The city of Turin is steeped in history, and you find it wherever you go. In footballing terms, you will never struggle for reminders of the past. While the Basilica di Superga looking down on you might not always bring memories of Il Grande Torino, if you hop on a number four tram from Porta Nuova, within fifteen minutes or so, their home stadium is back on the footballing map, the new Stadio Filadelfia on the site of the old.
Less than a year after Milan had seen the coming of its own Nuovo Stadio Calcistico San Siro, Turin created a stadium of its own, at half the cost and, according to local paper La Stampa, far better looking than its Milanese counterpart. For that, they could credit local architect and engineer Miro Gamba.
On October 17 1926, special buses were put on by Torino to carry fans from the Piazza Paleocopa (just outside the Porta Nuova) down to their new stadium, and 15,000 made their way in all to see the Granata ease to a 4-0 victory over Fortitudo Roma. The supporters were to come to know much more success at the Stadio Filadelfia as it came to be known.
In its first two seasons, Torino won the Italian championship playing at the Filadelfia – though the first crown was stripped for allegations of match-fixing in a victory over Juventus. The next year brought no such controversy, so the 1928 Scudetto is the first that Torino can claim as their own, and the first silverware they took back to the Stadio Filadelfia.
It was not to be the last.
Less than a year after the new stadium opened, Italy played Portugal in a friendly. Perhaps the Azzurri captain Adolfo Baloncieri exerted his influence; he scored the second in a 3-1 win. Italy were to return less than a year later for a defeat against Germany; another Torino player scored that day, this time Gino Rossetti.
The Azzurri were to return just once more; a 3-2 win over Hungary in 1931. Julio Libonatti ensured that a Torino player had found the net in all three matches.
The construction of the Stadio Comunale (now the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino) in 1930 meant that Juventus had a ground nearby, and its larger capacity meant that perhaps, already, the writing was on the wall for the Filadelfia.
During World War II, Turin was heavily bombed by the Allies, as part of raids on the industrial northern triangle. Those cities where football had established a stronghold early in the century were now being targeted by those who had brought the sport across. The Filadelfia was struck a number of times, grainy photographs show the stands with holes ripped into them, taken during 1942 and 1943.
The stadium may have suffered in wartime, but when peace came, it was exclusively used by the Granata. As a result, all the photographs of the team from its greatest era come from the Filadelfia, all Il Grande Torino’s history is there, all the memorable games, all the goals, the great moments, the victories and the, well, there were no defeats.
During 1947, Torino played 17 games at the Stadio Filadelfia; the scorelines went 2-1, 1-1, 5-1, 2-0, 4-0, 5-2, 6-0, 2-1, 5-3, 6-0, 4-1, 6-2, 6-0, 2-0, 7-1, 5-0, 6-0. They beat Fiorentina 5-0 on the first day of 1948, too. These were historically good results, a team whose performances on that pitch were as dominant as any side has ever been. It was towards the end of that season that the 10-0 victory against Alessandria came about.
Although that game is famous as the biggest victory of the side, contemporary reports suggest that the match was over as a contest after five minutes, and the remaining 85 were more like a cat playing with a mouse, who has to strike every now and then to keep the game interesting.
The stories of Il Grande Torino are well-known, and their feats legendary. Their names, and their memories are preserved at the museum in the West of the City, and the shrine at the Basilica di Superga that remains bedecked with scarves of all clubs to this day, nearly seventy years on.
In all, Torino won six Scudetti whilst playing at the Filadelfia, all but one of them courtesy of that great team of the 1940s. To that total can be added two Coppa Italia titles and, when times got harder, a Serie B crown as well.
The last Serie A game played at the Stadio Filadelfia was in 1963, and though the stadium was used for youth games, occasionally friendlies and as a training venue, it was left to ruin before bulldozers came in and finished the job in 1997, leaving just a couple of corners of the stands intact, and small amount of brickwork around the outside. For many years, promises of a reconstruction rumbled in Turin, and for many years, the fences stayed up around the outside.
Torino are a club that rightfully look back on their history with pride, though it has felt at times that they were almost suffocated by it. One of the worst aspects of this, at least until the last few years, was the feeling that the club had been uprooted. Their spiritual home was in ruins and the Granata were never going to regain their former glories.
The Filadelfia had been abandoned in 1963, left to fall apart. On my first visit to Turin, I travelled down there, poked a camera through whatever holes in the fences I could find just in the hope of getting a decent shot of an isolated section of stand, a sliver of a stadium that hosted one of the greatest teams that ever lived.
I was in Turin again last October, and took that same tram down Corso Unione Sovietica. I knew the Stadio Filadelfia had been rebuilt, a smaller venue this time, designed to host Torino’s youth teams, and I hoped to poke my camera round again, to see what they’d done with the place.
Surprisingly and happily there was, that afternoon, a game on, so I paid for a ticket and sat in the stand along with, what I assume, was a combination of locals and family members of the Granata Primavera side.
I gazed in wonder at the pitch in front of me; this was the stadium that Mazzola had played at, Loik, Gabetto, Libonatti; not just Il Grande Torino, but all the early greats of Torino. Torino were playing Spezia and it was 0-0 when I arrived at half time. Maybe I had the famed Mazzola effect of the team rolling their sleeves up, as it finished 4-0.
It took about five minutes of viewing before I turned my head to the left. The section of stand I’d craned my camera to see so many times before still stands, just outside the stand of the new Filadelfia. Torino may long ago have seen their heroes become ghosts but now, at long last, those ghosts can watch Torino become heroes again. The Granata have a home.