UEFA Euro 2016: The Royal Roots of Italy’s Blue

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The colour of the Italian football team is blue. The origin of that can be found in the thousand-year-old history of the Savoy Family, the former Royal House of Italy, and in a medieval battle between Christian princes and the Ottoman Turks.

Four times the Italian national football team has won the FIFA World Cup. This evening Italy plays Spain for a place in the UEFA European Championship quarter-finals. The Spanish national team will be playing in the colours of their flag as is usual for most sporting nations. Contrary to this practice, the football kit of the Italian national team is not in the colours of the Italian flag, the red-white-green tricolour.

Instead the players’ jerseys are blue. The Italian nickname for the team is “gli Azzurri”, the Sky Blues. The specific variant of the colour used is called Savoy Blue indicating its ancient origins.

Blue was the so-called livery colour of the House of Savoy, one of the oldest royal families of Europe. It originated in the Western Alpine Region more than a thousand years ago. The early heads of the dynasty were vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor and ruled on both sides of the Alps: Savoy (Savoie) today is in France; Piedmont (Piemonte) in Northern Italy steadily grew into the Kingdom of Sardinia and united all of Italy during il Risorgimento in the 19th Century.

The House of Savoy (or Savoia in Italian) ruled the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 to 1946. After World War II Italy became a republic. But the national football team continued to play in blue, the colour of the Italian royal family.

The Savoy Blue, according to historians, dates back to 1366 when Count Amadeo VI of Savoy, il Conte Verde, fought the Muslim Turks under a sky blue flag with the image of the Virgin Mary surrounded by gold stars. Amadeo was a cousin of John V, Emperor of Constantinople, who was under attack by the Ottoman Empire. Ever since the sky blue colour has been connected to the Savoy dynasty.

Before the constitutional referendum of 1946 both the Savoy Blue and the arms of the House of Savoy, red with a white cross, were in the middle of the Italian tricolour. The Italian Republic removed the royal arms from the flag.

The Italian football team still wears the Savoy Blue and thus carries the torch for Italian history and the dreams of a football fanatic nation. As always, expectations are high. The goal is the gold, of course.

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