Legacy of the Grande Torino puts Serie A league position in perspective, writes Paolo Bandini

Sixty years on from the Superga disaster, football fans revere the team that united a nation

Torino remain one point clear of the relegation zone after a 1–0 defeat at Fiorentina but, for one day at least, present concerns will be kept in perspective. Sixty years ago today a Fiat G-212 plane, its pilot's vision apparently impaired by dark clouds and heavy rain, crashed into the side of a hill at Superga, just outside of Turin. On board were 18 Torino players, along with 13 other passengers and crew, returning from a friendly in Lisbon. None survived.

The greatest side in the history of the club, and arguably all of Italian football, had been wiped out at a stroke. The Grande Torino (Great Torino), as that side is still known, were on course for a fifth successive Serie A title at the time – four points clear with four games to go. They were unbeaten in 18 games, and had not lost at home since 1943 (albeit the league was suspended from 1943 to 1945). In a 40-game 1947-48 season, they scored 125 goals and conceded just 33. For some international games in the late 1940s, Italy fielded as many as 10 Torino players in their starting XI.

More than that, though, the Grande Torino side had been a rallying point for a country that was struggling to get back on its feet in the wake of the second world war. There was no formal structure to international club competition at the time, yet Torino were known throughout Europe and had even toured South America. When news of the disaster broke, parliament was immediately suspended. One 38-year-old woman in Bologna was reportedly so overcome that she committed suicide.

Two days later close to 500,000 mourners turned up to pay their respects at the players' funerals. A year later, in the summer of 1950, the Italian Football Federation refused to allow the national side to fly to Brazil for the World Cup. Instead they travelled by boat, showing up in terrible condition after a fortnight-long journey in which they had been able to do little more than go for an occasional jog. They lost their first game 3–2 to Sweden, and failed to make it out of their group, but were at least allowed to make the return journey by plane.

Torino themselves were awarded the 1949 Scudetto, though they went ahead with their four remaining fixtures anyway, fielding a side made up of youth players and the only two members of the first-team squad not to make the trip: the defender Sauro Toma and the reserve goalkeeper Renato Gandolfi. Toma had wanted to make the trip to play Benfica despite an injury to his knee, but was persuaded to stay behind by his wife, Giovanna, who was pregnant at the time.

The Granata's four remaining opponents fielded youth teams of their own as a mark of respect, allowing them to finish top of the table in any case, but thereafter they slid into decline. Torino would be relegated in 1959, and though they recovered to enjoy a successful run in the late 1970s, even winning the Serie A title in 1976, they finished up all too often as Italian football's nearly men. At the beginning of the 1980s Torino reached the final of the Coppa Italia for three years running but lost every time – twice on penalties.

Since then, the bright moments have been few and far between for Torino. Despite reaching the Uefa Cup final in 1992, Torino spent a good part of the 90s in Serie B, while repeated financial mismanagement meant that any small step forward was swiftly followed by two in the opposite direction. Hopes that Torino would one day return to Stadio Filadelfia – abandoned in 1963 in favour of a more cost-effective ground-share with Juventus, but still viewed by many fans as the Grande Torino's spiritual home – were built up time and again by a string of owners and directors, only to inevitably be crushed by the realisation that none had the money required to restore it.

The current president, the businessman Urbano Cairo, has been rather more careful with his promises. He bought the club in 2005 after it had been declared bankrupt, and the team were promoted from Serie B at the first attempt. He has been careful not to stretch the club beyond its resources, though his one big signing – Rolando Bianchi from Manchester City – has so far failed to live up to expectations. As a result it has not been easy on the pitch. After finishing 15th and 16th on their first two seasons back in the top flight, Torino are once again struggling to keep their heads above water.

Cairo appointed Giancarlo Camolese as Torino's third manager this season in March. Although they have lost three of five games since he took charge, they have also won both times they have faced teams in the bottom half of the league. That is probably as much as can be hoped for from a team of modest talent. With Bianchi erratic and the captain, Alessandro Rosina, not even deemed worthy of a regular starting berth these days, Torino lack a cutting edge up front, while their midfield boasts little real creativity. Injuries, meanwhile, have further reduced an already thin squad.

It is easy, this close to the end of a season, to make glib statements about football being a matter of life and death. But as the present Torino team, along with several thousand fans, and relatives of those who died, make their way up to Superga this afternoon to pay tribute to the Grande Torino, they will know that it is anything but.

Round 34 talking points

• At time of writing Claudio Ranieri was still the manager of Juventus, but it is increasingly hard to imagine him staying in that job beyond the end of the season after his side failed to win for the fifth week in a row, drawing 2–2 at home to Lecce. Perhaps more disconcerting than the result itself for Ranieri are reports of a stand-up row with Mauro Camoranesi at half-time, as the winger reacted badly to being substituted, and of the goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon deciding to simply walk out of the dressing room during said argument and return to the pitch ahead of his team-mates.

• The mood is no better at Roma, whose players came out of their enforced ritiro (training camp) on Wednesday after Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi went directly to the club's president, Rosella Sensi – without telling their manager, Luciano Spalletti – and convinced her that they could be trusted to turn things around without such a punishment. Then they drew 0–0 at home to Chievo. Spalletti has always insisted he is not a fan of such punishments and claimed during the week to have been fine with the players' decision to go above his head, but after the game the manager suggested he may even be willing to walk away without having his contract paid off should the club wish to part ways at the end of the season.

• Yet another man who could be on his way this summer is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was heckled by Internazionale's own fans before he opened the scoring in their 2–0 win over Lazio at San Siro. Ibra reacted to the goal by turning to the home support and raising a finger to his lips and, though he played down the incident afterwards, you could hardly blame him if he did decide to move on. Although he can appear uninterested, Ibrahimovic has scored 21 goals in the league alone this season and Saturday was not the first time he has secured a win, almost single-handedly, that Inter scarcely merited.

• After seeing Fiorentina beat Torino earlier in the day, Genoa knew that nothing less than a win would do in their derby against Sampdoria at Stadio Ferraris. Diego Milito ensured they got one, scoring a hat-trick in a 3–1 win. How much, though, will they come to regret the sendings-off – and therefore the forthcoming suspensions of – Matteo Ferrari and Thiago Motta during the final moments of the game?

Results: Bologna 1–2 Reggina, Catania 0–2 Milan, Fiorentina 1–0 Torino, Genoa 3–1 Sampdoria, Internazionale 2–0 Lazio, Juventus 2–2 Lecce, Palermo 5–1 Cagliari, Roma 0–0 Chievo, Siena 2–1 Napoli, Udinese 3–0 Atalanta

Latest Serie A standings


Nicky Bandini

The GuardianTramp

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