Torino Football Club, will forever be linked to some of the most glorious moments in Italian football history, as well as the most tragic. Passion, the will to win and the spirit of sacrifice have always been the three core values required in order to don the famous maroon shirt, but 65 years ago their resolve was pushed to its very limit.
The Superga air disaster, in which all its passengers – including 18 players – were killed, robbed Italy of one of its greatest sides, right at the height of their prominence. Between 1943 and 1949 (with the championship suspended for the 1943/44 season because of the Second World War), Il Toro charged to five consecutive titles and, in 1943, became the first team to win the league and cup double. Unbelievably, Torino supplied all ten outfield players to the Azzurri squad for a friendly win over Hungary in 1947, a record that may never be beaten.
That side was tragically broken up in the afternoon of 4 May 1949, on the way back from a farewell match for Benfica's Jose Ferreira in the Portuguese capital Lisbon. Thick fog and altimeter problems saw the club plane, with 31 people on board, crash into the rear section of the Superga Basilica near Turin. The players, two directors, the coaching staff and three journalists all perished in the accident. What became known as 'The Superga Tragedy' spelt the end of Il Grande Torino and ensured that the club would forever occupy a special place in the hearts of Italian fans.
Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets to pay their respects at the funerals of the 18 players who died, who were a cherished part of life in the city. The likes of talismanic captain Valentino Mazzola, Ezio Loik, Romeo Menti, Virgilio Maroso, Guglielmo Gabetto and brothers Aldo and Dino Ballarin were amongst those to be laid to rest.
Mazzola's son Sandro was just six when his father was killed. He become a great played in his own right – winning two European Cups with Inter Milan – and he recalled how loved the team were amongst locals in one of the few memories he has of Valentino.
“When we walked around Turin, I couldn't understand why people stopped him all the time,” Sandro said. “It scared me, I was just a child, and I grabbed his hand for reassurance. I would say his reassuring hand is the strongest memory I have of that time.”
Only three of their squad survived, having not made the journey, including future Barcelona legend Laszlo Kubala, who had recently joined the side. However, with his wife and son having only just arrived into Turin, fleeing the fallout from the war in Hungary a few months after Kubala, he chose to stay behind and care for his sick child – a decision that ultimately saved the forward's life.
The disaster was a wound that scarred the club deeply, which never quite reached those same heights again, but it is a mark that serves to remind them also of their greatest achievements, and the days when they were the darlings of Italy.