A look back at the tragic history that continues to define a football club.
The 50th anniversary of the Superga plane crash, on 4 May 1999, was supposed to represent a new beginning. For Torino, May 4th is a day reserved for remembrance and celebration of ‘Il Grande Torino’ (Great Torino) and fifty years later the date was to symbolise rebirth at their historic, but abandoned, Stadio Filadelfia. Instead it was indicative of the Granata (claret red). Rather than lay the foundation stone the day came and went, leaving supporters furious and clinging to the past. Since Superga, Toro (the bull, the club symbol) fans have become accustomed to disappointment.
Formed in 1906, the club was founded in a Turin brewery. One founding member was Vittorio Pozzo, the man who led Italy to back-to-back World Cup victories in 1934 and 1938 and who had the distressing task of identifying the victims of Superga. Torino won their first official match in 1907, a derby victory over Juventus. That match signalled the start of Italy’s longest running derby, the ‘Derby della Mole’, but it would take twenty years for Toro to be in the championship reckoning.
Torino won the Scudetto in 1927, but instead their title was revoked and no winner awarded. It was only after the season that whispers emerged of a scandal. It surrounded Torino’s match against Juventus on 5 June 1927 and Juve player Luigi Allemandi. The Italian Federation carried out an inquiry which deduced Allemandi was paid by a Torino official to play poorly. While it appears the entire club hierarchy was not involved, Torino was stripped of the Scudetto.
A year later Torino would be able to celebrate, finishing two points ahead of Genoa. They subsequently ended runner-up in 1928/29 and were successful in the 1935/36 Coppa Italia. What followed next was the greatest period in their history.
Il Grande Torino’s list of achievements and records is staggering, including five straight league titles (1942/43 to 1948/49) and an Italian Cup in 1942/43. Torino was unbeaten for four years at home and for 93 straight matches in which only two opponents did not concede a goal. They gained the most points in one season in 1947/48 (65 points, two for a win), the most home wins and goals in one season (1947/48) and the biggest ever home and away wins (10-0 v Alessandria, 1947/48 and 0-7 v Roma, 1945/46). The team was revolutionary, a kind of Total Football before the Dutch introduced it to the world. The Granata used the Metotdo formation and were as carefree and attacking as Hungary in 1954 or Brazil 1958.
Leading the side was inspirational Valentino Mazzola, a prolific attacking midfielder, whose tally included 29 goals in Torino’s 1947/48 title romp. He was the Italian star of the 1940s. Teammate Mario Rigamonti said of Mazzola: “He alone is half the squad. The other half is made by the rest of us together.” Captain Mazzola would roll up his sleeves during a match to signify the moment the team would surge forward and put their opponent to the sword. The side was helped by its intimidating and atmospheric Filadelfia.
In 1949, Torino faced Benfica in a tribute match for Xico Ferreira. Travelling back from Lisbon on May 4th, their plane approached Turin despite poor conditions and low visibility. It crashed into the basilica wall at the top of the Superga hill, killing all 31 people aboard, including 18 players. Club President Ferrucio Novo was ill and did not travel, nor did the injured Sauro Tomà. Tomà later said “everything ended with Superga.”
With four games still remaining, Torino played their youth team and their opponents did the same, while their fans and the country mourned. The youngsters duly won all four, sealing the last Scudetto of Il Grande Torino.
The tragedy affected Italy too. The national team was represented by up to ten Torino players, which was ripped to shreds for the 1950 World Cup. Novo, who was also in charge of Italy, insisted the squad to travel to Brazil by boat. The journey took two weeks and stifled preparations. A first-up loss against Sweden rendered their second match against Paraguay meaningless and the team was eliminated.
The tragedy cost Torino their brightest era and while Manchester United recovered after Munich, Torino never did. Since Superga they have added one Scudetto and three Italian Cups to the trophy cabinet.
Torino suffered another tragic incident in 1967 when gifted winger Luigi Meroni was hit by a car and killed. In an almost Torino-like manner, the car was driven by Toro and Meroni fan Attilio Romero, who would later become club President. Some fans never let him forget 1967.
Torino vanquished Superga ghosts in 1975/76 when they claimed the Scudetto, overcoming Juventus. The following season the Bianconeri turned the tables, despite Torino losing fewer games, scoring more and conceding less. They triumphed in the 1967/68 and 1970/71 Italian Cups, but were beaten finalists on seven occasions between 1962/63 and 1987/88.
In the early 1990s Torino built a vibrant young side that included Luca Marchegiani, Enzo Scifo and Gianluigi Lentini. They finished fifth in 1990/91 and third a season later. Against Ajax in the 1991/92 UEFA Cup final the first leg finished 2-2 in Turin but Ajax took the trophy on away goals, drawing 0-0 in Amsterdam after Torino struck the woodwork three times. Toro claimed the 1992/93 Coppa Italia, outlasting Roma on away goals following a 5-5 aggregate score. The team broke up - Marchegiani moved to Lazio, Scifo to Monaco and Lentini for a world record £13 million to Milan - and Torino were soon relegated.
During this time the club’s finances were a mess, contributing to the sales. Torino, which moved out of the Filadelfia in 1963, attempted on numerous occasions to have it rebuilt, firstly as a playing ground, then as a training ground and museum. Every attempt to date has failed and for fans, the stadium remains solely a memory. It sits in the centre of Turin a desolate site with scattered pieces of concrete stands still erect, in between modern buildings like an Ancient Roman ruin.
As Torino was promoted to Serie A in 2004/05, they were declared bankrupt and re-founded as Torino F.C. They would start their centenary season at their lowest ebb. Promotion was cancelled, but achieved a season later.
Currently in Serie B, Torino’s aiming for Serie A promotion and following two failed attempts, season 2011/12 has started positively. Yet while the present side battles for promotion, the club’s fans, through all the low points, will always recall the time in which Torino ruled Italian football.