May 4th 2009 witnessed the 60th anniversary of the Superga air disaster. It is a day remembered throughout Italy, with a sense of tragedy and mysticism, but ultimately fondness. Il Grande Torino as the side were affectionately known, were undoubtedly the best side in Italy, in Europe and arguably the World. It is a tragedy in itself that this moment is not given the worldwide coverage, Il Grande Torino deserve.
The players and staff of Torino perished when the Avio Linee Italiane Fiat G-212 plane carrying them crashed into the side of the Basilica of Superga, situated on a hill overlooking Turin. It was a tragedy that shocked the world of Calcio and the city of Turin even more so. Two days later, 500,000 people attended the funeral procession in Turin and at the time the cities population was 600,000. A staggering figure that merely cements the value this team had to the city itself.
At the time Torino were well on the way to a fifth straight Serie A title. They were a symbol of hope and the regeneration of Italy, as the country rose from the ashes of Fascism and the Second World War. They were pioneers, being the first Italian side to play in South America, and could count Eva Peron as a fan.
Torino were returning from a match against Benfica, the game was a testimonial of sorts for Jose Ferreira, a very good friend of Torino captain Valentino Mazzola. After being diverted to land in Milan due to a thunderstorm and subsequent low cloud and poor visibility then at 5:04pm precisely the plane went down. The entire 18-man squad perished, as did the coaching staff, journalists and crew. There were no survivors.
Il Grande Torino was the vision of club President Ferruccio Novo. He was a paternal and personal in his relationships with players and staff, he created a special atmosphere in Torino, he employed the best coaches who could nurture the talent he brought to the club. He brought in foreign coaches such as Englishman Leslie Lievesley and Hungarian Egri Erbstein. Both brought new ideas, better training methods and innovative tactics.
With the outbreak of war it took a quick thinking man in Novo to keep his players at home in Torino by citing they were working at his FIAT plant on the production line. This man had kept the players together, even if they weren’t playing football, the bond of the team was being formed
The leader of the side was captain Valentino Mazzola, he was an exceptional man, with the charisma and character with drove the side forward during times when all looked lost. He had quick feet, a masterful touch complimented with the physique of an ox. His presence was most prevalent during a match against Lazio in 1948, Torino were 3-0 down but came back to win 4-3. This match was also made famous by a legendary banner that read ‘il quarto d’ora Granata’ which translates as ‘the maroon 15 minutes’.
Il Grande Torino holds the record of most consecutive league titles jointly with Juventus at five. Most consecutive games undefeated in a year at 21. Most points and most home wins in a season. In 1947/48 Torino scored 471 goals in five seasons between 1945 and 1949, and during their peak in 1948 only 15 players featured in the campaigns 40 matches. At the Stadio Filadelfia Torino were unbeaten in 93 matches between 1943 and 1949 laying down a record of 83 wins and 10 draws.
This team was truly remarkable. If disaster hadn’t have struck maybe Torino would be the most successful club side in the world.
Another event, which highlights the importance of Il Grande Torino, took place during 1947 when Italy played a Hungary side containing Ferenc Puskas, and all ten outfield players were from Torino.
Immediately after the disaster, Torino did secure their fifth consecutive Serie A title by playing their youth side and as a mark of respect their remaining four opponents, Palermo, Sampdoria, Fiorentina and Genoa all played their youth sides.
The heartbreak of the club lasted until 1976 when they won their only Scudetto after Superga. The day after the league was won the Torino fans marched up the hill to Superga. They players also tried to make their way to pay tribute as well but as club captain Renato Zaccarelli explains, it was impossible, “The day after the match there was a massive march when all the fans walked to Superga. It was spontaneous and the team tried to go up to it, but there was such a line of people.”
The only player from the legendary side did not make the trip and survived, he was Sauro Toma. Toma makes a pilgrimage to Superga every year and despite being over 80 years old, the sadness and heartache such an event must cause can only be imagined.
Regarded as the best club side Italy has ever produced, Il Grande Torino shall never be forgotten in the minds of all Calcio fans.