The Derby della Lanterna is one footballing institution that Italy has kept for itself.
The match barely flickers on the radar of the international media, in deep contrast to the attention lavished upon the equivalent fixtures in Milan, Rome and even Turin.
Compared to Serie A’s leading lights, Genoa and Sampdoria are clubs of modest means; sustained by a combination of shrewd transfer business, astute coaching and a fiercely passionate local fan base. And therein lies the power of the derby. It is fundamentally a fight for local pride.
It can be taken as read that, come derby day, the stadium will be full and the volume will be high. The tight dimensions of the Stadio Luigi Ferraris are accentuated by the surrounding hills, creating a cauldron that amplifies the atmosphere within. Even before the players set foot on the pitch, battle will have commenced with a thunderous noise and extraordinary choreographies emanating from opposing ends of the stadium.
The match takes its name from the Torre della Lanterna, an iconic lighthouse in the port area that has been keeping passing vessels safe for the past five hundred years. Unlike other cities, the battle lines of the Genova derby are not drawn on the basis of political beliefs or class, and there is little history of the tribal violence that blights other derbies. But make no mistake, the intensity of this encounter rivals – and probably surpasses – anything else seen on the peninsula.
The Ligurian derby is most commonly characterised as a battle between new and old. The Genoa Cricket and Football Club rightfully lay claim to being the oldest club on the peninsula. They were initially established as a sporting society in 1893 by English migrants, but football soon came to dominate their activities. And it was these footballing missionaries that laid the foundations of the game not only in the city of Genova, but for the whole country too.
Genoa CFC emerged as a domineering force in those early years, collecting nine scudetti between 1898 and 1924, adding a Coppa Italia victory in 1937. However, it only later became apparent that these successes would represent the high-water mark in their history. Since Sampdoria were formed in 1946 Genoa have not won a single piece of silverware.
Where the new versus old characterisation begins to unravel is that the ancestry of Sampdoria can be traced back almost as far as Genoa’s. The modern incarnation of the club was formed in 1946 following the merger between two historic clubs, Andrea Doria and Sampierdarense. Despite that half century head start, Sampdoria have made strides in closing the gap with their rivals, picking up one scudetto, four Coppi Italia and a Cup Winner’s Cup.
As the clubs prepare for their 98th meeting, Sampdoria currently hold the upper hand with 37 victories to Genoa’s 24. However, historical records will be of little concern with both clubs currently embroiled in a battle at the wrong end of the table. The heightened significance of this game has the makings of a modern classic, and the victors will walk away with more than just local bragging rights.
Ahead of the game, we’ve picked out six of the best Derby della Lanterna encounters from the archives…
1. An Early Marker: Sampdoria 5-1 Genoa – October 1948
The largest margin of victory in the derby came in just the fifth meeting of the two teams. There was little indication of what was to come as Sampdoria went in at half time with a slender 2-1 advantage.
However, the balance of the game lurched decisively in just five second half minutes. A three-goal blitz from the Blucerchiati put victory beyond doubt and earned Argentinian forward Jose Curti a place in the club’s folklore with a derby brace on his debut for the club.
The result was symbolic of the new power balance in the city; in those early years Genoa won just 3 of the first 22 contests. And in the seventy years that have elapsed since Sampdoria’ victory, neither club has surpassed this dominant performance.
2. Heartbreak for ‘Agent’ Baldini: Genoa 2-3 Sampdoria – April 1951
The 1950/51 season had some parallels with the present day, as both clubs found themselves engaged in a battle to escape relegation from Serie A. The teams met towards the end of April just as the fight was heating up, with Genoa sitting in the relegation places and Sampdoria just three points better off.
Sampdoria raced into an early two-goal lead, only for Genoa to restore parity. The turning point in the match came with the dismissal of Genoa’s Giuseppe Baldini. “Agent” Baldini had a strong affinity with his opponents, having made 130 appearances in the colours of Sampdoria prior to crossing the divide. The Blucerchiati were able to capitalise on the numerical advantage, scoring an 88th minute winner courtesy of Mario Sabbatella.
The result nudged Genoa closer to the precipice, eventually dropping into Serie B for only the second time in their history. Baldini for his part left the Grifone after a single, unhappy season and would later return to Sampdoria, first as a player and then as coach.
3. Derby della Scimmia: Sampdoria 2-0 Genoa – November 1983
The mischievous relationship between the two sets of fans is perhaps best summed up by an incident ahead of the 1983/84 derby. Just as the teams had been announced in the stadium, two Sampdoria ultras emerged on the perimeter of the pitch, walking hand-in-hand with a monkey bedecked in a Genoa shirt. The monkey, borrowed from a circus, had a number 10 on his back, the number of Genoa’s midfielder Elói.
Brazilian Elói, a player of European descent, had arrived in Liguria three months earlier amidst considerable fanfare and some lofty expectations. Genoa had signed the player on the strength of a single stand-out performance for his club Vasco de Gama and a carefully edited highlights video. They were told he was so skilful he could juggle with a lemon. In reality, they were buying a lemon. His lightweight frame, languid style and simian-gait soon attracted the ridicule of opposition fans and, soon afterwards, the ire of Genoa tifosi.
Sampdoria won the match 2-0, whilst Genoa slipped to relegation at the end of the season. And the game would go down in history as the Derby della Scimmia (derby of the monkey).
4. Branco’s Arrow: Sampdoria 1-2 Genoa – November 1990
Back in 1990, Genoa secured a victory of honour in what transpired to be Sampdoria’s first ever scudetto season. As the two teams prepared to face each other in November, Sampdoria remained unbeaten, sitting proudly at the top of the table.
The Grifone raced into an early lead courtesy of Stefan Eranio, only for Gianluca Vialli to equalise from the penalty spot. But then came the moment of magic. Genoa were awarded a free kick in a central position, 25 yards from goal. Carlos Aquilera, who’d had a previous effort tipped over the bar, feigned to shoot, instead rolling the ball sideways for Branco…who unleashed an unstoppable drive into the top corner.
In the context of Samp’s scudetto, the result itself turned out to be something of a consolation prize for Genoa. However, that didn’t prevent Genoa fans from enjoying the moment. In further evidence of the playful relationship between the two sets of supporters, Sampdoria fans received Christmas cards from their Genoa-supporting acquaintances depicting Branco’s wonder-strike.
5. Condemned to B: Genoa 2-1 Sampdoria – May 2011
A fortnight before this derby, Genoa had done their rivals an enormous favour by defeating Lecce, allowing Sampdoria to temporarily climb out of the relegation places. However, going into the match Sampdoria were still teetering just above the drop. Put simply, this was a match they could not afford to lose.
Genoa took the lead on the stroke of half time, but Sampdoria pulled themselves back on terms with a scrappy goal mid-way through the second half. The game looked to be heading for a draw, when Genoa stuck a hammer blow in the dying minutes of the match.
Mauro Boselli, on loan from Wigan Athletic, turned neatly on the edge of the area and fired low into the far corner. Cue euphoric celebrations in front of the Gradinata Nord, meanwhile Sampdoria players slumped to the floor. This heart-breaking defeat seemed to break Sampdoria’s spirit as they tamely slipped into Serie B, failing to pick up any points in their two remaining games.
6. Genoa 1-1 Sampdoria – November 2018
On the 14th August 2018, the Ponte Morandi disaster left an indelible mark on Genova. The collapse of the bridge resulted in the death of 43 people, leaving an entire city in shock. Genova’s unique topography results in an intricate local road network comprised of soaring viaducts and deep tunnels. In going about their business, the Genovese traverse these kind of structures on a daily basis. For those who weren’t themselves in mourning, they were certainly contemplating their mortality.
The next derby meeting came three months after the disaster – and emotions were still raw. The match provided a form of escapism for the people of Genova who threw their hearts and souls into the game that night. The result was one of the most profound atmospheres seen at the derby.
There had been talk of a joint choreography in remembrance of the departed. But in the event the two sets of supporters opted for a return to normality and doing what they do best – incredible choreographies, pyrotechnics, flags and a deafening roar. The result of the match was almost incidental as the institution of the derby contributed to the city’s on-going healing process.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this you might also be interested in my review of a trip to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.