The great Torino team which flew to Lisbon for a friendly on 1 May 1949 had all but clinched their fifth championship in a row. With four games left, they were four points in front, had gone their last eighteen games unbeaten, and had not lost at home for 93 games -since 1943. Captain Valentino Mazzola nearly missed the plane with a fever, and some newspapers reported that he had actually remained at home. Other rumours claimed that the team's captain had got off at Barcelona. Both, unfortunately, turned out to be false. After the game in Lisbon, 31 passengers and crew flew back from Portugal on 4 May. The weather was terrible that afternoon. Heavy rain lashed down onto the city and dark clouds hung over the hills and mountains that surround Turin, down on the Po river plain. Visibility was poor. It was as if night had fallen early. That afternoon there were very few people on the hill up at Superga, where an eighteenth-century basilica stood, high above Turin. A peaant saw a plane fly past just above his head, another heard the same aircraft circling in the mist and fog. At 17.12 p.m. on 4 May a car screeched to a halt near to the restaurant which stood on the small square next to the basilica. The driver said he needed to use the phone, urgently. The journalist he spoke to at the national press agency refused to believe his story. Soon firemen and police vans began to arrive. A FIAT G-212 plane had smashed into a wall at the back of the church. The wood around the building was on fire, despite the driving rain. Nothing could be done for the 31 victims and there were no survivors." Bodies, luggage and wreckage were strewn over a wide area. As news spread, thousands of fans began to make their way up the hill, in the pouring rain, in a spontaneous and silent procession.
The horrific task of identifying the victims fell to Vittorio Pozzo, journalist and ex-manager of Italy. It was not easy - many of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition. Pozzo walked around the crash site for four hours but some victims were only identified from documents found in their pockets or rings on their fingers. Pozzo, who wrote for La Stampa, the Turin daily, filed his copy that same evening: 'The Torino team is no more,' he wrote, 'it has disappeared, it is burnt, it has exploded ... the team died in action, like a group of shock troops, in the war, who left their trenches and never came back.' This article was later used in Turin schools as an example of the use of rhetoric. Pozzo knew many of the players well. He had picked a record ten members of the squad for the Italian national team in 1947. In Turin's local L'Unita offices (the communist daily) the news came through at 17.30. A few journalists there jumped into a car and drove up the hill, passing hundreds of other people on foot and many other vehicles. At the top, they were told that 'everyone was dead'. Chaos reigned. Two huge wheels were strewn fifty metres apart. People stood around in shock; most were crying.
Special late editions of newspapers were printed, and people crowded around to read reports right across Italy. Work stopped at FIAT for one minute's silence, and shops closed all over the city. Trams going into the town centre were packed with people desperate for more news. A paper in Milan led with this headline: 'Italy cries for its champions: Champions forever'.12 A 38-year-old woman in Bologna committed suicide on hearing the news. The tragedy united left and right, at the height of the cold war. L'Unita wrote that 'the whole of Italy' was 'alongside the burnt bodies' of the team. In Rome, Parliament suspended its sitting once the news had come through. The tragedy also involved Juventus, albeit marginally. Leslie Lievesley, a Berkshire-born former Crystal Palace player who had gone on to coach the Dutch national team, had worked with Torino since 1947. In 1949, he was set to become the coach of the other Turin team. The news of his appointment broke three weeks before the disaster, in April 1949.
The Torino of the 1940s were not known as Grande Torino for nothing. After winning the 1942-3 championship by just one point from Livorno, Torino again finished a mere point clear of Juventus in a truncated tournament in 1945-6. After that, the domination began in earnest. In 1946-7, Torino scored 104 goals in 38 games, conceding just 35. They ended up ten points ahead of Juventus. The following year was astonishing: 125 goals in 40 games, with only 33 conceded, and nineteen out of twenty games won at home. Torino massacred other teams, beating Alessandria 10-0, Lucchese 6-0 and Salernitana 7-1. One of the team's most powerful performances was away to Roma, in April 1946. After nineteen minutes, Torino were 6-0 up. At half-time - still on 6-0 - the manager told the team that there was no need to humiliate their opponents. The game ended 7-0, with the Roma crowd applauding the Torino team off the pitch. In their five winning seasons, Torino notched up 483 goals and conceded just 165." Nobody, apart from Juventus in the 1930s and Milan in the 1990s, has ever come close to such a record. At least half a million people attended the funerals of the players, journalists and Torino staff on 6 May. The city's streets were packed with mourners, on another grey, rainy day. The funeral ceremony was transmitted live on national radio, and the coffins were transported through the town on huge lorries with flags and the names of the victims written on black cloth. At the funeral, the president of the football federation, Ottorino Barassi, read out the names of the dead players, beginning with Captain Valentino. There was no need to use his surname - Mazzola - everybody knew him by his first name. Barassi ended his speech with 'this is the fifth cup, Torino's cup, look how big it is, it is filled with the hearts of the world'. Thirty thousand people walked up to Superga to pay their respects and leave flowers that very day.
33 mnts, 1999
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La Leggenda del Torino
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I Gemeli del Gol