Il Grande Torino
Many great Italian sides have existed over the years in Serie A. Everyone is familiar with La Grande Inter of the 1960s, the outstanding Milan side of the late 1980s and the dominant Juventus of the mid-1990s. However, before all the distinguished achievements of the big three, there was one northern Italian side who, perhaps, were the best Italian team of all time.
They were known as Il Grande Torino and were invincible during the 1940s. The team went on to enjoy dominance of the Italian game, but it was to be a story of both triumph and tragedy. Led by the inspirational captain Valentino Mazzola (father of Sandro, the Inter legend), the Piedmont-based side won five straight titles from 1943-48, a record shared with bitter city rivals Juventus. Mazzola was about to join Juve before his spell with Toro, but he decided to play for the Granata, who had offered Venezia more money than the Bianconeri had; it was to lead to a real tale of where fortune meets fate.
Torino remained unbeaten at home for 93 Serie A matches - a record which still stands today. The team won 83 games and drew 10 between 1943 and 1949. Such was their prowess and firepower up-front, the team scored an incredible 125 goals during the 1947-48 season as Mazzola led the charge towards another Tricolore. The Italian international helped his side lift another Scudetto and he was a regular starter in Vittorio Pozzo's Azzurri. Pozzo was co-founder of Torino years before he became the national team coach. Mazzola was sensational during the memorable 3-2 win over Ferenc Puskas' Hungary in 1947 at his home ground, Turin's Stadio Filadelfia.
An incredible 10 of the starting XI against Hungary were all Torino players. This confirms the strength and talent which Toro boasted over any of their Serie A competitors, and it also bears testimony to the Pozzo-Torino link. A year later Mazzola was to be the hero once again for his beloved Granata outfit as he led them to another title. Torino continued to dominate and they were invited to a special match in Lisbon by Benfica to celebrate the retirement of Jose Ferreira, who was captain of the Portuguese side at the time. The Italians obliged gratefully, but it was a decision that was to signal the beginning of the end of the great Torino as triumph sadly turned into one of the biggest tragedies in football.
The Superga Air Tragedy
On their way back from Portugal, the Fiat G212 aircraft belonging to Avio Linee Italiane stopped in Barcelona to refuel. It was carrying the whole Torino side apart from one player who didn't make the trip to Lisbon. That player was Italian Sauro Toma who pulled out with a meniscus injury. Whilst in Barcelona, Toro players dined with Milan stars who were heading to Madrid to play Real.
At 14:50 local time, the aircraft refuelled and, fully loaded with Torino, plus journalists Renato Casalbore (founder of popular Italian sports paper Tuttosport), Renato Tossati, who worked for La Gazzetta Dello Sport, and La Stampa's Luigi Cavellero, took off from Barcelona and headed for Aeroporto Torino-AeriItalia. Upon approach to the airport, heavy rain and winds plus unusually low clouds reduced visibility inside the cockpit to just 40 metres. The pilots tried their best to line up with the runway as the plane descended. The tower received confirmation from the crew at a 2,000 feet altitude, but that was the last time they would hear from the flight.
Four minutes later the Fiat G212 plane veered off to the right as a result of strong winds on final approach. As it lost further altitude and went off course, the plane smashed into the side of the Superga church. All 31 on board, including 18 players, the crew and the three Italian journalists lost their lives instantly at 17:03 local time, just five miles away from the runway. It was to be the greatest Italian football tragedy in history. There were five matches remaining in Serie A, and these were played by the Toro youth team who won all five plus the Scudetto, but it was little consolation to the grand scale sadness of what had happened to the great side. The impact of the crash was so great that the Italian national football team travelled to the 1950 World Cup in Brazil by sea.
In the aftermath of the crash, the club failed to get back on their feet. The legacy had ended on that fateful day on May 4, 1949. Torino played on unsuccessfully, and after 10 less than perfect seasons, they were relegated to Serie B in 1959, leaving Helenio Herrera's Grande Inter side to take over and dominate the new decade from the 1960s onwards. Alessandro Mazzola continued in his father's footsteps to extend the legacy, but for the Nerazzurri rather than Torino who were already relegated.
The current Torino side are locked in a relegation battle in Serie A with just four matches remaining. The possible drop into Serie B will be even more disappointing for players and fans as they remember the 60th anniversary of the tragedy.
A list of those who sadly lost their lives at Superga:
Valerio Bacigalupo (Goalkeeper), Dino Ballarin (Goalkeeper), Aldo Ballarin (Defender), Emile Bongiorni (Forward), Eusebio Castigliano (Midfielder), Rubens Fandini( Midfielder), Guglielmo Gabbetto (Forward), Ruggero Grava (Forward), Giuseppe Grezar (Defender), Ezio Loik (Defender), Virgilio Maroso (Defender), Danilo Martelli (Midfielder), Valentino Mazzola (Forward), Romeo Menti (Winger), Piero Operto (Defender), Franco Ossola (Forward), Mario Rigamonti (Midfielder), Julius Schubert (Attacking Midfielder).
Arnaldo Agnisetta, Ippolito Civalleri, Andrea Bonaiuti
Torino Coaching Staff
Egri Erbstein Leslie, Lievesley, Osvaldo Cortina
Renato Casalbore, Renato Tosatti, Luigi Cavallero
Pierluigi Meroni, Celeste D'Inca, Celeste Biancardi, Antonio Pangrazi.
Brescia's home stadium is called the Mario Rigamonti, named after the Torino midfielder who was born in the Italian city.
Vicenza's Romeo Menti stadium is named after the Toro player who was born close to the northern Italian town.
More than 500,000 people lined the streets on the day of the funerals.
Torino didn't win another title for 17 years until they lifted the Tricolore in 1976.
Salvatore Landolina, Goal.com