Date: 7th September 2018 at 10:00am
Written by:

“Anemmu a vedde u cricket” or ”let’s go and see the cricket.” You wouldn’t associate this phrase with Calcio. But you’d be wrong.

This was the clarion call for football fans in Genoa from the 1890s onwards. It’s rarely heard these days, but hasn’t died out completely. On this day in 1893, a group of Brits, mostly Englishmen, formed Genoa Cricket and Athletic Club.

Football was considered of secondary importance originally, but had taken over by the late 1890s. After changing their name to Genoa Cricket and Football Club, which remains today, the Grifone won nine league titles between 1898 and 1924.

Maintaining such success proved impossible. But the English influence lingered. The nickname ‘the Cricket’ endured even if the bats and pads were left gathering dust.

From the 1890s to the 1930s a strange hybrid language punctuated football matches between children in the streets and squares. Italian voices shouted odd things. A cry of “Ends!” occasionally filled the air, likewise “Foll!” and “Offsai!”.

“Ends” was handball, derived from “hands” and not the usual Italian “mano”. “Foll” came from the word foul, tinged with a northern English pronunciation. “Offsai” is the easiest to work out – a British-inspired alternative to “fuori gioco” (offside).

The most famous Genova-inspired vernacular is still used across the country. Coaches in Calcio are known as “Mister” because that is what hugely successful player-manager father James Richardson Spensley told his players to call him.

Mister aside, such lingo is sparse among the under 75s, but the club name is untouchable. When Benito Mussolini outlawed foreign terms in the 1920s and 1930s, he forced football clubs to ditch English names. Ever defiant, Genoa Cricket and Football Club refused to alter their title.

What about that eccentric sport with the hard, small red ball? After a long break, cricket is alive and kicking. Enrico Penello is the team’s batsman/wicket keeper: “Genoa Cricket Club formed in 2007. Last season the Under 17s won the league, but the first team had a difficult campaign in Serie A. We are preparing for a Coppa Italia game at the end of this month.

“In the city of Genoa we feel our links with England, not just in sport but at a socio-cultural level. Cricket isn’t widely followed outside the immigrant community, but it does allow the integration of people from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and England,” continued Penello.

Back to football, the Ligurians have started 2018/19 a little inconsistently. After their opening fixture away to AC Milan was postponed following the Morandi Bridge tragedy which hit the city, they first win came at home to Empoli before a 5-3 defeat to Sassuolo. Thus, there is still much work to be done for Genoa coach Davide Ballardini.

After losing goalkeeping talisman Mattia Perin, defender Armando Izzo and enigmatic midfielder Diego Laxalt, Ballardini’s charges have much to do if they are to light up Serie A this season, and avoid flirting with the relegation zone.

Perched tantalisingly on nine titles, Genoa will earn a commemorative star for their shirts if they win the Scudetto again. Three other clubs, AC Milan, Inter and Juventus, have reached the ten championships landmark.

That stellar target is unrealistic for the moment. But wherever they finish the season, the Grifone will always be Italy’s oldest football (and cricket) club. Happy birthday.