FC strips of 1992-94 were similar in homage.

Sampdoria supporters go by the nicknames 'blucerchiati', a reference to their strip (blue and a hoop), or the more obvious 'doriani'. The symbol, 'Il Baciccia' is pretty distinctive and of the silhouette of a man smoking a pipe. His name comes from a shortened version of Giovanni Battista (John the Baptist), who is the patron saint of the city.

Despite being formed relatively recently in footballing-terms, they've not done too badly. They were the last team to win the championship from outside the Rome-Milan-Turin axis, in season 1990-91, and won the Coppa Italia three times in the 1980's. They've also made three finals-appearances in Europe: in 1988-89 they lost to Barcelona in the Cup Winner's Cup, then in 89-90 beat Anderlecht in the same competition, before their last shot at European glory was ended at Wembley by Ronald Koeman and Barcelona again, in 1991-92. Since then they've been up and down a couple of times, and reached a Coppa Italia final a few years back.

Players-wise, they've not done too badly for themselves down the years. Graeme Souness, David Platt, Des Walker, Lee Sharpe and Trevor Francis have all pulled on their shirts, not to mention the likes of Mancini, Vialli, Veron and Gullit. Not such a bad roll-call (although I'll concede that Lee Sharpe isn't in the same league as the others). When I asked Simone, seeing as he's a Samp man, who his favourite player was, he told me: “I've been a Samp fan since nursery, and I remember that I liked Trevor Francis' name. I never saw him play, but I've seen lots of great players. But of all of these, I'd say Vialli, for one particular reason: years after having retired, he said that his biggest regret was losing the Champions' League final with Samp.” He's a sentimental chap, is our Simone.

I met him pre-match for a brief libation. Re-hydrated, we made our way up river to our destination, the great little Ferraris stadium, although feel free to call it Marassi. This, you see, is the area it's in and most people call it by that instead of its official name. The same goes for the stadium in Milan, officially called Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, but in the San Siro neighbourhood. Learn something new everyday, eh?

One of the jibes that the other Genoese team (Genoa) throw at Samp fans is that they aren't really from the city, but more from the suburbs or region. I wanted to get Simone's thoughts on this, and to find out if he felt that Sampdoria still had a strong connection with the local area: “Despite what Genoa supporters say, Samp is absolutely Genoese. It all started from the coming together of two teams who wanted their own team, without depending on the English (Genoa was founded by a group of Englishmen). Furthermore, beating Juventus or a Milanese team is a great joy for a Sampdoriano, and this comes from the centuries-old rivalry between Genoa, Turin and Milan. I remember a Samp match against Pisa when I was young, when I saw for the first time the hatred between fans. It was a rivalry that came from medieval times and the Maritime Republics. Apart from the big teams (Milan, Inter or Juve), in Italy which team you support is tightly interconnected with where you're from.”

As we made our way past the stadium in the direction of our turnstiles, a song was carried on the wind and into our ears. The Roma supporters had, it seemed, already gone in the stadium and were serenading those early-bird Sampdoriani with: “Tornerete in [serie] B” (“you're going back down”). As ever, the visiting support at a stadium are guests as gracious as Richard Dawkins at an evangelist christening.

The stadium here bucks the trend of most Italian stadia. Pretty much every city's stadium is owned by the local council and gets rented out to the football teams, and so many have running tracks and the most basic of facilities. In Genoa the facilities are the same, greeting the user with an overwhelming aroma of what can only be described as too many men's pish. And that's just the bar. The stadium is also owned by the council, but when it was designed for Italia '90, the architect thankfully didn't include a running track and instead made it very British in appearance, i.e. pitch narrowly bordered with stands. We were in the Gradinata Nord (north stand), which isn't the hard-core supporters' stand, but is favoured by Simone, so that's where I went. I have been in the Gradinata Sud (the Samp 'home end') before for a game of theirs a few years ago in the Uefa Cup, so I can tick the box of having been with the mental supporters. On that occasion it was a bit too mental for me as there was a fight between two guys about 2 yards away from me. So, I was happy in the Nord. We sat ourselves down in seats designed for fat-arsed dwarves (the leg room on offer is less than that you can find on a Ryanair flight) and waited for the fun to commence.

Just before kick-off, the Gradinata Sud was making a hell of a racket. It was packed, flags and flares everywhere, and kept up a constant chorus for about 15 minutes, which was great sight and sound. This being Italy, there are multiple Ultras groups, but, the most prominent are, in no particular order, the Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni, the Fedelissimi and the Fieri del Fossato. These all inhabit the Gradinata Sud on match-days, and are easily identified by their multiple flags and banners. When I went to have a look at the website of the Fedelissimi, I was greeted with: “Garrone (the president of Samp) give us a surprise..... find yourself a replacement! We've run out of patience!” Needless to say, they're not entirely happy with the direction of the club. The name of the Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni may give the impression that they were named after someone. This is because they were, the titular Tito having played for Samp in the early 1960's.

Some of the biggest flags being waved read 1999. This seemed odd, as that was the second-last time they were relegated, which would be an odd thing to celebrate. In actual fact, it was the year in which the Fieri del Fossato was created when two other supporters clubs came together. I just thought they all really liked Prince.

The game itself lived up to expectations, in so much as Samp aren't very good, and Roma are. Before the game Simone had gloomily suggested that my book and the season will finish with Samp's relegation, and although they were pretty organised defensively, up front they were as toothless as a geriatric cat. Goals from Benatia (nice wee run then fell over, but still scored while lying on the ground) and Gervinho (remember him, Arsenal fans? He can score goals here) made it 0-2. Both of these goals came in the second half and woke up the Roma fans who had been quite quiet up to that point, but there's nothing like a goal to remind you to sing and set off some smoke bombs.

Around this time Simone was starting to get a bit agitated, and at one point jumped up to remonstrate and question the referee's paternity. He's normally such a quiet guy, but this is an important part of his life, as he told me when I asked what it meant to him be a supporter,: “It's the feeling of being part of a family. Although I'm not a hardcore fan, when I have to work and can't see the game, I feel like a part of me is missing. From that point of view, summer is terrible. In general I love football, I like watching matches of any team, but nothing is comparable to the physical need of watching my team. Even if they play badly or lose, the important thing for me is to watch them.”

The game kind of petered out but the Doriani kept up their singing. One of the things that interests me, and I would like to investigate a bit in this book, is if clubs in Italy still have a connection with the supporters beyond their historical roots, and how, if at all, this has changed in football's money-spinning recent years. “The bond has changed, because football has changed” Simone told me. “These days, a lot of supporters want to fight against football fixtures being dictated by TV, or against the restrictions brought about by the Tessera del tifoso (a kind of supporter's ID card which you have to have to get a season ticket). Many fans say they “only support the strip” because they're against football as a business and the disappointment of players who switch teams so often (meaning more contracts and more money for their agents).
I just want to see my team play though. More than anything else, I still appreciate Samp's players, even if they were only with us for a couple of years. I still sometimes look on Wikipedia to see what they're doing now [after their career], or, if they're playing for another team, I hope when/if they come back here they wave to our fans, because that means they haven't forgotten us.”

With the final whistle, came time to head home. My route normally involves a really long and steep staircase, with the steps painted in the blue, black, red and white of Samp. Before starting this leg-draining ascent though, I had one last thing on my mind. Now, I'm not a prude about bad language, but while fun and full of energy, the stadia here don't strike me as being particularly safe, and inside the ground seem almost entirely out of control of the authorities. If he had a kid, would he bring him/her with him?
“Why not? Football in the stadium is a world away from football on TV, so the sooner he/she starts coming, the better. It might be better if they didn't see me insulting the referee and the other team.... but yeah, I'd be happy if they had the same passion for Samp as I do.”

And with that said, we made our separate ways into the night.


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