Genoa v Sampdoria

Genoa v Sampdoria,  Serie A

Saturday 11th March 2017, Luigi Ferrari Stadium

Genoa 0 Sampdoria 1 (Luis Muriel): Attendance : 31190

“The toilets are inadequate, the refreshment stalls are very well hidden and you feel like you are in a recently looted Lidl.”

Saint Catherine of Genoa once commented that what we define as normal and weird was simply qualified by the number of subjects who exhibited a certain behaviour.  Visiting her home city over 500 years later has led me to recalibrate my version of what is normal or expected.  Italy can do that to you anyway, with its stubborn rejection of conformity and globalisation in favour of its own wonderful weirdness.  The Derby Della Lanterna, however, featuring the city’s two biggest football teams – Genoa CFC and Sampdoria – cannot be categorised as anything other than exceptional.

For all the grandeur that is dotted around Genoa with its mosaic pavements and renaissance buildings, there is a murkiness to it that is consistent with other port towns like Marseille (which is twinned with Genoa, appropriately) or Napoli.  This edginess seemed independent from the impending match, but there was a real tension about the city with everyone and everything seeming charged.  Walking past the “Fuck Off Tourists” graffiti, I didn’t stop to contemplate the irony of this graffiti being in the Esperanto of tourism.  Twilight was descending, minus the legion of adoring teenage girls but with the multitudes of undead, awakening.

Taking a shortcut from Genova Piazza Principe Station, where the train had chuntered in two hours before kick off, towards my hotel in Piazza del ‘Erbe via the Prè district seemed logical.  Even if it wasn’t the quickest route in theory, it quickened my pace, having twice been offered something murmured (and almost certainly illegal) within the first five minutes of my ever accelerating promenade towards the accommodation.  I don’t carry the most welcoming or approachable demeanour, so that I was offered these goods so readily and so freely concerned me.  Only very occasionally referring to my photographed map on my phone, I bulldozed the narrow, crumbling passageways and alleys towards my destination and sanctuary.

Arriving at what seemed like a lively misshapen quadrilateral (only in Italy could they call this a “square”), my coordinates were correct; I had arrived at Piazza del ‘Erbe. Except there was no hotel Albergo Panson.  Already exhausted from a very long day, a very quick walk and wearing too many clothes, I was a panicking sweaty mess.  Then, out of the corner of my eye, the Ristorante Panson’s neon lights flickered with the low-level hum of 19th century electrical circuitry.  Surely there was a link, and Alberto Panson wasn’t just a fraudulent Genovese front for a Nigerian Prince?

I knocked at the window, and a Gollum-like waiter peered at me.  With my patience having plummeted from its saintly precipice several minutes previous, I thrusted my reservation code on my smartphone in front of him and said “Does this place exist?”  He arched over, removed his cigarette and jewel-encrusted lighter and said “Ah, I get the Bossa…in fifteen minutes”, and proceeded to cower over his wretched burning carcinogenic “Precious”.

No, that’s not good enough!  I tried to explain I was going to a game across the city in a little over an hour but his brain circuitry had long since excluded my irritating presence.  So, I waited for “the Bossa” to arrive.   Thankfully, he was only a little over five minutes. The Bossa looked like a people-smuggling assassin; surely a torturer or a wrestler in a previous-life (or maybe even this one, given Gollum’s face when he saw him).  The Bossa took my 21€ – this was definitely a ‘cash only’ establishment – and took a photo of my passport (I wonder how many poor souls in the kitchens will have my identity in the coming weeks?).  I then followed him through what could have been medieval dungeons to a stairwell.  From here, three separately locked wrought-iron gates had to be unlocked to reach the slaves’ quarters where I was staying. You get what you pay for, I thought.  I could hear the cries from centuries ago of skulls crashing off of these beastly stairs.  Then, for the last ten to twelve steps, there sat a stairlift. You know, the type marketed at senior citizens with carriage clocks if you buy today.  Never before had anything looked so out-of-place.

Anyone got a light?

The Bossa explained to me that the building had been constructed in the 15th century, and the electrical wiring looked like some of Galvani’s and Volta’s early prototypes.  He then showed me the (shared) bathroom and toilet, with the light located right next to a pull cord.  “Which one is the light?” I asked.  I was informed, very clearly, that I was not to pull the cord unless I was in a lot of pain (and I don’t think he meant constipation) as it would send an alarm call to the restaurant and he wouldn’t be happy if it were to be for nothing.  Okay, thanks Bossa.  He then showed me my room, overlooking the “square” below, and left me to get settled.

Getting settled took all of about one minute.  Bag dumped; ticket, passport, camera and phone stuffed into pockets and off I cantered towards the stadium.  Good old Apple Maps reliably informed me that it was almost a straight road from the hotel to the stadium.  What it didn’t inform me was that part of that road was hypothetical, and involved a hillside descent akin to abseiling.  I had not seen one person in football colours so far and my tiredness was causing me to question my grip on reality.  A derby match in a football city is normally accompanied by a liberal sprinkling of roadblocks, fans drinking and tooled-up Police.  None of these elements had been present on my canter to the stadium.

During my descent from Via Assarotti towards the promised land down below, I clutched my sturdy hotel keys between my fingers, ready to use them as makeshift knuckle dusters should I be confronted in one of these arterial tributaries descending the hill.  The faint glow of street lamp down below, accompanied by the waft of yesterday’s fish, reassured me that I was exiting from what would have been fertile ground for muggers and rapists.  Then, all of a sudden, was the noise.  Not some phantasmagoric hell but the reassuringly staccato aggression of the football chant. And, given my state, it was a wonderful symphony of reassurance and equilibrium.

Snaking in and out of blasé scooter riders – I saw one splatted a few hours previous in Como, so was pretty cautious – to cross to the bridge, I saw some flames and the fans were drifting towards the stadium.  Quite possibly the most flustered and least cool person in Genoa, I hotfooted it towards the stadium, as my lateness fear was now also kicking in.  I’m not normally this neurotic, but as Saint Catherine said, Genoa is not normal.

Relieved to arrive, I tried to enter a gate in a perimeter fence a few hundred metres from the stadium, only to be told my entrance, or ‘ingresso’, was away up past the Decathlon shop I could barely see and round the other side of the stadium.  So, shuffling along like Mr Bean on a promise, I made my way to a mêlée which it turns out was the queue to get in.  Two mushroom-shaped queues had  formed and a couple of older men were, leisurely, asking people for ID and checking the tickets. BOOM! Oh no, was that a bomb? Or a gunshot? Why is nobody bothered? Tension levels up, I then joined another queue: this time, to scan my ticket. Incidentally, my ticket was a print-at-home job from https://www.listicket.com/ticketing/home.html – very easy to order, although ID is essential and really is checked.

My advice to anybody going to this stadium would be to turn up very early as this system is very slow and none of the staff seemed to particularly care.  This impression was further consolidated with a security pat-down so lethargic that it constituted not much more than a shoulder grope, maybe incase he found any glass, knives or pyro and was forced to do something about it, which was clearly not on his agenda.  Finally, I was in.

When you enter the concourse and start to ascend the stairs, you could be forgiven for thinking there had been a fire, robbery or some kind of disastrous event that would decimate any internal fixtures and fittings.  The toilets are inadequate, the refreshment stalls are very well hidden and you feel like you are in a recently-looted Lidl.

However, for all of the grumbling, head-scratching, profuse sweating and Gollum waiters, the sight of a pitch from the top of the corner stairs filled me with a wonderful contentedness. The section numbers are difficult to find so look carefully at your ticket beforehand: there is no helpful steward guiding you to your seat.

The Distinti was a fairly shallow tier at the top of the stand and contained both Genoa and Sampdoria fans.  I could not see any of the tiers below but it looked like most of the action would happen right in front of me in the Sampdoria stand.  The noise was immense, even fifteen minutes before kick off.  The rather lax security search, or a hefty bung, had set up the mind-bogglingly amazing pyro among the Sampdoria fans.  I felt for the Genoa fans at this point, who had obviously clubbed together for a choreo but it was completely blown away by the Sampdoria end.

The sheer number of flares, bangers and what I previously thought were bombs in that stand must have been equal to the number of spectators.  That there would be another display at the start of the second half was equally as ridiculous.  It brought back memories of  my twelve-year old daughter being refused entry at Anderlecht because her kitten-faced bag, containing a pack of tissues, was in breach of the security protocol and highly unauthorised.

This report would be incomplete without a mention of the Genoa supporter to my right whose gumsy vocabulary made my feel like I was in an Italian Tourette’s documentary.  When all you hear is “Die die die (I know that’s not what it means in Italian, and it’s spelled ‘dai!’, but that’s what I heard) vaffanculo bastardo” from a woman of that age, you know what this match means to the people of this city.  Or maybe I was just seated next to a potty-mouthed older woman.  In either case, the intensity was relentless from the moment I approached the stadium to the moment I unlocked the four gates of my converted renaissance attic.

Genoa v Sampdoria

Oh yes, I forgot, there was a match going on around all this.  The first half was a fairly even period of nice passing and excellent defending with Genoa creating slightly better chances, but neither team looking likely.  After the break, Sampdoria completely dominated and were worth their goal, which was well finished by Luis Muriel, who played well in leading the Sampdoria attack even if he was an underused outlet.  If anything, Sampdoria scoring a second goal looked more likely than an equaliser, with substitute Schick causing all kinds of problems with his ungainly but effective dribbling.

From Genoa’s point of view, most of their best moves came down their left with Laxalt looking like he had the beating of his opposite number at every opportunity.  Interesting from my perspective as an Anderlecht fan was the appearance of Dennis Praet as a substitute for Sampdoria.  He looked fit, eager and hungry but out of sync with his teammates.  Will he be the new De Bruyne or the new Eoin Jess?

The following morning, I meandered back towards the station through Genoa’s amorphous network of little streets.  The atmosphere was one of bleach, urine, coffee and homelessness.  I felt slightly guilty for having not respected this town enough in advance.  It deserves a better exploration than I could afford it.  Perhaps I will return for such an exploration. Perhaps I’ll be back for next year’s Derby Della Lanterna.  It certainly lit my lantern.

Verdict: An interesting yet unfriendly stadium filled with crazy fans.  A must see match!

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ****
  • Stadium character: ***
  • Stadium atmosphere:  **********
  • Hospitality: **
  • Ease of access: ***
  • Things to do around the stadium: ***
  • Overall: Stadium ***; Experience *****