Genoa vs Sampdoria: Italian Football's 'Nicest' Derby

Lee Bushe
Genoa CFC v UC Sampdoria - Serie A
Genoa CFC v UC Sampdoria - Serie A / Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

Genoa vs Sampdoria is one of 90min's 50 Greatest Derbies in the World.

The Lanterna di Genova is one of Genoa's most famous landmarks. It's a lighthouse which has existed since the 12th century, and is, to this day, one of the tallest lighthouses in the world. It's a fitting symbol for a city which serves as one of the most important ports in Europe. So it's only natural that the city's footballing rivalry takes its name from the famous lighthouse, the Derby della Lanterna.

The Derby della Lanterna doesn't hold a candle to any of Italian football's other major rivalries - at least in terms of the sheer bitterness of the hate that Lazio and Roma have for each other, the quality of players that Internazionale and A.C. Milan have (historically) boasted, or the class divisions that divide Torino and Juventus.

In fact, it's known as one of Italy's more friendlier derbies. World Cup winning manager Marcello Lippi described it as being "less noxious than the others" and referred to it the "nicest derby". Indeed, the Derby della Lanterna has historically lacked the violence that some other Italian derbies have had. Don't mistake this for a lack of enmity between Sampdoria and Genoa, however - these teams hate each other.

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The battle between the two sets of supporters is fought with insulting chants and banners. It's a competition to see who can sing the loudest, who can display the more impressive tifo or who can come with the most clever insults. This, alongside the fact that Sampdoria and Genoa are given a 'curva' each during the derbies (meaning they have a similar number of the more vocal fans) results in one of most intense, unique and awe-inspiring atmospheres in world football.

There are two major differences between Genoa and Sampdoria. The first one is geographical. Rossoblu fans tend to reside in the centre of the city whereas Blucerchiati fans are more commonly found in the outskirts. The second one, and perhaps the most significant difference, are the respective histories of the clubs.

Genoa are Italy's fourth oldest football club, having been founded by a group of Englishmen in 1893. They were one of the Peninsula's most successful clubs in the pre-war era, winning nine league titles and a Coppa Italia, though their last major honour came in 1937.

Sampdoria, on the other hand, came into existence as a result of a merger between two Genovese clubs, Sampierdarense and Andrea Doria, in 1946. In the post-war years, they have been more successful than their rivals, winning a Scudetto in 1991, four Coppa Italias during the 80s and 90s and reaching the European Cup final in 1992.

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Genoa supporters argue that, due to being the significantly older team, their club are the true representation of their city, while Sampdoria fans would argue that they have experienced more recent success. Despite these differences, instances of violence between the two sets of supporters are rare, with supporters preferring more fun ways of winning the off-the-pitch battles.

The two trade petty insults, with Genoa referring to the Blucerchiati as 'cyclists' - believing that only a cycling team should have as many colours on their shirt as Sampdoria's. Sampdoria, on the other hand, refer to Rossoblu fans as 'turkeys', making fun of Genoa's symbol - which is actually a griffin.

There was also an instance where, after Genoa won their first derby in over a decade in 1990, they gifted Sampdoria fans Christmas cards depicting the Rossoblu player who scored the winning free-kick in the match. Genoa supporters would take these kind of playful insults to new heights when Sampdoria were relegated to Serie B in 2011.

Some 30,000 (yes 30,000!) Genoa fans lined the city streets in attendance of Sampdoria's 'funeral', where a coffin decorated with the colours of the Blucerchiati was carried. A harmless gesture, sure, but one which almost certainly compounded the Sampdoria fans' miseries, having already suffered relegation just one season after qualifying for the Champions League.

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In terms of statistics, Sampdoria are shown to be the more dominant side in the derby, winning 39 out of the 99 games contested compared to Genoa's 24, a reflection, perhaps, of I Blucerchiati being the more successful post-war side. Still, despite the fact that the teams have been on relatively equal footing over the last decade, Sampdoria remain dominant, winning ten derbies in the last decade compared to Genoa's five victories.

To Sampdoria and Genoa fans, the amount of victories aren't merely numbers. For two teams who regularly occupy mid-table and rarely challenge for trophies, the Derby della Lanterna matches are often the most important of the season, to see who can come away with the bragging rights, to hope that you can go into work the next day and poke fun at colleagues who were on the losing side.

The fact that it isn't important to the league, the fact that it is simply about bragging rights is part of what makes the Derby della Lanterna so special. Sure, it isn't the more prestigious, but on atmosphere and passion alone, it ranks among the greatest derbies in world football.