Ten years before the millennium, Italy was getting prepared to organize the 1990 World Cup. 12 stadiums were chosen for the tournament; two of them were newly built and the rest were restored. Unlike the others, Stadio Luigi Ferraris of Genoa was reborn.
Above all, it was a responsibility. The World Cup would be organized in Italy; where the most attention-grabbing football in the world is played, where European giants Juventus, Milan and Inter are located and where even second-class clubs such as Napoli, Fiorentina and Parma are highly attractive. But before all the action started, the focus was on the stadiums.
In the south, the cities of Naples, Palermo, Cagliari and Bari were chosen — so the stadiums of San Paolo, La Favorita, and Sant’Elia were renovated and in Bari, San Nicola was built. The huge, futuristic, spaceship-like San Nicola would turn into a burden too heavy to handle for Bari. Just like Torino’s Stadio delle Alpi, it would never be fulfilled and it would prevent its club from prospering.
Aside from the Stadio delle Alpi in the Alps; San Siro in Milano, Marc’Antonio Bentegodi in Verona, and the Friuli Stadium in Udine were also renovated. Artemio Franchi and Renato dall’Ara remained as they were in mid-Italy. In the capital, the Stadio Olimpico — which would host both the opening match and the final — was ready. And then there was the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, a stadium with a destiny of its own.
The Northwest Italian port of Genoa was home to two deeply rooted football clubs: Genoa CFC, with seven aged league titles, and Sampdoria, the iconic club of the 90s football. The stadium they shared, Luigi Ferraris, was nearly eighty years old and needed restoration ahead of the World Cup. But it wouldn’t be just any restoration. The project would dazzle with the brilliance of Vittori Gregotti, its architect from Novara.
Luigi Ferraris had always been unlike any Italian stadium and rather like a British one, with its four towers, box-like atmosphere and low back-goal stands.
Vittorio Gregotti was a man who had proved his talents with various projects, not only in Italy and Europe, but all over the world. He was architecture’s Giorgio Moroder with his idiosyncratic beard and his forever young style. From churches to opera houses, he had touched a variety of areas. Aside from Luigi Ferraris, he had designed the Stade de Costières in Nîmes, France, between the years 1987-89. Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium was definitely one of his masterpieces. He had many names: “international architecture master, essayist, critic, teacher, editorialist, polemicist.”
“Thinking of architecture as a perspective all around the world and in life as whole.” That perspective of his was enough to describe him. He had graduated from Italy’s most estimable school of architecture, Politecnico di Milano, in 1952 and created over a hundred works since the 1960s. Once, when he was asked whether he would change a work of his if he was to rebuild it, he said, “Of course I would. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be fun.”
Thanks to the perspective of its architect, the Stadio Luigi Ferraris transformed into a unique stadium and still is. Artemio Franchi from Florence, Renato dall’Ara from Bologna and Atleti Azzurri d’Italia from Bergamo are examples of the old stadium prototype that can be seen around the whole country. These stadiums which seem like a single piece and have symmetric stands differ from each other by a tower or an aesthetic detail. It is a defining characteristic like Britain’s box-like stadiums or South America’s shanty pitches. In a country where without any gorgeous stadiums except San Paolo, the Stadio delle Alpi and the Olimpico, and with only one stadium with a closed atmosphere, Luigi Ferraris was one of a kind. English and Scottish sides benefitted from that certain kind of atmosphere for years. British sides realized how advantageous playing at home is and used it as a stepping stone both in European matches and at domestic competitions.
Even though Luigi Ferraris didn’t host any unforgettable matches during the World Cup, it hosted many iconic goalkeeper performances. Costa Rican Luis Gabelo Conejo, who played group matches in Genoa, was one of the stars between the posts during ‘The World Cup of Goalkeepers.’ He played a crucial part as his country finished the group above Scotland and Sweden. His performance was a real factor especially in those matches. After Costa Rica got knocked out in the quarter finals, Argentinian keeper Sergio Goycochea drew attention.
The stadium hosted 4 matches during the World Cup and many more during Sampdoria’s succesful decade. An already attractive Doria brought its 10th Scudetto to the city of Genoa the following season. My journalist friend Ant Arın Şermet — who followed the last derby played between the two sides at the Luigi Ferraris — describes the atmosphere with these words: “Luigi Ferraris is located in a place you can get to without using any public transportation. Even if it’s your first visit to Genoa or you don’t know the native language you can still get there. In addition, it’s a great experience to witness the coast line, which reminded me of İzmir’s.”
“Everything you pass by on the road to the stadium makes the football experience even better. Despite the fervent choreographies and chants, the sides seem like two distant relatives who don’t have any bad feelings for each other. They were the characters of the kindest derby I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. Luigi Ferraris was the host making them feel the historical value of the field.”
Vittorio Gregotti passed away as a leader of his profession. He was 92 years old when he lost his battle against the virus. Just like any other artist, he will live forever with the countless number of works he had created.