When looking at the city of Genova from an aerial point of view, beyond the port, the colorful coasts, and the mountains, four towers stand out rising from the ground in the center of the city. That is the Luigi Ferraris Stadium or, as it is commonly known, the Marassi: An architectural jewel, the oldest stadium still functioning in calcio and perhaps the most particular.
Inaugurated on January 22, 1911, the first game this stadium hosted was a Genoa-Inter matchup that ended in a victory for the Milanese team. It was firstly named Campo di Via del Piano because that was the name of the street where it was located. Years later, and after the first expansion work, the stadium got its current name in honor of Luigi Ferraris – a former captain of Genoa who died in World War I.
Located in the Marassi neighborhood – hence its nickname – it has served as the regular headquarters for Genoa since it opened in 1911 and for Sampdoria since their creation in 1946.
It may seem strange to some, but it’s very common in Italy to find two rival neighbor teams sharing the same stadium. That is because there is not much space for such big buildings in Italian older cities and city councils – which usually own the stadiums – decide to “rent” them to multiple clubs – letting them decide how to share them and when will each team play.
Club fans obviously occupy different sectors of the Luigi Ferraris: The North Stands are for Genoa supporters and the South Stands for the fans of Sampdoria.
Genoa, whose name comes from the Anglo-Saxonization of Genova, are not only the oldest team in the city but also the oldest active Italian club, having been founded in 1893. Their history is linked to that of the Luigi Ferraris, which they have been calling home for more than 100 years. Therefore, the proudly consider themselves gli originali (“The originals”)
Sampdoria’s history, on the other hand, originates from the merger of two minor local teams, Sampierdarenese and Andrea Doria, which joined forces in 1946. The name Sampdoria is a portmanteau of their former names, and so are the team colors – which merge Samp’s red-and-black with Doria’s white-and-blue. Prior to the merger, there were endless disputes about which club could use the stadium and the related maintenance. The birth of Sampdoria and their consequent request for hospitality to the Marassi surely made things easier.
Although it is not the biggest or most popular derby in Italian football, the stracittadina (“cross-town game”) between Samp and Genoa is definitely a show worth watching.
The first derbies were played in the 1946-47 season and were both claimed by the newcomer Blucerchiati, which would be a little foreboding of the history to come: To date, Sampdoria have a better record of derby wins, as well as of international trophies, than Genoa. The Rossoblu, however, boast a much stronger domestic palmares featuring seven Italian titles.
The connections between England and the city of Genova go far beyond football, partially because Genova is one of the most popular seaports in history – the name Christopher Columbus may ring a bell. The derby between Genoa and Sampdoria is indeed known as the Derby della Lanterna (“Derby of the Lighthouse”) after the Torre della Lanterna – the city’s most famous landmark and main lighthouse of the port.
With its squared shape and very little distance between the stands and the playing field, the architecture of the Luigi Ferraris Stadium reminds more of a typical Premier League playing ground than of an Italian Serie A stadium. Its structure remained almost unchanged during the first 70 years, something worthy of note considering that it survived two World Wars.
As Italy prepared to host the 1990 World Cup, the Marassi underwent its first major renovation – a destiny shared with all major stadiums across the Peninsula. In a renewed, post-World Cup Marassi, Sampdoria happened to win their first – and to date only – Scudetto, at the end of a season which also saw Genoa grabbing a meritorious fourth-place and beating the cross-town rivals in a famous derby.
Since 1990, the Luigi Ferraris Stadium has retained its by-now-familiar look, with its English-style stands close to the field (one of the very few examples in Italy) and its four towers perfectly splitting them into four sections like some giant corner-kick flags.
The stadium has been the scenario of such events as Roberto Baggio’s last game with the Italian national team (a 1-1 tie against Spain in 2004, embellished by goals by Christian “Bobo” Vieri and Fernando “el Niño” Torres).
There have also been tragic events, however, such as the death of Genoa fan Vincenzo Spagnolo, stabbed by a Milan hooligan in 1995 or, more recently, the controversial Euro 2012 Qualifiers game between Italy and Serbia, in which some Serbian ultras’ reprehensive behavior forced the referee to suspend the match.
If you happen to be in Genova, it is more than advisable to spend some time in this stadium. Ideally, you should watch at least one Sampdoria match and one Genoa match – and then decide, according to your own criteria, which is the best team in town (though half of the city may disagree with your choice…) If you still don’t come to a decision, at least you’ll have had a good time watching some football in a stadium like there is hardly any anymore.