U. C. Sampdoria: My Substitute Side
The relationship between a football fan and their team can be hard to understand. It begins with optimistic youngsters, worshiping their – often mediocre – hero’s every touch and celebrating each goal with a starry eyed optimism that only youth can harness. This honey-moon can’t last forever though and soon the realisation of the footballing world’s harsh realities sets in. Young supporter’s relationship with the club soon develops from that of their first love, before becoming oddly sibling like, with the fan an older brother constantly teasing their younger sibling for any inadequacy, while staunchly leaping to their defence in the face of any external criticism. Only the fortunate few, born in the Camp Nou’s catchment area or within walking distance of Old Trafford, are allowed to witness their side invest in superstars and line their trophies cabinets. For the rest of us, we can only long for these club’s first world problems.
Playing Thursday, Sunday or narrowly missing out on Europe feels a long way away when you are standing on ice cold terraces, watching teams of part-timers scrap it out in the Scottish lower divisions. For us, the monotonous inevitability of our club’s mediocrity has long since been apparent. We accept and even enjoy the uninspiring nature of the whole thing and, in a strange way, we wouldn’t change it.
And yet, our human nature is to dream of more. To suppress these desires, many punters adopt secondary teams, allowing any supporter to experience top level football from a fans perspective and be swept up in the excitement of fast flowing, high quality play. This decision does not dampen fans’ relationship with theirclub, it merely presents them with an opportunity, as a football tourist, to be starry eyed once again and experience the beautiful game without the fear of another Saturday afternoon soured by defeat.
These substitute teams can take a variety of forms, from a flitting affair during a fairy tale season, something many fans experienced during Leicester’s 2015/16 title winning side, to a long-standing admiration, something often afforded to the job done by Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid. The selection of clubs on offer has become far vaster following the introduction of foreign leagues to our screens during the 1990s. It was James Richardson’s ‘Football Italia’ which first brought European football to the UK, and it is in Seia A that I have found my latest footballing substitute, Sampdoria. Following the cancelation of the Copa Libatadores final in late November, I was left with an empty Sunday evening schedule, so to fill the abyss, I decided to watch the Genoa derby between Genoa and Sampdoria. What followed was a completely intoxicating and electric spectacle, which, whilst not of the highest quality, was filled the passion and intensity a real local rivalry. The derby was the first since the Genoa’s Morandi bridge disaster in August and brought both sets of supporters together in an escape from the tragedy which cost 43 lives and displaced many more from their homes. The whole event was a sea of colour, with Genoa’s towering banners competing with Samp’s soaring flags and sparkling flares. The football on display became an afterthought to the spectacle and an evenly matched draw seemed the only appropriate ending to the whole affair, in which both sets of fans played such a key role.
My interest was sparked. After a little post-match searching and scrolling, I learned that, throughout the 1990s, Sampdoria were one of Europe’s most exciting teams. During a period when Serie A was both the richest and best league in Europe, Sampdoria shone, with the likes of Ruud Guillet, Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli sporting Samp’s iconic blue strip, with the red black and white horizontal stripes as distinctive and offbeat as the club itself. Battling against the Italy’s dominant footballing regions, the Blucerchiati ousted the titans of Turin, Rome, Milan and Napels to win the Scudetto in 1991 and followed this up by reaching the 1992 European Cup Final before they were thwarted by Johan Cruyff’s dream team.
The club’s history as Italy’s most prominent outsiders continues today, thanks to their maverick, talismanic captain Fabio Quagiliarella. A real Serie A journeyman, he was known for being technically gifted and scoring spectacular goals, yet inconsistency meant many felt he was something of wasted talent. Events which have since transpired have quashed these assumptions, including Fabio adding consistency to his game since moving to Sampdoria.
Last weekend’s match against Fiorentina was the tenth Serie A matches in a row he has hit the back of the net, just one short the all-time record, and brought him level with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scoring charts. His excellent form has not gone unnoticed, with the Italian National side’s manager, Roberto Mancini, proclaiming in December that Quagiliarella has played himself into contention for his first Auzzuri call-up since 2010.
It has been an incredible turnaround from a man whose career has been tarnished by a truly traumatic ordeal. It all began in 2006 when Fabio complained to a friend, Giulio De Riso, that his personal messenger account had been hacked. De Riso recommended he contacted the man who had come to his aid when he had encountered a similar issue, postal police officer Raffaele Piccolo. Soon after Fabio contacted Piccolo, events turned sinister, with accusations of paedophilia and associations to the mafia being sent to his house. These allegations were backed up with threats against his and his family’s lives. During this desperate time, Piccolo led the investigation and became close to the Quagiliarella family, often spending nights at the family home discussing the threats being made and advising the family on the investigation.
With the investigation seemingly under control, Quagililarella returned to his boyhood club, Napoli, for 2009-10 season. This was his dream, his home-coming and Fabio fully intended to spend the rest of his career in there, in front of the adoring Napoleon crowd. Hysteria had swept Naples and its local fan base, with the prospect of a potential club great returning home creating a palpable frenzy within the city. However, it was on the night of Quagliarella’s unveiling to the Napoli fans that his personal crises reached fever pitch, with a coffin being sent to his Naples home, along with the threat that should he attend the unveiling, he would be shot. Determined not to disappoint supporters or be intimated by his stalker, Fabio attended the ceremony, despite fearing for his life, in what was a terrifying and traumatic experience. His Napoli career never recovered from this and at the end of the season he left for rivals Juventus to get away from Naples. Branded a traitor by his once adoring fans, it wasn’t until 2017 when the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his time at Napoli were exposed.
Soon after the move to Juve, Fabio and his father grew suspicious of Piccolo’s investigation. They went down to the local police station to confirm the status of the case, only to discover that Picollo, their supposed close family friend, who they had believed had been helping them for the past five years, was in fact the stalker himself. To make matters worse, Fabio could not talk publicly about the ordeal whilst the investigation into Piccolo took place. During this time Quagliarella faced stark criticism for not only his move from Napoli but his subsequent mediocre performances at several clubs. After a promising start to his career, Quagiliarella’s prime was stolen from him by a common criminal, restricting the once exciting young talent to a career of flitting moments of brilliance and a highlights reel to rival the very best.
Following Piccolo’s sentencing to 4-years imprisonment in 2017, Quagliarella has flourished in his Autumn years. This season Fabio has combined consistency together with his moments of brilliance, hitting 14 goals in just 19 Serie A appearances so far, including a YouTube search worthy back-heel volley against Napoli. These goals have propelled Samp for mid-table mediocrity into a real battle for the top four, with the Genoa based side sitting just 4 points off Milan in 4that the current state of play. I would encourage anyone with an internet connection to find the time for at least one Sampdoria game before the season is up. The second Genoa derby of the season takes place on the 14thof April for anyone who loves the intensity and emotion of a British derby, as this is certainly the next best thing. Nonetheless, you don’t have to wait for the derby to be enthralled by Samp. The league’s entertainers, along with Atalanta, are both scoring and shipping goals freely at moment, as demonstrated during their 3-3 draw with Fiorentina last time out. Try something different, get behind the Blucerchiati’s surprise push for a European spot and if all else fails sit back and enjoy the wonder that is Fabio Quagliarella, I can assure you that you’ll only need the edge of your seat.
An Italian based replacement such as this, to the everyday bread and butter of your local side allows fans to experience with a different type of football, from a different perspective.
Watching a second team gives supports the opportunity to enjoy the positive emotions associated with the game, such as the twinge of excitement when your team works a bit of space in the oppositions half, without becoming an irrational, pessimistic bag of nerves, overcome by the fear of an embarrassing defeat. A substitute side allows supporters to be engrossed in the football and engulfed in the culture of another town, country and league. Fans should not feel ashamed or disloyal for keenly following another side after becoming intrigued by their achievements or by the football they play, just make sure you are back on the terraces every second Saturday, cheering on your local club and aren’t sucked in by glory hunting or medal counting.
The footballing experience and understanding of supporters can only be enhanced by adding a cosmopolitan element to the hard work, grit and determination on display at grounds across Scotland. It should be encouraged to experiment with different teams and types of football from a fans perspective. Get involved in the passing football of Spanish sides, the tactics in Italy or the pace of the Premier League. Just don’t forget where you came from.