From the age of six I have had an irrational dislike for Ronald Koeman. I have never met him, I have rarely read any of his interviews and on the face of things he seems no better or worse than your average late 80’s/early 90’s football legend. In fact his place in history as a left sided set piece master should really mean that he is one of my all time favourite players. However it’s those skills at the set-piece that will mean that I will forever secretly hope he fails at whatever he does.
It’s the 20th of May 1992 I’m six years old and starting to become engulfed in the wonder that is professional football. I know by this time that I will have seen my local sides Queen’s Park and Pollok a couple of times as my old man slowly integrates his boy into the Saturday routine but my memories of these trips remain hazy at best. In a somewhat depressingly modern twist of fate my first clear football memory actually comes via the medium of television broadcast, sitting in my parent’s bedroom along with my dad as Ronald Koeman’s 112th minute rocket sent Barcelona on their way to their first ever European Cup.
I’ve watched that goal back a few times before sitting down to write this and whilst I don’t remember it in every detail there are bits that resonate nearly 27 years later. The colours of my memories were purely in black and white so it was strange to see that Barcelona played in orange and Sampdoria in white, although that instantly recognisable chest design was still as clear in my head as it is today. I remember the unmistakable head of Atillo Lombardo shaking in protest and I remembering thinking that the space behind the Wembley goals where the final was being played was massive. I remember the ferocity of Koeman’s strike but I don’t remember how close the Sampdoria players come to charging it down. I don’t remember the tears from nearly every player on the pitch both in joy and despair as the Dutchman ran around in celebration and I didn’t really understand how significant a result it was for that Barcelona side. What I do remember though is that having stayed up later than I ever knowingly had before I was gutted, and so with that an unexpected love affair with Sampdoria had begun.
The following season Football Italia made it’s debut on Channel 4 and whilst a fondness for James Richardson’s morning paper reviews wouldn’t come until I was much older the iconic Sunday lunchtime roar of Golaco is one that, when the males in the household could wrestle control of the only television in the house (remember this was the early 90’s), would fill my ears with joy. Whilst the likes of Gabriel Batistuta at Fiorentina, George Weah at AC Milan and much later Giuseppe Signori during his spell at Bologna would often pique my interest it was the sight of the blue of Sampdoria that would really focus my enthusiasm. Gianluca Vialli may have deserted I Bluccerchiati for The Old Lady of Turin after that final defeat but Roberto Mancini was still there and over those formative years the likes of Atillo Lombardo, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Valdimir Jugovic, Alberigo Evani and Vincenzo Montella earned my support as players came and went. Each one donning that beautiful blue, white, red and black kit.
Oh my, what a kit it is. Whilst I will always remember the letters ERG emblazoned across the player’s chests the top that takes pride of my place amongst my collection is sponsor free. The club crest featuring a sailor on the sleeve and the Genovese shield sitting pride of place in the centre of those red, white and black hoops. The blue body a perfect back drop to it all. My Subbuteo set (again, early nineties folks) had felt incomplete until the day I was bought squad number 398, that of Sampdoria and, rather annoyingly, Dundee who had understandably ripped off Samp’s shirt design for their own such was it’s majesty. I can say with some confidence that the Tayside version was nothing but a pale imitation.
Life and television deals meant that I stopped seeing as much of Sampdoria as I would want to. I still kept my eye in though and my betting account was often boosted in the late 2000’s by the exploits of Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini as they made it to the Champions League play off round in the 2008/09 season. They failed to make the group stages and a couple of seasons later in 2011 they were relegated. I started having fears that this great club would go the way of so many others in Italy have and continue to do but thankfully their stay in Serie B was short lived and the following season they were back regularly on my screen. Led by Mauro Icardi, the latest in a long line of Argentine mavericks including Ariel Ortega and Juan Sebastian Veron to wear the famous blue shirt, they survived relegation beating champions Juventus on the final day of the season along the way.
Since then sustainability has been the watch word aided by a revamped and very successful scouting system. In 2015 Samp qualified for the Europa League after city rivals Genoa couldn’t meet UEFA licensing criteria a sweet moment after their city rivals funeral procession mockery following the 2011 relegation. Mid table is currently the staple though for Marco Giampolo’s side but that doesn’t mean the romance is dead, far from it, and the goalscoring exploits of Italian football’s latest renaissance man 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella are just one of a number of reasons that will ensure this side will always have a place in my heart.
I sign this ode off with an admission. I’ve never made it to the Stadio Luigi Ferrari. I know one day I will, quite frankly I have to and I hope that when that day comes it’s everything that the six year old boy sitting on his parent’s bed all those years ago in Glasgow hoped it would be.
Forza Sampdoria per sempre!