“The most beautiful shirt in the world,” Matt Corr’s Italian Celt Diary

“The most beautiful shirt in the world,” Matt Corr’s Italian Celt diary…

So it’s been the strangest of weeks as Celtic clinch a world record eighth domestic Treble then say goodbye to the manager who was instrumental in delivering the latest of those. If seven days is a lifetime in politics, then it’s an eternity in football. But we move on, as we always do.

It’s now time for a break and as always there is a Celtic connection. My wife has spoken about going to Portofino for several years now and given the amount of time I’ve been devoting to all things Celtic then it’s about time I got that organised. This beautiful village by the sea is on the Italian Riviera and a quick glance at the map shows Genoa as the nearest major city. So, flights are booked and we’re good to go the day after the Champions League final.

Ahead of the trip, I’ve contacted my good friend Alessandro Boretti, President of The Italian Celts CSC, with the usual request for good Celtic contacts in that part of the world. As always, ‘Bore’ comes up with the goods and I receive a message from a Genoa-based Celt, Danilo.

First meeting with the Italian Celts
Alessandro makes Matt an honorary Italian Celt
Italian Celt Dany wearyng his Hoops
Italian Celts in St Gallen

I recognise Dany from his profile photo as one of the many Italian Celts to have come over to Scotland since I first met them on a stadium tour the best part of five years ago. I’m extremely proud to be an honorary member of the club and to consider them as friends.

This group of passionate Celtic supporters from perhaps the world’s most beautiful country are something else entirely, travelling everywhere to follow the Hoops from their homes all over Italy. An annual pilgrimage to Glasgow is made each October to coincide with the anniversary of Johnny Doyle, a Celt they have truly taken to their hearts.

I was delighted to receive an invitation to their function in the Brazen Head in the Gorbals in October 2019, where Johnny’s daughter Joanne was presented with a framed photo of her dad. At one point, the group started singing together around the pool table and instinctively I recorded it, the first time I had ever heard the song we now know and love as “Bella Ciao.” Crazy to think we now hear the same tune belted out every time the Hoops are in action, “the only team for you and me.”

Brazen Head October 2019 – Dany is on right in Hoops
Italian Celts on tour October 2019

Turns out that Dany is coming over for the games against Hibernian and Aberdeen and also the Scottish Cup final. We arrange to meet at Easter Road, and it is lovely to see him again. Sadly, that was the only good part of the evening as a strangely subdued Celtic team turn a winning position into a disappointing defeat.

Three days later, all is forgiven as the Celts turn in a stunning performance on Trophy Day, setting us up nicely for the cup final. Everything about that day was perfect Celtic theatre, from the procession up The Celtic Way, a fabulous ‘full-stadium’ tifo, a top-class 90-minute football display then an emotional lap of honour at full-time. This is how it feels to be Celtic.

In midweek, I have the pleasure of meeting two former Celts who know all about preparing for a Scottish Cup final. Billy Craig and Peter Goldie wore those iconic Hoops with pride in the Fabulous Fifties, alongside the greats. Stein, Tully, Fallon, Evans and Fernie. It is a privilege to listen to them roll back the years and bring history to life. The perfect pre-match appetiser.

READ THIS…When Peter Goldie met Billy Craig – Two Celtic stars reunited

1957 League Cup final photo. Peter is extreme left in back row.
Billy’s medal

I meet up with Dany again at Hampden on the Saturday ahead of the big match and exchanged travel details for our trip to Italy the following weekend. Then it’s “On to victory once more” as another sensational tifo lights up the national stadium. Job is duly done as the Scottish Cup returns home to Paradise and the latest piece of Celtic history enters the record books.

We arrive at Genoa’s Aeroporto Cristoforo Colombo late on Sunday afternoon. Dany has travelled to the airport to surprise us, but my 19th century telephony means I don’t receive his message and so we’re already in the main Piazza Principe train station in the city centre before he arrives by car, wearing his Back-to-Back Champions t-shirt, of course. He is then the perfect host, taking us to dinner in Recco to sample the most delicious Genovese food of pesto, pasta and focaccia, which are quickly devoured with a nice glass of Italian beer.

Dany is on the water as his next job is to give us a tour of his beautiful city and surrounding areas. Of course, football is central to any conversation. Many of the buildings are draped with the colours of the city’s two major clubs, Sampdoria and Genoa, the former being the club closest to Dany’s heart.

Speaking of Sampdoria brings back a thousand memories to me. Too many years ago now to be comfortable, I would watch Luca Vialli, Roberto Mancini, Attilio Lombardo, Trevor Francis and…whisper it…Graeme Souness strut their stuff in the Luigi Ferraris. I recall a special television feature on the two ‘Brits Abroad’ where the atmosphere in what was then an uncovered stadium at each end looked and sounded fabulous.

A truly wonderful lifestyle. Over a 16-foot-high ice cream sundae, James Richardson would be the envy of every football supporter in these islands as he anchored Gazzetta Football Italia. Beppe Signori and the great Milan teams. Great times.

Then a few years later, I watched Scotland being Scotland in the now fully- covered Ferraris, losing our World Cup opener to outsiders Costa Rica before beating much-fancied Sweden to set up a do-or-die finale with Brazil in Turin, which of course we lost in the closing minutes.

I’m delighted that without warning, Dany pulls up at the Sampdoria training ground, giving me the option to take some photos of the complex in the hills overlooking the city.

Then we head back into town. It’s dark now but there’s no mistaking the next stopping point, as Dany pulls up outside the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, the home of both Sampdoria and Genoa. Dany bites his lip as he takes me into the Genoa end first – the Gradinata Nord – pointing out the stadium’s unique artwork which covers the external walls, all painted by supporters.


Genoa (note the English spelling of the club, as the city itself is known in Italy as Genova) play in navy and red halved shirts and are the older of the two clubs, having been formed in 1893. Dany advises that the word ‘Zena’ which appears frequently is the Genovese equivalent of ‘Glesga.’ My poor Sampa friend is forced to take some photos of me against the wall art of bitter rivals Genoa, with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” a must have. The cross of St George is also prevalent, George being the patron saint of the city.

Dany does cheer up hugely as we walk around to the stand where he has cheered his team on throughout his life, and points out the window where his grandmother lived, literally across the road. One mural of a dad and son is particularly eye-catching, with the logo “per che squadra tieni…come mio papa.” I support this team…like my father. The rite of passage, Sampa style.

With my schoolboy Italian I translate another logo, “The most beautiful shirt in the world.” Dany’s eyes light up as he tells me that the Sampa jersey was indeed voted the best-looking football shirt anywhere, with Celtic in second place. For once, I don’t challenge that silver medal, as it is a kit I have admired since those Gazzetta days in the 1980s.

The story behind the kit is in many ways the story of the club. Unione Calcio Sampdoria was formed in 1946 following the merger between two city clubs established in the late 19th century, Ginnastica Sampierdarenese – whose colours were white red and black – and Andrea Doria, who wore blue. Their greatest achievements have all come in the modern era, three Copa Italia successes in the second half of the 1980s leading to a first European triumph, two extra-time goals from Luca Vialli in Gothenburg enough to beat Anderlecht in the Cup Winners’ Cup final of May 1990. Twelve months earlier, Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona had beaten Vujadin Boskov’s Sampa by the same score to lift the trophy in Berne.

Image of the old uncovered Stadio Luigi Ferraris

Season 1990/91 saw La Samp lift their only Scudetto to date, finishing five points clear of that wonderful Milan side, the current European champions. That would allow Sampdoria entry to the European Cup for the first time, the Italians going all the way to the final before losing out again to Barca’s Dream Team, an extra-time Ronald Koeman free-kick the only goal of the night at Wembley. Times have changed, the season just ended has seen Samp drop into Serie B as rivals Genoa gain instant promotion having taken the same plunge last season. At least there’s good news for Bore’s team, Hellas Verona. They win a relegation play-off that night against Spezia in neutral Reggio Emilia to survive in the top-flight. We had spoken earlier in the evening on the telephone as he prepared to watch the match.

Downtown Genoa
Downtown Genoa
The Two Towers (Due Torre) in Genoa
Piazza de Ferrari

The stadium tour over, Dany closes the night with a drive through the heart of the city. Hidden gems such as his favourite beach are followed by the beautiful lilac fountains in the city’s main square, the Piazza de Ferrari. We finish up at the iconic lighthouse, which gives its name to the match between Sampdoria and Genoa – the Derby della Lanterna.

Piazza de Ferrari
La Lanterna

The following morning, we do the Genoa sights ourselves, before catching up with Dany briefly at lunchtime. He is genuinely saddened by the news of the death of Silvio Berlusconi. Inadvertently, that will play a part in our holiday, as we find ourselves in Milan on the day of the funeral of the former Italian Prime Minister, who first came to my attention as the President of AC Milan, a few days later.

Sure enough, the Piazza Duomo is busy with folk wishing to pay their respects as the cortege makes it way to the incredible cathedral, progress captured on big screens and generating respectful applause. As the procession plays out before our eyes, we find ourselves adjacent to a statue in the Piazza which has folk clambering over it to get a better view.

I am immediately struck by an image from Celtic’s second European Cup final in May 1970, as supporters from both teams mixed ahead of the match in the San Siro. The Milan Ultras are out in force, their huge flags flying in the packed square providing a surreal sight in the blistering sun as Berlusconi makes his final journey.

Crowds on the statue in Milan’s Piazza Duomo
Similar image from Milan 1970
Milan Ultras at Berlusconi’s funeral
Berlusconi’s last journey

There is one more meeting with our Italian Celt before the holiday draws to a close, and one final surprise in store. We’ve arranged to return Dany’s fabulous hospitality by inviting him for a meal in the resort of Sestri Levante a few days later. It’s a lovely place by the sea, where the locals sit in the narrow streets enjoying food, drink and music and watching the world pass by.

Sestri Levante

We’ve enjoyed another delicious meal and are heading back to our hotel when Dany decides it’s time for some proper music. My wife can’t believe her ears as our host and driver proceeds to play the soundtrack of my Celtic life, one classic tune after another. “There’s Fallon, Young and Gemmell, who proudly wear the green…” “Men like McGrory and Kelly and Stein, made Celtic famous, they reign supreme.” Then the modern anthem’s such as my daughter’s song, “With a four-leaf clover on my breast, and the green and white upon my chest.”

Sestri Levante

We’re speeding through mountain tunnels in the dark, to a Celtic symphony, and life is good. If ever you need proof that Celtic impacts the lives of people far beyond these islands that we call home, this is it.

This is how it feels to be Celtic, Italian Celt style.

And no-one does style like Italian Celts.

Molto grazie, Dany!

Dedicated to the memory of Luca Vialli, who passed away in January 2023 aged just 58.

Matt Corr

Follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue.

About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

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