Bologna, Torino and the drugs ban that never was
When Bologna and Torino face off on Sunday, neither side will do so with realistic hopes of winning Serie A, yet they will be completing a fixture that more than 50 years ago ensured one of the most dramatic climaxes to a Scudetto ever.
Undoubtedly the most important result of the day was Bologna’s 4-1 win over Torino, which came as no surprise; the Rossoblu were to lose just once at home all campaign, while the Granata triumphed just twice on the road.
The game finished, Bologna marched on and Renato dall’Ara looked as though he might finally get his Scudetto. The Felsinei drew their next three games before a victory against fellow challengers Milan on March 1st.
Then, out of nowhere three days later, all hell broke loose.
Newspapers decried the Rossoblu as five Bologna players were accused of doping in the victory against Torino. The game, over a month previously, was suddenly called into doubt, with the Rossoblu docked three points immediately.
Forward Ezio Pascutti, defender and captain Mirko Pavinato, Paride Tumburus, Romano Fogli and Marino Perani were all cited. Worst of all, inspirational coach Fulvio Bernardini was suspended for 18 months for his part in the affair.
For their part, the Rossoblu denied everything, but the punishments were swift and harsh and looked to change the season at a stroke. Local sentiment suggested that the accusations were baseless, created as subterfuge by the Milanese giants.
Certainly, from their position of dominance, Bologna were clipped. Suddenly Inter were closing in, while the debate raged in the newspapers.
In the wake of the scandal, the Rossoblu crumbled. At the end of March, Bologna hosted Inter in a Scudetto showdown. By this stage, the Nerazzurri had stolen the advantage, eating away at Bologna week by week before a seemingly inevitable 2-1 win at the Stadio Littoriale left Inter four points ahead.
The Rossoblu had found their style of play the previous season after their fine start was punctured by a rampant Inter side who left Bologna as 4-0 victors. From playing ‘football from the Gods’, as Bernardini had it after easing to a victory over local rivals Modena, the Felsinei moved towards catenaccio.
Yet even with their more compact style, the cost of the game against Torino had been shocking and immediate. Bologna’s season had been rocking ever since and the defeat to now-perennial rivals Inter looked terminal.
In the face of that, Bologna rallied. The gap stopped increasing and, while Inter still looked a shoo-in for the title, the competition was alive.
This carried on until there was an international break towards the end of the campaign. On May 3rd, Inter beat Juventus while Bologna drew with Mantova. The gap stood at three points between the top two as Italy went off to face Switzerland.
It was Bologna’s turn to face Juventus after the break, but before that game, on 16th May, there was bigger news to come. The decision of the Torino game was revoked.
The legal process that had been building throughout the month decreed that the Rossoblu players’ samples were not properly handled after their match. The only evidence being questionable, the win over the Granata stood and the penalties were cancelled. It had taken over three months, but Bologna’s legal team had won out.
Now level on points with Inter, that was where they were to stay as the team eventually did the same, beating the Nerazzurri in the only ever Serie A playoff to clinch a Scudetto.
It remains unclear exactly what happened to the Bologna players’ urine samples after the game in Turin. It is possible they were tampered with in the laboratory and certainly some conspiracy theorists point that way.
One thing that is sure is that any testing around this Sunday evening’s game will be both more efficient and acted upon more swiftly. The modern age has given us much, but it has taken away some of the mystery.