Before the Bianca-cerchiati

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By Les Motherby

Kit tradition is important, right? So much in football changes on a regular basis; players and managers come and go, the divisions and competitions a club plays in can change annually, and because of commercial imperatives, kit designs also change yearly. Kit traditions though, offer some semblance of continuity amid the constant flux, they act as an anchor for club identity.

It is easy then, to view kit tradition as immutable and absolute, almost law. But here’s the thing: such traditions tend not to be codified, they exist mostly in the hive mind of fandom, and fandom, though quite resistant to change initially, can adapt to kit tinkering, and even go on to accept the amended look as a tradition in its own right.

Let me give some examples. Liverpool fans of an advanced age will remember Ian St John and Ian Callaghan wearing white shorts with the red shirts, since the switch to all-red didn’t happen until 1965; some vintage Leeds United supporters will recall Billy Bremner and Jack Charlton in blue and yellow shirts at home, ahead of the change to all-white in 1961.

Despite the old styles once being ‘traditional’, it’s likely that Liverpool releasing a new home kit with white shorts, and next season’s Leeds turning out at Elland Road in blue shirts would meet some resistance, because tradition, not so immutable as sometimes believed, has moved on. What have Ian St John and Billy Bremner got to do with Sampdoria, you might ask? Alright, I’ll get to that…

Sampdoria-2015-2016-Joma-maglia-trasferta-01When Spanish kit supplier Joma took over from Kappa in 2015, their first kitset included a white away shirt that **gasp** didn’t have the ‘cerchiata’, the blue, white, red and black bands across the chest. Samp fans are known for their kit traditionalism, understandable when they have one of the most distinctive, recognisable and I might add beautiful home shirts in the world. Therefore, there were murmurings of discontent about the missing coloured hoops, part of the ‘colori magici’, or magic colours.

The chest bands – split by a cross of St George in a shield, part of the city of Genova’s* coat of arms – have featured on every Sampdoria primary shirt since their inception in 1946, when Sampierdarenese and Andrea Doria merged and their respective kit designs fused.

*I’m electing to use the Italian spelling of the city’s name, that way I don’t have to utter the name of Samp’s cross-city rivals, who use the anglicised spelling.

Sampdoria-1990-1991-asics-maglia-trasferta-01Samp away shirts though, well that’s a different story. The bands, including two extra blue hoops to replicate how they are framed on the home kit, didn’t appear on an away shirt until 1990 when Japanese firm Asics became the club’s technical sponsors. Legendary forward Roberto Mancini, who with Gianluca Vialli had conceived Doria’s red third kit necessitated for a Cup Winners’ Cup game against Grasshoppers of Zurich, is believed to have had a hand in the ‘bianco-cerchiata’ shirt too, which became the new norm following unprecedented success.

Trophy-less until the 1980s, Sampdoria had won the Coppa Italia in 1985, 1988 and 1989, and their star was still on the rise as the new decade began. They took the European Cup Winners’ Cup back to Genova in May 1990 and more silverware was to follow: their first season in Asics kit, 1990/91, coincided with their first (and to date only) Italian league title.

As Serie A’s sole entrant for the 1991-92 edition of the European Cup, Sampdoria overcame Rosenborg, Budapest Honvéd, Anderlecht, Red Star Belgrade and Panathinaikos (the latter three in a group stage) to reach the final at Wembley, where they would face Barcelona. At the self styled ‘venue of legends’, both sides wore change kits, with Barcelona in orange Sampdoria donning a third iteration of ‘la bianco-cerchiata’.

The first white banded shirt (1990-91) featured a blue collar, the word-mark of Asics in red with a black outline, the familiar sponsor of ERG and the club crest on the left sleeve (as worn). This was first seen in a Wembley hosted Makita Cup game against Real Sociedad, though only for the first half, the Spanish changed to white during the break, and Samp played the second half in blue.

Sampdoria-1991-1992-asics-maglia-trasferta-01The second, used at Fiorentina, Napoli, Roma, Foggia, Hellas Verona, Inter, Atalanta and curiously in just the first half at Lazio in 1991-92, had the same basic construction, but the red Asics word-mark was embroidered and no longer had an outline, and over the heart a gold trimmed Scudetto patch proudly acknowledged Samp’s status as reigning champions.

A new bianca-cerchiata shirt was revealed at the 1992 European Cup final, one that would be the basis for the 1992/93 away kit, only this version had no ‘Baciccia’ crest and was sans-ERG. In this era, only one club mark was permitted on kits in UEFA competitions, so the symbol of the city of Genova was favoured over the club’s old sailor badge for games in Europe, and sponsors were prohibited in finals. This shirt had a blue polo collar and a placket that when unbuttoned revealed the bands on the back piece. For the final, gold embroidered text read ‘CHAMPION CLUBS CUP, WEMBLEY 92’ above the tricolore Scudetto patch.

Sampdoria-1992-asics-maglia-away-European-Cup-final-Barcelona-01Ronald Koeman’s goal from a free kick in extra time broke the hearts of the Sampdoriani, but in the minds of spectators around the world a white shirt with chest bands became established as THE away shirt style of the European Cup silver medallists going forward. A new tradition had been established and, 23 later, non-adherence to that tradition would invoke internet wrath.

But what of the time before this new tradition? Let’s look back on some of the away shirts worn before the era of ‘la bianco-cerchiata’…

In their first season, Sampdoria wore grey change shirts against Brescia and Atalanta, maroon shirts against Lazio, and even repurposed the Sampierdaranese shirts (white with one red and one black chest band) for the visit of Napoli. The first true Sampdoria white change shirts were debuted in the club’s second season, 1948-49, and used against Novara in the March. It was the hosts who changed back then, into ‘courtesy shirts’. The first white jersey we’re taking real interest in though was used in the 1950s.

It featured a collar, and over the heart the club coat of arms was sewn on: an escutcheon with the ‘blu-cerchiata’ and cross of St George ‘scudetto’ or little shield.

As well as on early change shirts, this patch was seen on the blazers of managers and staff, and made a comeback on shirts in 2016 when Joma featured it on the third kit, a trick they repeated on the following three third kits.

Sampdoria-1969-1970-maglia-trasferta-01‘Away kits’ didn’t become a thing in Italy until 1969-70, when it was decreed that the travelling club should change to prevent a clash. Sampdoria’s first away shirt was impossibly stylish but, disappointingly, only used for one full season. It featured the bands orientated diagonally, left to right (as worn) with the ‘stemma San Giorgio’ over the heart. First used at Fiorentina in September 1969, the shirt was also worn at Bologna, Lazio, Hellas Verona and Inter, and also made one appearance in the 1970-71 season in a Coppa Italia tie at Ternana.

Sampdoria-1970-1971-maglia-trasferta-01The lurid fashions of the late 1960s and early 1970s had no impact on football kit design in the same period – in fact, shirts somehow got simpler. The diagonally banded away shirt was replaced in 1970-71 by a similarly crew-necked jersey that only had one adornment, the St George cross shield over the heart.

The start of the 1979-80 campaign heralded a new, commercially savvy era for Sampdoria, with Puma becoming the club’s first ‘technical sponsor’, and therefore the first brand to have a conspicuous mark on match kit.

Sampdoria-1979-1980-Puma-maglia-trasferta-01Doria’s away shirt for this one season of Puma branding was at first look the same as the previous season’s with an added cat appliqué. However a wide blue stripe running from collar to sleeve, absent on the unbranded shirt-a-likes, showed it was a distinct garment. The most prominent feature was a blu-cerchiata polo collar attached to a self-coloured deep wrapover v-neck.

The launch of the Baciccia crest coincided with the arrival of the EnnErre brand as kit supplier for 1980/81. Founded in 1972 by former footballer Nicola Raccuglia (whose initials give the firm its name), EnnErre are perhaps best known for clothing Napoli in the Maradona era. Their first Samp away shirt, used for two seasons, was somewhat unspectacular, but things improved dramatically in 1982 when they launched a look that remain for the rest of the decade, even after Kappa replaced EnnErre in 1988.

Sampdoria-1982-1983-Ennerre-maglia-trasferta-01The bands now ran vertical, on the right side of the shirt as worn, conveniently making room for the wordmark of Samp’s first shirt advertiser: Phonola, the radio and television set producer. This style of shirt became familiar with anglophone football fans as it was worn by Liam Brady, Trevor Francis and Graeme Souness during their stints playing in Genova.

The use of the bianco-cerchiata shirts has become a tradition in its own right, but there is a rich heritage of white shirts without the chest bands to be admired and possibly referenced in future away kit designs.

The diagonally banded 1969-70 away shirt was clearly the inspiration for Kappa’s 2010-11 change shirt, albeit with the direction of the bands reversed, and the modern kit cycle which demands three new kits a year, means we might see a similarly reflective design soon.

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