Saturday, May 4, 2013

il Grande Torino: Sixty-Four Years Later, and a Nation Still Mourns


Image courtesy of ilgrandetornino.net.

Valentino Mazzola is the last man at the right on the
top row. Please click the image to visit the museum
dedicated to il Grande Torino.


The Crash at the Superga Cathedral

In 1949, an event brought the rivals clubs, along with the people of Torino, together in mourning. On 4 May 1949, at the Basilica di Superga, which was a hilly area outside of Torino, an airplane crash tragically killed the entire team, managers, crew, and journalists on board. Thirty-one people died, and there were no survivors. One Torino player who was injured, Sauro Toma, did not make the trip. One can only imagine his pain. He was quoted by USA Today in January 2006:  

"I have kept this sorrowness always on the inside."

Mr. Toma makes an annual pilgrimage to Superga to honor his former comrades. Torino had won three Scudetti (titles) in a row, and ten played for the National Team. They were known as Il Grande Torino, and unbeaten at home since 1943. The team was returning from a friendly game in Lisbon with Benfica. Actually, the match was a farewell benefit game for a Benfica player, Francisco Ferreira, who was a friend of Valentino Mazzola, the legendary captain of Torino.

The accident had a profound effect on Italian calcio for many years to come. At the time, Torino was the best club team in Europe. Arguably, they were the premier team in the world. With extreme courage and dignity, the reserve team (Primavera) played and won the final four games of the campionato to give Torino its fourth consecutive Scudetto. It was the fifth title during the reign of this extraordinary team. In a show of respect and unity, all of the opposing clubs (Genoa, Palermo, Sampdoria, and Fiorentina) fielded their respective reserve teams. Since that tragic accident, Torino has won the Serie A Scudetto only on one occasion in 1977.

Since Torino had so many Azzurri on the team, the difficult chore to identify the bodies fell upon Vittorio Pozzo. He was the legendary coach, or Mister, of the Azzurri, and the only man to win two World Cups, along with an Olympic Gold medal. He was also one of the founders of Torino. As fate would dictate, Mr. Pozzo was in London to watch the English FA Cup final, and returned to Torino the night of the tragic accident. Had he not been in London, he would have attended the game in Lisbon.
On the ground, somebody was trying to identify them, making mistakes. I was correcting him when a soldier came in front of me. He was a marshal in the Carabinieri (Italian Police) who knew me. You should identify the bodies. I remember the Juventus player, John Hansen, in a long dark raincoat, who embraced me. That evening they led me to the general cemetery. I won't report the particulars. One by one, I identified them all. It was my Torino, the team I gave so much help to build.
Source: Toroclub.it.
Two days later, 500,000 people attended the funeral procession in Torino. At the time, the population of the city was 600,000.

Valentino Mazzola and His Legacy



The popular and inspirational captain of the team, Valentino Mazzola, or as he was affectionately known, Capitan Valentino, had a son named Alessandro. Many years later, Sandro would become a famous player for Inter Milan, and also play for the National team. He is now a soccer commentator in Italy. In a further twist of fate, both father and son captained the Azzurri the exact number of times: five. In my humble opinion, had this Torino team survived, Italy would have won their third World Cup the next year in Brazil. Despite this tragic loss, Italy did send a team to defend its title from 1938. (The competition was not held during WWII.) They would have retired the Jules Rimet Trophy. Something that Brazil would accomplish in 1970. Ironically, Brazil defeated Italy in the 1970 final, 4 to 1. Sandro Mazzola was on the pitch that day at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.

Historical Records of il Grande Torino
  • Most consecutive Serie A titles: 5, which ties them with the Juventus team of the 1930s.
  • Most consecutive years undefeated at home: 4. From 1945 to 1949.
  • Most consecutive games undefeated at home: 93 games, 83 wins and 10 ties, from 1943 to 1949. (In 1944 and 1945, the Serie A was not played.)
  • Most consecutive games undefeated in one year: 21 in 1947-1948.
  • Most points in one season: 65 (This was before a win earned 3 points.)
  • Most home wins in one season: 19 out of 20 games in 1947-1948.
  • Most goals scored in one season: 125 during 1947-1948.
  • Most home points earned in one season: 39/40 during 1947-1948. (Back then, wins were worth 2 points, and a tie was granted 1 point.)
  • Best percentage of goals per game: 3.8 during 1947-1948.
  • Least amount of away games lost: 3 during 1946-1947 and 1948-1949.
Statistics courtesy of Wikipedia.

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