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Caught ball-watching, the Liverpool defence and the capacity crowd at Anfield could only look on in horror as Gennaro Ruotolo’s cross was met by Carlos Aguilera. The Uruguayan would punish the collective error, controlling the ball perfectly before firing an unstoppable shot beyond Red’s goalkeeper Michael Hooper. The Italian side already held a 2-0 lead from the first leg, allowing the scorer to break into a dance perhaps more befitting of his pop star namesake but his team-mates knew what would follow.
Liverpool were back in Europe for the first time following their post-Heysel suspension and were in no mood to be humiliated by their Italian visitors. John Barnes, Jan Molby and Steve McManaman repeatedly carved the Genoa defence apart, a goal line clearance from skipper Gianluca Signorini denying the latter while Ian Rush and Dean Saunders squandered a plethora of chances.
Rush would eventually get on the scoresheet but with 20 minutes to go, a slick counterattack from the Grifone allowed Aguilera to end the tie, bundling home from close range before celebrating with fans behind the goal. Those same supporters had never stopped singing throughout the game, vociferously backing their team even when Liverpool were running amok and at the final whistle, Anfield rose as one to acknowledge the effort of that small group who had witnessed history.
Indeed, in registering that 2-1 triumph, Genoa became the first-ever visiting side to beat Liverpool at home in European competition and the fans knew just how to celebrate. Subsequent matches at their own Stadio Luigi Ferraris – itself a very compact and English-feeling ground – saw the home fans begin to sing Liverpool’s “You’ll never walk alone” anthem, a tradition which continues to this very day.
It is not the only familiar-yet-jarring sight at the ageing stadium however, as the flags and banners of the Rossoblu fans often depicts the easily recognisable cross of St George. Unless you are a history buff – or have visited the club’s excellent museum – it may surprise you to learn that, rather than “borrow” the insignia in the same manner they adopted the Gerry and The Pacemaker’s number, it is in fact England who loan its use.
Indeed, St George was the Patron Saint of Genoa two centuries before his association with England, so much so that the British monarchy actually paid an annual tribute to the Doge of Genoa for this privilege of using the flag.
Yet the Italian club owe so much of their history to England too. Genoa Cricket and Football Club – which remains its full name even today – was founded on September 7 1893 and is the oldest football club in Italy. Set up to represent England abroad, their original kits were white like those of the national team and Italians were not permitted to join, but four years later the fledgling organisation became much more prominent.
It was then that James Richardson Spensley arrived, arranging various friendly matches and changing the kits to the red and blue vertical stripes we see today. They enjoyed great success, winning a number of national titles and improved further still when Englishman William Garbutt was brought in as head coach. Italy’s first professional manager, the man from Hazel Grove in Cheshire became known as “Il Mister” by his players, a term still used to refer to Coaches in the modern era.
Garbutt prowled the sidelines smoking a pipe, but he revolutionised Genoa, guiding them to yet more titles while implementing training regimes that placed heavy emphasis on physical fitness and tactics. He was also responsible for the first paid transfers Italy had ever seen, buying players from different clubs and even arranging lucrative friendlies abroad including one meeting with his former club Reading.
When he left in 1927, no team in Italy had won more league titles than Genoa’s total of nine, yet they have never again finished top of the table, their tally since overtaken by Juventus, Milan and Inter. He returned for a brief stint before World War II broke out but was unable to recapture those earlier success, the rest of the league having followed his methods and even improved upon them.
Yet Genoa never forgot those English roots, their name only reverting to the Italian spelling of Genova under strict orders from Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime but quickly reverting to the original once Il Duce had been removed from power.
That UEFA Cup clash with Liverpool allowed fans to show off and they certainly did just that, displaying a huge banner that filled one whole side of the stadium. Not one end behind the goal, the entire 105 meters of the touchline. “We Are Genoa” it boasted, a truly stunning sight and one that has occasionally been repeated during derby clashes with cross-town rivals Sampdoria.
Those meetings also now reverberate to the sound of Rossoblu fans singing “You’ll never walk alone” as Genoa CFC continue to enjoy their very English roots.