Unione Calcio Sampdoria’s iconic shirt was not contrived but fortuitously arrived at when Sampierdarenese merged with Andrea Doria in 1964. Sampierdarenese had worn white shirts with a red and black band around the middle, paired with black shorts and socks. Andre Doria’s strip was comprised of a blue and white halved jersey, blue shorts and blue socks. A number of configurations were possible but the shirt’s creator opted for blue shirts with a white-red-black-white horizontal set of stripes around the middle and the stemma San Giorgio – ‘cross of St George’ – at its centre. This cross was also present on the shirts of Andre Doria’s. Whether Sampierdarenese’s fans felt aggrieved by this is not known. The symbol is a homage to the patron saint of Genoa, so maybe not.
In any case, in 1980 Sampdoria decided to introduce a proper club crest and came up with one of the most weird and wonderful emblems of its kind. For the uninitiated, the Baciccia, as it is known, depicts the silhouetted profile of a bearded sailor smoking a pipe, with blue, red and black stripes bending sinister behind him. So not only do Sampdoria possess one of the finest looking shirts in football but it might also be said they have the best badge.
For much of the 1980s sportswear manufacture Ennerre was Italian football’s prevalent brand, supplying strips for, among others, Roma, Napoli, Fiorentina, Atalanta, Bologna and Sampdoria. As the decade neared its end so too did Ennerre’s dominance. In 1988 Fiorentina turned to ABM for their gear, Bologna to Uhlsport, and Sampdoria to Kappa. (Napoli, Roma and Atalanta would remain affiliated with Ennerre until 1991.)
1987/88 had been a good year for Vujadin Boškov’s team, finishing fourth in the league and defeating Torino in the final of the Coppa Italia. Kappa’s first outing as Sampdoria’s kit supplier would therefore feature the coccarda sewn upon the left breast. Ordinarily this would have necessitated relocating the club’s badge to the shirt’s sleeve, except it was already there – had been since Ennerre moved it in 1981 for reasons unbeknown to anyone but them. Other distinguishing features included the Kappa logo embroidered in white upon the right side of the chest, the slanted, uppercase font of new sponsor ERG sublimated above the jersey’s distinctive hoops, and a rather natty collar. (Unlike the shirts they were now providing for Juventus and A.C. Milan, Kappa saw no need to incorporate micropatterned textures.)
The partnership got off to a good start. Sampdoria retained the Coppa Italia, beating Maradona’s Napoli 4-1 over two legs, and made it into the final of the 1988/89 European Cup Winners’ Cup, losing to Barcelona in Bern. They finished Serie A in fifth place, one place down on the previous season, although 18 teams had competed for the title as opposed to the mere 16 the year before. Gianluca Vialli netted 14 goals, his highest return of his career thus far, Roberto Mancini scored 9, while Gianluca Pagliuca established himself as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper.
Having won the Coppa Italia for a second consecutive year, Sampdoria’s shirt remained unchanged for 1989/90. Indeed, the campaign took on a very similar flavour to the last: another fifth place finish in Serie A and a consecutive appearance in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. This time around Sampdoria were victorious, beating Anderlecht in Gothenburg courtesy of two extra-time goals from Gianluca Vialli, who was also the competition’s top goal scorer. Conversely, Sampdoria’s Coppa Italia challenge ended prematurely when Juventus knocked them out in the group stage.
Who could have predicted what was to happen next to the Genovese side? A quick word regarding personnel. In 1989 Vujadin Boškov had made two significant signings: the Italian winger Attilio Lombardo from Cremonese, and the Yugoslav defender Srečko Katanec from VfB Stuttgart. In 1990 the Ukrainian Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko replaced Victor Munoz in a midfield that also featured the play-making talents of Toninho Cerezo and Giuseppe Dossena. Pietro Vierchowod and Luca Pellegrini were solid in defence; Gianluca Vialli and striking partner Roberto Mancini were indomitable up front.
Meanwhile, Japanese sportswear manufacturer ASICS replaced Kappa as Sampdoria’s kit supplier. Or did they? Aside from the now absent coccarda, the shirt was ostensibly the same. I suspect that it was the same jersey and that Kappa had been subcontracted by ASICS to make shirts under their brand. Whatever sort of arrangement may or may not have been in place, ASICS was the main beneficiary for Sampdoria were about to win their first (and, so far, only) Coppa Campioni d'Italia, finishing ahead of both A.C. Milan and reigning champions Inter by a comfortable five points. (Gianluca Vialli scored 19 goals – his highest tally in any one season – and Mancini added another 12.)
Apart for the scudetto that now adorned Sampdoria’s shirts, their kit remained little altered for the following season. Unfortunately, the club’s form did not. Sampdoria finished a disappointing sixth in the league and were knocked out of the Coppa Italia in the semi-final by eventual winners Parma. However, in what would be Boškov’s final year as manager, Sampdoria did make it to the final of the European Cup only to lose to Barcelona (again) after Ronald Koeman drilled home a free kick in extra-time from some 25 yards out. Interestingly, Sampdoria used this opportunity – or had the opportunity pressed upon them – to wear next seasons’ shirt. Gone was the slim-line V-neck and in it’s place was a snap-fastened collar. Hardly a radical change, but the damage was done.
Roberto Mancini, 1990/91
From 1988 through to 1992 Sampdoria’s shirts were much the same. If the club hadn’t been winning trophies that brought with them symbolic, physical motifs – the coccarda and the scudetto – then anyone would be hard pressed to tell them apart. Fortunate, then, that this tenure coincided with what can be seen retrospectively as the high watermark in football apparel.
And yet Kappa/ASICS never showed quite the respect Sampdoria’s colours deserved. We can be grateful that the shirt was never micropatterned, which would have distracted from its extraordinary design. But at the very least they could have sewn the bloody badge on, as pretty much every other sportswear manufacture was doing at the time. Instead the Baciccia was subjected to dye-sublimation, which looked cheap.