Written by: Greg Hunter (@18OG90)
Sunday 6th of September 1992 certainly marked the start of something special, a love affair that became a ritual for many British football fans in their quest to see all the latest news, action and interviews from the world of Italian football; thanks to Channel 4’s decision to start coverage of Serie A.
Paul Gascoigne’s summer transfer from Spurs may have been the catalyst for Football Italia, however he was still recovering from a knee injury on the opening weekend of the 1992-93 season but the 3 million viewers who tuned in were not only treated to a thrilling 3-3 encounter between Sampdoria and Lazio but they also got their first glimpse of the relatively unknown, at the time, Giuseppe Signori.
He may only stand at 5ft 7inches but ‘Beppe’, as he became better known, certainly rose to the occasion and made quite an impact on his Lazio debut.
Signori’s path to leading the line for Lazio was by no means an easy one. Released by Inter Milan at the age of 16 due to, unsurprisingly, being deemed ‘too small’, Beppe was forced to drop down the leagues. Landing initially at SC Leffe, where he spent two seasons before moving on to Piacenza. His new club then went on to win promotion to Serie B in his first season with the club in 1986-87. Despite the team’s achievements, Signori’s unsuccessful performances for Piacenza lead to him being sent out to Trento on loan; thus staying in Serie C for another year before returning to his parent club for their second season in Serie B.
Often deployed out on the left wing to utilise his pace and trickery Signori’s stats were a far cry from the prolific goal scorer he would one day become. Notching up numbers like 8 goals in 38 appearances for SC Leffe then 1 goal in 14 appearances during his first spell with Piacenza was hardly inspiring. The 1988-89 season saw Piacenza slump to a 20th position finish in Serie B resulting in relegation. However, Signori’s displays caught the eye of Foggia head coach, the revolutionary Zdenek Zeman.
Zeman clearly saw something in Signori that his previous mangers had failed to and switched him from the wing to a central striking role as part of the legendary Czech’s favoured 4-3-3 attacking formation. Both parties reaped the rewards as Signori became much more prolific as he found the net 38 times in 105 appearances playing a key role in Foggia climbing to Serie A in 1991 and claiming a very credible 9th place finish in their first season in the top flight.
During the close season of 1992, the transfer merry-go-round was in full swing. Lazio agreed to sell Uruguayan Ruben Sosa to Inter Milan and, in turn, captured Signori’s signature on a free transfer; as they looked to bolster their squad ahead of the new season and their opening fixture, away to Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa.
30,746 spectators welcomed the players onto the pitch ahead of kick off. Sampdoria, then-managed by Sven Goran Eriksson, had only the previous summer lost to Barcelona in the final of the European Cup and still had the expertise of Roberto Mancini, Gianluca Pagliuca, Attilio Lombardo and the very familiar face (for those who tuned in on Channel 4) of Des Walker in their starting line-up. The away side made the 500km trip north from Rome and Dino Zoff fielded a side containing Aron Winter, Giuseppe Favalli, Karl-Heinz Riedle and of course their new number 11, Giuseppe Signori.
With a fine array of talented players on show, it was only right that the teams’ kits played their part on the day as well. There can’t be many more recognisable shirts than that of Sampdoria. This particular season’s edition was made by Asics and, as ever, it was blue with red, white and black stripes around the middle of the body. The ERG sponsor and Saint George cross shield made up the front with their iconic badge featuring a sailor, Saint John, protector of Genoa, smoking a pipe on the left sleeve.
Lazio switched to their away shirt for the game. A yellow Umbro shirt with navy blue trimmings on the sleeves and collar plus the Bianco Di Roma sponsor matching in colour. The shirt’s standout feature was the pattern throughout reading ‘SS LAZIO’ in a slightly darker tone of yellow than that of the rest of the shirt; amazing.
Back to the action: With the season for both clubs only 6 minutes old, Sampdoria got off to the perfect start thanks to an own goal by Diego Fuser; who diverted a Roberto Mancini corner into his own net via the crossbar. If the Biancocelesti and their fans had any reservations about who to turn to when goals were required, any uncertainty was quickly cleared up in a four-minute window in which the game was turned on its head.
On 19 minutes, a short free kick allowed for Lazio to loft the ball over the top of the Sampdoria defence and into their penalty box. An on-running Signori managed to get in between two defenders and, from a tight angle, he shot with his weaker right foot on the half volley across goal and sent the ball bobbling into the far corner beyond Pagliuca; drawing the game level and giving everyone a glimpse of the soon to be familiar sight of him wheeling away in celebration with his right arm afloat (a more casual version of Alan Shearer’s trademark).
As if the defending wasn’t slack enough, disaster struck for the home side only a few moments later when, in the 22nd minute, Lazio won the ball back on the goal line in the Samp penalty box; where a lay-off back to Signori allowed him to cushion the ball and smash a left footed drive into the bottom right hand corner from 12 yards out – sparking joy among the Lazio players.
Three more goals followed on the day and the spoils were shared, a fantastic advert for Serie A during a time burdened by catenaccio tactics. There was no doubt as to who the outstanding performer had been on the day. A player, whose transfer was initially met with scepticism, quickly turned himself into a cult hero as he scored 7 goals in his first 5 games for his new club.
Signori was instantly recognisable with his long hair and lack of physical presence, however he was quick where his low centre of gravity allowed him to run at pace, keeping the ball at close control as he jinked and weaved past defenders and drew excitement and anticipation from a now expecting crowd.
He created chance after chance for his teammates or indeed himself; where his wicked left foot saw many of these chances taken with spectacular finishing. The Sampdoria defenders certainly knew all about his strongest attributes after this particular game.
Signori’s Lazio debut laid the foundations for his first of 3 Capocannoniere awards. 1992/93 brought 26 goals and saw him finish above the likes of Baggio, van Basten, Batistuta and Papin in the goal scoring charts. No small feat for a particularly small guy who, having played at all levels in Italian domestic football, faced rejection and numerous setbacks. He was beginning to leave his mark as a firm fans favourite at the Olimpico.
Whether he was in the right place at the right time, scoring one of his unique one step run-up penalties or thundering one home from range, Beppe Signori was great fun to watch and certainly played his part in many a scream of ‘Golazzo’; from the 6th of September 1992, both he and Football Italia gained plenty of admiration and adulation. Thank you Beppe.