Great Calcio Sides – Grande Torino
The tale of the wonderful Grande Torino team of the 1940s is one of the most triumphant and tragic in the long history of calcio in Italy. Throughout the 40s, the Torino side which has become known as Grande Torino were unstoppable in every sense of the word.
The team destroyed opponents with their wonderful brand of attacking football and smashed and set countless records with their domineering displays.Despite many managerial changes occuring throught this time, the backbone of the side and the way they played their football did not change.
Their tactics were ahead of their time with the side usually playing with four forwards in attack and four midfielders when defending. This effortless ability to play in different positions would go on to be perfected by the Dutch national team in their Total Football period of the 70s. However, it all began at the Stadio Filadelfia.
Between 1942 and 1949 Torino swept aside all before them in Serie A with a class and style that few had witnessed before. They won an unbelievable record five consecutive titles between these years (there was no championship held in 1944 and 1945 due to World War II) which was only equalled by Juventus in the early 30s and Inter last decade.
In 1942, Torino president Ferruccio Novo shaped everything that was to follow for his great side by signing two promising young talents from Venezia in best friends Ezio Loik and the man who would go on to become a symbol of the great Torino side, Valentino Mazzola (father of Inter forward Sandro). The two combined with their teammates and were devastating in their first season together as Torino won the second Scudetto in their history having been pushed all the way by Livorno and went on to break the record of most wins in a 16 team season with 20 wins picked up on their way to the title.
After the War, league football resumed for the 1945-46 season and Torino picked up where they left off by defending their title against all other northern teams (sides in the south contested their own championship). This season was also to see the beginning of their amazing four season home unbeaten run at the intimidating Filadelfia which away sides hated coming to and the side would not lose again at home until the end of April in 1949.
This record speaks for itself and shows the undoubted ability and attitude of i Granata during the best period of their history. This ability was on show for all to see in a game against Roma in the capital in April that year. After 20 minutes of the game, the away side led 6-0. At half time manager Luigi Ferrero told the side to go easy and not humiliate Roma.
In the end they won 7-0 and the Giallorossi fans gave Torino a standing ovation at the end of the game. Their class was to continue shining on throughout the coming years as Torino swept aside all challengers the following campaign to win their third successive Scudetto title. Valentino Mazzola led the side by example with an excellent 29 goals from midfield.
Mazzola is rightly regarded one of the true greats of the Italian game having achieved so much during his short career. Mazzola was an ever present in that campaign in which his constant stream of goals helped il Toro to the title. In all, the midfielder was to stay at Torino for five seasons and score over 100 goals at the club that loved him so much. He was the classic attacking midfielder and was an all-round magnificent football player. He was strong in the air with an excellent eye for a pass, strong in the tackle and possessing a vicious shot.
The captain led the team inspirationally and whenever things weren’t going well for his team, Valentino would roll up his sleeves as a sign for his team to attack when things were not going well. It is a testament to his ability that President Novo would not allow him to leave and it was to prove an excellent decision in the coming years.
One of the most astonishing records that Torino were to set that season though was not even their huge points tally in comparison to the Rossoneri, but they hit the most goals at home ever scored in a Serie A season by smashing an incredible 89 goals past all visitors in total at Fortress Filadelfia, and also set the record for most home points picked up in the season as they took 39 points from a possible 40 on offer.
In all. throughout their five league winning seasons Torino scored a record 483 goals and conceded just 165. They truly were now one of the greatest sides ever to have played the game.
Unfortunately, the next season was to ensure Torino won their fifth (and sadly final) title of the Grande Torino era. Torino won the title by a full 15 points from Inter although had to play the final four games with their reserve side after the events of May 4, 1949.
The date is a dark one in the history of Italian football as it was the day when Grande Torino, one of the greatest teams ever seen, died. Having played a friendly against Benfica in Lisbon on May 1, with the championship all but secure, the 31 passengers and crew on board the FIAT G-212 plane left Portugal to fly back to Turin. Unfortunately, the plane had to fly amid low cloud cover and poor visibility and crashed into the basilica on Superga hill outside Turin on the way back to Italy.
Everyone on board was killed. It was a horrific accident that was to rob the game of some its most gifted players as well as the fans and families of all the victims of their loved ones. Despite many theories as to what may have occured, the official explanation was given as an accident through no fault of anyone on board.
Over half a million people attended the funerals of the players, staff and journalists on May 6 in Turin. The Football Federation President Ottorino Barassi read out the names of the players at the funeral and paid tribute to the team who had won that fifth title by saying “this is the fifth cup. Torino’s cup, and look how big it is, it is big because it is filled with the hearts of the world.”
Thousands flocked to the site of the tragedy to pay tribute to those that had died that day in a heartwarming display of solidarity. Italian football would not recover for many years, espeically the national side. In fact, in a friendly against Hungary in 1947 which Italy won, coach Vittorio Pozzo named a side in which all ten outfield players were those of Grande Torino. Only the goalkeeper was of Juventus and even then the substitute was Torino’s goalkeeper Valerio Bacigalupo who would normally have started but for Pozzo’s decision not to play an Azzurri eleven who played for the same club. This is a true testament as to just how extraordinary this team really were.
Understandably, Torino themselves never fully recovered and it would be almost 20 years before they won the Serie A title once again having suffered greatly from the loss of an entire squad of excellent players. Over the coming years they struggled to cope with their great loss though the fans remained as fiercely loyal and devoted as ever in the face of such sadness. Today a simple plaque stands at Superga baring the names of those killed as well as the inscription “Torino Football Club – In Memory – of its comrades – the glory of Italian sport – and those who died with them – in a tragic air disaster – 4 May 1949″
And who knows whether or not one day Torino will once more become the “glory of Italian sport” like that great side of the 40s. They are quite a way of at the moment, sitting in sixth in Serie B, but do not rule out a return to the top flight for this side. However, it would be tough to top the incredible achievements of Grande Torino who are still talked about today in Turin with reverence as one of calcio’s greatest sides.
Follow Padraig Whelan on Twitter: @PWhelan88