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Football in Italy gets set for 120 years - all thanks to a group of English cricket fans

Next year will be the 120th anniversary of football in Italy - and it all started thanks to a group of English football and cricket fans.

On September 7, 1893 a group of 10 Englishmen assembled in a small room in via Palestro, a little road situated near the harbour of Genoa, to create a sport association for the numerous British community present in the city.

Three years later, when Genoa Cricket and Athletics official sport centre changed its name in Genoa Cricket and Football Club, becoming the country's first football club and kicking-off the beautiful game in Italy.

The names of the men responsible were Charles de Grave Sells, S. Green, G. Blake, W. Riley, D. G. Fawcus, Sandys, E. De Thierry, Jonathan Summerhill Senior and Junior, and Charles Alfred Payton.

In the beginning the association's main role was to arrange cricket matches for British workers. The arrival of an English doctor marked the start of a new sport in Italy. He would care for the employees’ health and introduce football, previously considered a sport for lower classes.

'Father of Italian football'

James Richardson Spensley (pictured playing in goal for Genoa) is considered 'the father of the Italian football'.

He was an English doctor, extremely well-educated and interested in Eastern cultures. He knew Greek and Sanskrit, was a journalist for the Daily Mail and a football lover.

On April 10, 1897 the general assembly passed the Richardson Spensley motion, which changed athletics in the club's name to football and introduced Italians to the sport.

Spensley was manager and player of the team and played for Genoa until he was 40 years old. Genoa CFC played its first official match against FC Torinese, from Turin, on January 6, 1898, losing 1-0.

The club's first home venue was situated in Ponte Carrega near Bisagno, the main river of the city, but in 1911 the Luigi Ferraris Stadium was built, becoming the official Genoa home pitch.

Turin-based

In the same year, the Italian Football Federation was founded and organised the first Italian championship. Initially there were only four clubs involved and three were Turin-based - International FC, FC Torinese and Societa Ginnastica - and Genoa CFC. The first championship was a cup competition.

In the preliminary phase of the first tournament, Genoa won 2-1 against Societa Ginnastica, securing a place in the final later the same day against International. At the end of normal time the sides were all square at 1-1, but during extra-time Norman Victor Leaver, the left wing back of Genoa, scored the decisive goal which allowed the Genoese team to win its first shield.

That initial triumphant Genoa side consisted of William Baird, Fausto Ghigliotti, James Spensley, Ernesto De Galleani, Ettore Ghiglione, Silvio Piero Bertollo, Henri Dapples, Enrico Pasteur, John Quertier Le Pelley, Giovanni Bocciardo and Norman Victor Leaver.

Despite the club's glorious origins, the development of the first Italian club was not without its problems, and after nine shields - the last was won in 1924 - Genoa's star faded.

Compared to their early dominance of Italian football, Genoa had to settle for a level of mediocrity for the best part of 70 years as other clubs took over as the leading lights of the Italian game.

Made history

In 1991, Genoa made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, losing to eventual winners Ajax. They had made history in the previous round against Liverpool, becoming the first Italian side to win at Anfield in Europe.

But four short years later Genoa began its darkest period with relegation to Serie B and struggling to avoid dropping further down the Italian league system.

It took the club 10 years to return to Serie A but they were rocked by a match-fixing scandal and were demoted to Serie C1. The following season they won promotion to Serie B then, in 2007, they were back in Serie A.

The club ended a long absence from European competition when they earned a place in the UEFA Cup in the 2008-2009 season.

So, Genoa are back in the big time. They are not ready to emulate their early dominance - a 6-1 defeat at Napoli last month is evidence of that.

But they currently sit comfortably in mid-table in Serie A - and next year will proudly celebrate their 120th anniversary.

By Samuele Frecchiero


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