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 1940s, the Torino side which has become known as Grande Torino were unstoppable in every sense of the word.
The team swept opponents with their brand of attacking football, beat and set countless records with their domineering displays.
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 through their Total Football period of the 1970s. However, it had all began at the Stadio Filadelfia.
Between 1942 and 1949 Torino brushed aside all before them in Serie A with a class and style that few had witnessed before. They won a record five consecutive Serie A titles between these years — with no championship held in 1944 and 1945 due to World War II — which was only equalled by Juventus in the early 1930s and Inter in the 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 to devastating effect in their first season together, as Torino won the second Scudetto in their history after having been pushed all the way by Livorno. Torino also went on to break the record of most wins in a 16-team season with 20 wins picked up on their way to the Serie A title.
After the War, league football resumed for the 1945-46 season and Torino picked up where they had left off by defending their title against all other northern teams (sides in the south contested their own championship).
That season was also to see the beginning of their amazing four-season home unbeaten run at the intimidating Stadio Filadelfia, which would remain an impregnable fortress until April 1949.
Torino’s supremacy was on show for all to see in a game away to Roma in April 1949. After 20 minutes of the game, the away side led 6-0. At half time coach Luigi Ferrero told the side to go easy and not humiliate Roma.
In the end Torino won 7-0 and Roma fans gave the Granata a standing ovation at the end of the game. Torino’s domination continued the following campaign, when they won their third successive Scudetto. Valentino Mazzola led the side with 29 goals from midfield.
Mazzola is rightly regarded as one of the true greats of the Italian game, having achieved so much during his short career.
In all, the midfielder was to stay at Torino for five seasons and score over 100 goals at the club. He was the classic attacking midfielder and was an all-round player all at once, strong in the air with an excellent eye for a pass, strong in the tackle and boasting of a vicious shot.
The captain was an exemplary leader and whenever Torino needed him, Valentino would roll up his sleeves as a sign for his team to go on the offensive. It was a testament to his ability that President Novo would not allow him to leave, and it proved an excellent decision for the coming years.
Torino wrapped up title number four on the trot with their usual panache, finishing a massive 16 points ahead of closest challengers AC Milan.
One of the most astonishing records that Torino were to set that season was not even their huge points tally in comparison to the Rossoneri however, but it instead was for recording the most goals at home ever scored in a Serie A season (89). Torino subsequently set the record for most home points in a single season, collecting 39 points from a possible 40.
In all, throughout their five league-winning seasons, Torino scored a record 483 goals and conceded just 165. They truly were one of the greatest sides to have ever 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 they 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 the Grande Torino 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
“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,” Barassi said.
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 had won, coach Vittorio Pozzo named a side in which all 10 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 11 from the same club. This is a true testament as to just how extraordinary this team really was.
Understandably, Torino themselves never fully recovered and it would be almost 20 years before they won the Serie A title again.
Over the coming years Torino 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 deceased alongside an inscription.
“Torino Football Club – In Memory – of its comrades – the glory of Italian sport – and those who died with them – in a tragic air – 4 May 1949,” reads the inscription.
And who knows whether or not one day Torino will once more become the “glory of Italian sport” like that great side of the 1940s.
They are quite a way off at the moment, and it would be tough to top the incredible achievements of Grande Torino, who are still talked about today in Turin with reverence and as one of Calcio’s greatest sides.