Torino: the glory and tragedy

Valentino Mazzola poses alongside his Torino team-mates before a match
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Pore over the greatest achievements of Italian football, and its most tragic chapters, and you will invariably come across the name of Torino Football Club, whose famous claret shirt has been worn by a succession of players embodying the passion, will to win and spirit of sacrifice synonymous with the club. retraces the history of Il Toro, who have occupied a special place in the heart of all Italians ever since the 1949 Superga air disaster, which wiped out a much-admired generation of players.

Birth of an institutionThe club was founded on the evening of 3 December 1906 at a gathering in a Turin bar called Voigt, situated on Via Pietro Micca. Chaired by the Swiss Alfred Dick, the meeting brought together 23 people, some of them FC Torinese fans, some of them defectors from Juventus, aghast at *I Bianconeri’s *decision to turn professional.

The outfit they set up was called Foot Ball Club Torino, with Dick offering the chairmanship to his compatriot and former player Hans Schoenbrod, a man passionate about his directorial duties. For the first few weeks of its existence, Il Toro, as the club is commonly known in Italy, played in the yellow-and-black striped jersey of Torinese before eventually adopting the claret their players have worn ever since.

There are two different theories behind the switch in colours, the most widely accepted explanation being that Alfred Dick was a supporter of Geneva club Servette, which also wore claret. The other school of thought holds that the colour, not one adopted widely in football, was chosen because it was also that of the Brigata di Savoia (The Brigade of Savoy), which liberated French-occupied Turin in the 18th century and adopted the blood-coloured handkerchief as its symbol, in tribute to a messenger who was killed as he was about to proclaim victory.

The new club recorded its first win, a 3-1 defeat of Pro Vercelli, 13 days after being founded and won the first derby against Juventus 2-1, on 13 January 1907. In 1912, the same year that Vittorio Pozzo – Italy’s FIFA World Cup™-winning coach of 1934 and 1938 – began his ten-year tenure as manager, Torino became the first European club to embark on a tour of South America. Undaunted by what was quite an undertaking for the time, the Turin side won all six of their matches, their victims including Corinthians and Argentina.

The making of a legendIl Toro would have to wait until 1928 before winning their first scudetto. That success came under club president Count Enrico Marone Cinzano, who signed several world-class players and laid the foundations of Il Grande Torino, the great Torino side of the 1940s.

These included Argentinian Julio Libonatti, who would become the first oriundo (immigrant of native ancestry) to play for Italy, Adolfo Baloncieri and Gino Rossetti. Collectively, the three were known as Trio delle Meraviglie (The Wonder Trio) and would score a remarkable 89 goals between them in helping Torino to that maiden title.

In 1939 Cinzano made way for Ferruccio Novo, the man who would quickly become known as the “father” of Il Grande Torino. Within a few short months he had assembled a line-up that would be remembered forever: Bacigalupo, Ballarin, Maroso, Grezar, Rigamonti, Castigliano, Menti, Loik, Gabetto, Mazzola and Ossola.

Together these 11 players formed one of the most smoothly functioning teams in the history of the game. The captain and driving force of this record-breaking outfit was Valentino Mazzola, whose sons Ferruccio and Sandro became outstanding players in their own right.

Il Toro won five consecutive league titles between 1943 and 1949, the Italian championship being suspended for two years during that period due to the Second World War. Their finest season during that run came in 1947/48, when Il Granata broke a string of records, including a best-ever goal difference of +92 (125 goals for and 33 against), which stands to this day.

Providing no fewer than ten players to the Italy side, Torino became the symbol of a country that was attempting to get back on its feet, with people up and down the land adopting the claret of their shirts as their colour.

It was then, on 4 May 1949 and with Torino at their peak, that tragedy struck. On a flight home from Lisbon, where they had played in a testimonial match for the Benfica player Jose Ferreira, the plane carrying the team encountered thick fog and technical problems on the descent to the city’s airport and crashed into the rear of the basilica situated atop the Superga hill, overlooking Turin. All 31 people on board, including the players, club officials and several journalists, were killed. In an instant Il Grande Torino had been destroyed.

Half a million people turned out for the players’ funerals on 6 May, while the rest of the Serie A clubs agreed to award the league title to Torino, who were championship leaders at the time with just four games remaining. It would take Il Toro the best part of another 30 years to win their next title.

The club suffered relegation to Serie B for the first time in 1959 before bouncing back immediately. Climbing their way back into the limelight in the 1960s, they then endured another tragic setback with the death in a car crash of the hugely promising Gigi Meroni, a stylish player known as the “The Claret Butterfly”.

Following two Coppa Italia wins in 1968 and 1971, Torino finally won their first league title since the Superga disaster in 1976, the architects of that triumph being forwards Paolo Pulici and Francesco Graziani, and midfielder Renato Zaccarelli, a future coach at the club.

The presentSince then, Torino have enjoyed a few highs, reaching the 1992 UEFA Cup final and winning the Coppa Italia in 1993, and several lows, including serious financial problems. Il Toro also gained a reputation as a yo-yo club, flitting between Serie A to Serie B on a regular basis.

The newly concluded season saw them regain their top-flight status once more, though Torino fans also had to endure the sight of rivals Juventus clinching the league title. With the support of their diehard fans, the club’s task now is to lay a solid base and consolidate their Serie A status, though the city is already eagerly awaiting the return of the Turin derby next season.

The stadiumTorino have led something of a nomadic existence. After spending their first three years at the Velodromo Umberto I, they took up residence at four different stadiums between 1910 and 1926 before finally laying down some roots at the Stadio Filadelfia, which was officially opened on 17 October 1926.

At the start of the 1963/64 season Il Grenata moved to the Stadio Vittorio Pozzo, a 65,000-capacity stadium more commonly known as the Comunale. A further move came after the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy, this time to the Stadio Delle Alpi, followed by yet another one in 2006, to the Stadio Olimpico di Torino, where they have remained ever since. The original design project envisaged a covered, all-seater stadium with a capacity of nearly 60,000, though this was reduced to 27,994 in order to meet safety standards.

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