The Extraordinary Busman’s Holiday: Riding With Sampdoria At The Peak Of Their Powers

Did you ever hear the one about the English bus driver who inadvertently became part of Sampdoria’s backroom staff at the European Cup Final? 

Wynn Bishop was certainly no stranger to the roads of continental Europe. He’d spent a couple of summer seasons piloting British holidaymakers to every corner of Europe, behind the Iron Curtain and into North Africa. These trips were wonderfully spontaneous affairs; the passengers on his open-top London bus dictated the destinations. Wynn’s job was to make it happen. He was the driver, navigator, mechanic and logistical fixer.  

As tastes in summer holidays began to change in the 1980s, Wynn’s employer smartly adapted their business model. Recalling how the iconic double-deckers had turned heads as they rolled across Europe, the company instead began to sell decommissioned buses to customers on the continent. The London Bus Export Company was born. 

Where Wynn’s job had once been to safely deliver passengers to cosmopolitan locations, the vehicle itself had now become the cargo. One particular trip in May 1989 took him and a Leyland double-decker to Genoa on the Italian Riviera. There was nothing extraordinary about the journey itself, though there was a novel end customer. 

The bus had been purchased by the Federation of Sampdoria Supporters’ Clubs (Federclub). The brainchild was Claudio Bosotin, the larger-than-life head of Sampdoria’s ultra movement and self-confessed Anglophile. “Boso’s” plan was to use the bus for transporting his band of ultras. As Wynn boarded the ferry at Dover, he knew nothing about the Federclub or their plans for the bus.

Gianluca Vialli with Boso

Some 800km later, the iconic double-decker began to descend the sweeping carriageways towards the centre of Genoa. As Wynn entered the outskirts of the city, the gradient relented, and progress inevitably slowed as traffic built. At that moment, glancing into his mirror, he noticed a group of children running excitably alongside the bus. He didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first indication of the quasi-celebrity he would acquire in (one half of) the city. 

When Wynn arrived on 11th May, he encountered two immediate problems. The first was that Boso hadn’t made it back from Berne in Switzerland, where he had witnessed Sampdoria’s defeat to Barcelona in the Cup Winners Cup Final the night before. The second and more substantive issue was that the Federclub hadn’t yet worked out how they were going to pay the agreed 18 million Lire (£7,000) sale price.

In the meantime, Wynn was taken under the wing of the Sampdoria supporters; he was wined, dined and shown the sights of the city. The generous hospitality went up a notch when Boso finally arrived home. To Wynn’s astonishment, he was taken on an access-all-areas visit to the Sampdoria training complex. In Boso’s company, he observed training, was introduced to the first team squad and, several days later, was a guest at the stadium as Sampdoria faced AC Milan.

Wynn spent an entire week – all of it completely unscheduled – in Genoa with his new acquaintances. As he eventually departed for home, he could scarcely believe the once-in-a-lifetime experiences he’d been treated to. It had been a whirlwind. Meanwhile, the green Leyland bus was taken to a body shop in Sestri Levante for a makeover in Sampdoria colours. 

A press cutting announcing the arrival of the bus in Genoa (Source: Se Deserte Son Le Strade)

Several weeks later, Wynn’s employer received a telephone call from Genoa. The caller was adamant that, should Wynn be in the area again, he must come to visit. Wynn had clearly left an impression on his new friends, though he has his own hypothesis about what was going on. “I think someone within the club – I’m not sure who, maybe Luca Vialli or President Mantovani – believed that I had brought the team luck, perhaps because my name is Wyn! They were certainly keen to have me around again”. From there, the adventure continued. 

Wynn made several visits to Genoa in the ensuing years, each one following the same pattern as the first.  His visits to the training ground allowed him to get to know Sampdoria’s key protagonists, “Luca Vialli was a true gent and spoke fantastic English. Lombardo and Pagliuca were very friendly and Beppe Dossena was a wonderfully intelligent guy”. Wynn even got involved when the players played pranks on the assembled media. Quite by accident, the bus driver from England had become part of the extended Sampdoria family. 

Wynn would go out for dinner with the players, visiting Il Tipico trattoria which sits atop the hill high above the training ground. The maitre d’ there took a shine to Wynn, routinely escorting him to the best seat in the house and providing the finest cuts of secondi. Even the players who had initially been guarded with Wynn began to warm to his presence, “Roberto Mancini was more wary, but he once gave me a coat to wear when a snowstorm rolled into the training ground”. 

During those years, Mantovani’s Sampdoria climbed to the very summit of European football. I Blucerchiati brushed off the disappointment of May’s defeat in Berne with a Coppa Italia triumph in June and secured that elusive Cup Winners Cup title the following season. Sampdoria’s first and, to date, only Scudetto was secured in 1991, confirming their arrival at the top table of Italian football. 

Sampdoria celebrate scudetto success at Stadio Luigi Ferraris

In 1992, Sampdoria met Barcelona once again in a major final. This time it was the biggest competition of all; the European Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. It was only natural that Sampdoria would want their lucky charm to be there. By this point, the distinction between the football club and the supporters’ club had become quite blurred. Boso had been taken into the employ of the club as magazziniere (kit man). President Paolo Mantovani astutely calculated that it was better to have such an influential figure inside, rather than outside the tent.

Wynn was instructed to report to the upmarket Hyde Park Hotel, where Sampdoria would be staying, the evening before the game. But he was on a tight schedule. After dropping off another retired London bus in Ljubljana, Slovenia he took a flight straight back to London and then made his way directly to the hotel. 

He encountered an uncharacteristically chaotic scene in Knightsbridge. “There were about a thousand fans outside the hotel singing and cheering. I eventually managed to push my way to the front and into this luxurious foyer. I was told there was a room waiting for me. I’d never stayed anywhere like it”. Wynn soon found himself out on the town with his old pal Bozo, eating and drinking well into the early hours. It was perhaps an ill-advised move, given that Wynn had been lined up for a slot on national radio early the following morning. 

The BBC had caught wind of Wynn’s novel association with Sampdoria and invited him onto Libby Purves’ Midweek show on Radio 4. He found himself in the Green Room at Broadcasting House, feeling just a little the worse for wear. The segment involving Wynn was a light-hearted opener for that morning’s show. “I found the tape the other day whilst I was having a clearout. I’m just waiting for it to dry out before I have a listen!”, Wynn reveals.  

With his broadcasting duties discharged, Wynn returned to the team hotel in the hope of getting some rest. However, upon arrival, Boso announced that they needed to leave for the stadium immediately to prepare the changing rooms. The pair took a black cab, stopping some way short of the stadium due to the burgeoning crowds. As they made their way up Wembley Way, they were greeted with calls of “Ciao Boso!” and “Forza ‘Doria!”.

They entered the old stadium through the famous red and black gates, which the players would use several hours later. As he helped to lay out Sampdoria’s white shirts, Wynn could hardly believe where he’d found himself, “The changing rooms were nothing special to look at, they were quite bare, in fact. But it was incredible to think this was where Bobby Charlton and others had been in 1966”.  

As the two teams took to the field, Wynn found himself in the tunnel area. He looked up in awe when an organised choreography transformed the far end of the ground into Sampdoria’s famous colours. It had been intended that Wynn would watch the game from the seats behind the Sampdoria bench, but as the match got underway he found himself detached from Boso. In the era before laminated accreditations, Wynn remained undetected in the tunnel area for some time before a nervous stadium official ushered him onto the terrace…amongst the Barcelona fans.

Sampdoria hearts were broken that night by a Ronald Koeman free-kick deep into injury time. Wynn’s lucky streak had come to an end and that night at Wembley signified the high-water mark of his incredible Sampdoria tale.

A huge thanks to Wynn Bishop for taking the time to share his story with us. Additional details and accounts sourced from the website and the excellent Se Deserte Son Le Strade book.

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