A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: Genoa
Key Ultra Groups: Fossa dei Grifoni (Griffins Den), Via Armenia 5r (5r Armenia Street), Ottavio Barbiera, Vecchi Orsi (Old Bears).
Other Ultra/Fan Groups: Brigata Speloncia (Speloncia Brigade), Figgi do Zena (Dialect for Figli di Genova – Sons of Genoa), Ragazzi Certosa (Certosa boys), Ragazze Certosa (Certosa Girls), South Group, Old Block, Sette Setembre (7th of September), Vecchia Sestri (Old Sestri), Superbi Zena (Pride of Genova)
In the 1990s, during the derby della lanterna (the derby of the lighthouse), the red and blue half of the Stadio Luigi Ferraris unveiled a banner reading “We are Genoa”. It was a banner of mammoth proportions engulfing all the supporters in Genoa’s Gradinata Nord – a flight of steps resembling the end of an English stadium rather than an orthodox Italian Curva.
That the Luigi Ferraris appears anglicised and the banner itself was in English is entirely appropriate. It was a declaration of pride in the club’s long history, which started in 1893 when British Consular officials set up the Genoa Cricket and Football Club. It also served as a mocking reminder to their opponents and city rivals Sampdoria, born 53 years later in 1946, Genoa was the club with the prestigious footballing past, both as the oldest team in Italy and as the beating heart of the city.
Wedged between the Ligurian Sea and the Apennine Mountains, the city of Genoa is a sight to behold. Steeped in history and cultural splendour, the Genovese take fierce pride in their city, hence its nickname “La Superba” – ‘The Proud One’.
They are also known to be tough, resourceful and reserved. However, when the weekend arrives and the Grifoni (Griffins) grace the Luigi Ferraris, this reticence is lost in a tumultuous atmosphere that can produce some of the most spectacular tifo (fandom) Italy has to offer. As journalist Marco Liguori puts it:
“If you speak about trophies in Italy, the teams that have become legend are Juventus, Inter and Milan, but if you speak instead about fandom, it is the Gradinata Nord of the Marassi that is legend.”
The history of Genoa’s support is inextricably linked with the formation of their first Ultra group Fossa dei Grifoni (FdG) (Griffins Den) in 1973. Fossa was part of the supporters group Ottavio Barbieri, which was named after the former Genoa player. Both groups were born out of a dark era in the club’s history, when they languished in Serie C. FdG embodied the soul and ancestry of Genoa, combining British characteristics of sustained organised chanting with the breathtaking choreographies of Italian fandom.
Having established a real sense of unity, the Ultras’ heyday came in the late 1980s to early 1990s, when coach Osvaldo Bagnoli led the Rossoblu to a fourth-place finish in Serie A and European qualification. Genoa’s trip to face Liverpool in the quarter-final of the Uefa Cup in 1992 is fondly remembered for the vociferous and powerful support at Anfield. The Genoa fans were applauded by the Liverpool supporters at the final whistle.
In 1993, protests against the then-president Aldo Spinelli as well as strained relationships with the local press and police led to the disbanding of the FdG. Former members dispersed and joined groups such as Ottavio Barbieri, while others created splinter groups like Vecchi Orsi (Old Bears). Now Via Armenia 5r (5r Armenia Street), who are accompanied by the banner “You’ll never walk alone” are the vanguard of the Gradinata Nord. I Figgi do Zena – Sons of Genoa in Genovese vernacular – also produce some impressive choreography, having taken their place in a section of the ground which traditionally had a more serene atmosphere.
Unfortunately this zealous fanaticism can lead to ignominious acts of violence. On 29 January 1995, a match between Genoa and AC Milan was marred by tragedy after Genoa supporter Vincenzo Claudio Spagnolo was fatally stabbed. The culprit, Simone Brasaglia, was a member of AC Milan’s notoriously violent fringe Ultra group, the Barbour Gang (a reference to the British styled coats they wore). When news of the stabbing spread, the game was cancelled at half time and riots broke out around the Marassi, with Genoani seeking vengeance.
Calcio reeled and the following week’s league fixtures were postponed. The incident sparked the first ever national Ultra gathering in which groups pleaded for an end to the use of knives and mindless attacks. Brasaglia was sentenced to 16 years in prison and a monument in memory of Spagnolo was subsequently erected outside the Marassi. Political backlash was also swift. A new anti-violence decree was implemented that attempted to subjugate organised fans; however this didn’t stymie their considerable power inside the stadiums.
On 22 April 2012, Genoa hosted fellow relegation strugglers Siena. What unfolded was truly unfathomable. With the Grifoni trailing 4-0 early in the second half, a group of Genoani launched flares on to the pitch and clambered up on to the tunnel and fences towards the locker room. The players were effectively held hostage and the referee was forced to abandon the game.
The Rossoblu captain, Marco Rossi, attempted to negotiate but was met with demands that the players hand over their shirts as they were deemed unworthy of wearing them. After consulting with club president Enrico Preziosi, who by now had joined the players on the pitch along with a host of stewards and police, Rossi began to collect the shirts. It was a moment that evoked a certain pathos, with some players reduced to tears.
Giuseppe Sculli was having none of it. Known to be the grandson of a notorious Calabrian mafia boss and bolshie at the best of times, he refused to hand over his shirt. After a passionate exchange, the player and the Ultras embraced and the game eventually resumed.
The Ultras had halted a top flight game (neither the first nor the last of such incidents), but it was the revelations that followed that beggared belief. While Genoa were hit with a hefty fine, Sculli was banned after accusations of having prior knowledge of the Ultras’ protest; his apparent heroism was a sham. Whether it is true or not, the story shows the power and sway held by the Ultras.
Despite such incidents, the supporters have been unwavering and the atmosphere produced at the Marassi can often stun and awe. Their fealty has not gone unnoticed and in an ultimate tribute the club retired the number 12 in honour of the supporters. They are both figuratively and literally Genoa’s 12th man and this is encapsulated in their motto: “Support Genoa when they win but love them when they lose.”
The following is a video of Genoa’s choreography during the Derby della Lanterna on February, 3, 2014.
You can also read these articles on Richard Hall’s website – The Gentleman Ultra.