- Les Motherby is one of the driving forces behind Hull City Kits but he also has a weakness for Sampdoria and has put together this comprehensive piece on their ‘sailor’ crest, known as Baciccia
In the summer of 2017, Italian side Sampdoria and their ‘technical partner’ Joma released a home kit that was generally well received by fans of the Blucerchiati (blue-circled or blue-hooped).
The smattering of criticism that was evident on social media focused on one element of the shirt that represented a change from the season just passed: the placement of the crest. To paraphrase comments made by some Samp fans: “Lo stemma dovrebbe essere sul petto, sul cuore”, or “the club crest should be on the chest, over the heart”.
An understandable stance, perhaps, given that the crest had appeared on the sleeve instead of the chest in only two of the previous 20 seasons, but it was a view that overlooked the origins of the crest, which appeared on the sleeves of shirts in its first season of use.
People unfamiliar with the crest of the Genova based-club, who were champions of Italy in 1991 and are four-time Italian cup winners, might be forgiven for wondering what it depicts when they first see it. I’ll admit that as a youngster I wondered if might be a pipe-smoking Highland Terrier wearing a graduation ‘mortar-board’ hat, and an article in The Guardian likened it to a werewolf and a ‘furry-faced samurai’.
The silhouetted figure contained in a shield is however, an old sailor, Genova being a port city, and he’s wearing a typical fisherman’s hat. He has a name too – Baciccia. That, is an accented, dimunutive version of Battista, or Baptist, and as it happens, John the Baptist is the patron saint of both sailors and the city of Genova.
Described as a ‘symbol of the society ‘, this mark was unveiled 38 years ago in September 1980 and was, incredibly, heralded by none other than Donald Duck in the pages of Topolino (Mickey Mouse), a licensed Disney comic digest owned by publishing conglomerate Panini, of football sticker fame.
Before 1980, the only symbol that appeared on shirts was the stemma San Giorgio, a shield containing the cross of St George, red on a field of white. This represents Sampdoria’s home city, whose maritime republic took St George as its patron saint in either the 11th or 12th century. It is not, as the Sphinx Football podcast recently suggested “a nod to Genoa’s English heritage in football”, for England adopted Genova’s flag some 700 years prior to Londoner James Richardson Spensley arriving in the Ligurian port ahead of him forming a footballing arm of the Genoa Cricket & Athletic Club in 1897.
English ships sailing in the Mediterranean from 1190 displayed the St George cross to benefit from the protection of the Genovese fleet from pirates, a service for which the Doge of Genova received yearly tribute from the English monarch.
The stemma San Giorgio, which splits the red and black bands on the front of Sampdoria primary shirts, was first joined by the Baccicia crest on shirts made by Puma, though the jumping big cat logo had been removed. The German firm became the first ‘technical sponsor’ of I Blucerchiati in 1979-80, and the first supplier to have their logo on Samp’s shirts, but they were replaced by Italian mark Ennerre (the pronunciation of NR, the initials of founder Nicola Raccuglia) for the first season to begin in the Eighties.
The crest appeared on the left side of chest (as worn) in pre-season friendlies, but migrated to the right side for the start of the 1980/81 Serie B campaign. Baciccia moved to the left shoulder midseason though when NR got round to providing kit with their mark on it.
There it would remain for the next 14 years, comprising the remaining seven seasons with NR, the first of two periods in Kappa gear (the firm would renew acquaintances with Samp in 2004), taking in the 1988-89 Italian Cup and 1989-90 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup victories, as well as the early Asics years, including Doria’s only title-winning season to date, their subsequent Champions Cup run which ended in the Wembley-hosted final when Barcelona won their first European Cup, and their most recent Coppa Italia triumph in 1993/94.
It is interesting to note though that, because of Uefa rules limiting the number of marks on a kit, Baciccia didn’t feature in the 1989 and 1990 Cup Winners’ Cup finals or the 1992 European Cup decider (seen here on the right, with the title-winning kit on the left). That 1-0 defeat to Barcelona at Wembley saw the club use what would become the 1992-93 away strip, the only time that the Scudetto featured on that design.
So adept were Samp at gathering silverware in this period (they added an Italian Supercup to their haul in 1991) that the placement of the crest on the shoulder was a necessity, for the chest space across from the maker’s mark was taken up by the Scudetto (the ‘little shield’, a tricolore appliqué worn by the reigning league champions) or a Coccarda (the tricolore roundel denoting the domestic cup resides in the trophy cabinet of the club wearing it).
Though the Samp side of 1995/96 still had clout – it contained luminaries such as Walter Zenga, Christian Karembeu, Clarence Seedorf, Siniša Mihajlović, the stalwart Roberto Mancini (yet to begin his dalliance with Leicester) and local lad Enrico Chiesa – the trophy-winning days were over, and a tacit acknowledgement of that was the Baciccia crest moving to the chest.
It’s no surprise then that I Blucerchiati might return to having the grizzled, pipe-smoking sailor back on the shoulders of shirts in the hope it means a return to days of glory, even if some fans forget where he was placed, or more likely were not around when Samp were cutting a swath through Serie A and the continent.
For added authenticity, the 2017/18 shirt not only had the crest on the sleeve, but it was sans club name, as it had been from the inception of the Baciccia shield until 1995-96, when ‘U.C. Sampdoria’ was added beneath the sailor’s head, written diagonally in sympathetic treatment to the oblique bands underneath Baciccia.
This version of the crest was utilised until 2015 when Spanish firm Joma took over from Kappa as kit supplier, though it didn’t always appear on shirts in that 20-year spell: between 1996 and 2001 only the silhouette of Baciccia, freed from the confines of the shield was displayed.
The home shirt of 1996-97 had him appear in black with a white outline, but for 1997-98 he was rendered just in white, a look repeated in 1998-99.
He was still added in white for 1999-2000, but this time ‘2000’ was overlaid to mark the new millennium. The sailor’s head appeared in white one last time for 2000-01, and he’s been back inside the shield since 2001-02 (right).
Whether within a shield or not, with accompanying text or not, placed over the heart or not, the bearded mariner has been part of Sampdoria’s iconography for nearly four decades, a pleasingly human symbol for a football club in a league of wolves, snakes, eagles, bulls, griffins and donkeys.
He has survived attempts by the anti-smoking lobby to remove his pipe, and the march of time that has rendered his fisherman’s beret old hat, remaining the anthropomorphic representation of Unione Calcio Sampdoria. ALE’ DORIA!