Torino has often been amongst the most revered clubs in calcio folklore.
They painted a huge mark in Italy with their emphatic style and sheer brilliance back in the 1940s. The fact that Il Toro’s domination in the 1940s is still talked upon over Juventus’ similar feat of winning five straight Scudetto in the 1930s – a prime example of how Torino ruled Italian football back then.
Along with Juventus (1930-31 to 1934-35 and 2011-12 to the present) and Inter (2005-06 to 2009-10), Il Toro is among the three Italian clubs to have won five straight league titles. At the time of achieving this feat in the 1940s, the team earned its name as ‘Il Grande Torino‘, which translates to ‘The Great Torino’.
Torino first tasted its success in July 1927 when they won the Scudetto after defeating Bologna 5-0. But six months later, the title was revoked due to Torino’s involvement in the match-fixing scandal that rocked domestic football.
The next season saw Torino reconfirming their status as Italian champions under the presidency of Count Enrico Marone Cinzano after a staggering campaign. Il Toro’s Trio Delle Meraviglie (Trio of Wonders), Julio Libonatti, Adolfo Baloncieri, and Gino Rossetti, ripped apart at their opponents, finding the back of the net 89 times that season.
Despite showing promising signs, Torino went on a decline in the early stages of the 1930s after President Cinzano resigned from his post. After winning the Scudetto in the 1927-28 season, the club went on a trophy drought until the 1935-36 season. Torino finished third in the league, below eventual winners Bologna and Roma, but they were finally able to add another trophy in their cabinet after thumping Alessandria 5-1 in the Coppa Italia final.
Two seasons later, in 1938-39, Torino appointed Ernest Erbstein as their new technical director. The Hungarian joined Granata after a short managerial spell with Bari, Nocerina, Cagliari, and Bari again before managing Lucchese for five years where he won Serie B in 1936. In his very first season, Erbstein’s Torino finished second, four points below Bologna. Unfortunately, Erbstein’s time in Turin was cut short after just one season as he moved back to Hungary due to World War II.
A year later, Ferruccio Novo was installed as the new President of Torino, which turned out to be a massive decision by the club. It was a turning point for Il Toro as Novo would inject necessary funds to the club and add some professionalism as an administrator. The likes of Antonio Janni, Giacinto Ellena, and Mario Sperone made a huge contribution alongside President Novo in the coming years which helped the team to earn its very own identity.
After the retirement of Oberdan Ussello and Raf Vallone in the 1940-1941 season, Torino signed five new players ahead of the next season. With Torino finishing seventh in the previous season, Novo decided to play his hand in the market to strengthen the team and make Il Toro a genuine Scudetto contender.
In what was a series of surprising transfers, Torino brought in Alfredo Bodoira, Felice Borel, and Guglielmo Gabetto, all from bitter rivals Juventus. Pietro Ferraris, a World Cup winner with Italy and a dynamic left-winger along with right-winger Romeo Menti were signed from Ambrosiana and Fiorentina respectively.
There was something special when it came to Torino’s style and identity during their golden years. The vast majority of the Italian clubs in the 1930s and early 1940s used an identical approach, but it was different in Turin. Vittorio Pozzo, the mastermind behind Italy’s 1934 and 1938 World Cup triumph, used a more defensive setup with the national side which was quickly adopted by several Italian clubs as well. In the late ‘30s, Torino’s Felice Borel and Giacinto Ellena convinced Novo to adapt to a different strategy and that’s when Englishman Herbert Chapman’s ‘sistema’ tactic entered Italian football.
In practice, il sistema was a 3-2-2-3 formation, with three defenders, four midfielders (two midfielders and two inside-forwards), and three forwards (two wingers and one striker) in the shape of ‘W’ and ‘M’. The formation was dynamic and more balanced, to say the least. And, if used with the right players, it would prove to be dominant.
Although Torino signed five players, there was still a missing piece in the puzzle in President Novo’s sights. During the 1940-41 season, when Torino faced Venezia in a crucial league game, the third last match of the season, Valentino Mazzola and Ezio Loik inspired Venezia in a sensational win which ended Il Toro‘s title dreams. Novo was so impressed with Mazzola and Loik that straight after the match, he went to the Venezia locker-room and directly purchased the duo for a little over ₤1 million (one million lire), along with the exchange of two players – Raul Mezzadra and Walter Petron – thus, allowing Venezia to clear its debts.
Not only did Novo manage to sign two excellent attackers, but he also got the better of city-rivals Juventus as they already had a verbal agreement with the Arancioneroverdi to sign Mazzola. The deal was heavily criticized by the Italian press. At the end of the day, Novo’s shrewd strategy did the trick which also laid the foundation of a side who would dominate Italian football like no one else.
It had been 14 years since Torino last won the Scudetto and to end that run, Nova re-appointed Hungarian András Kuttik to lead Il Toro’s new ambition. With the likes of Mazzola, Loik, Ellena, Baldi, and Menti at the helm, Torino, at last, had the squad to challenge for the title.
In what was an exciting title race, Torino and Livorno headed to the last day of the season with the Scudetto up for grabs. Only separated by one point, Kuttik’s side went on to win 1-0 against Bari, all thanks to Mazzola’s brilliance which ended a 14-year long wait for the top-flight championship.
A few weeks later, Torino became the first Italian side to complete a double. In the Coppa Italia final, they comprehensively brushed past Venezia 4-0 in San Siro. Gabetto got a braze in this final while Ferraris and Mazzola scored one apiece to brush aside the demons that had crushed their title dreams in the previous campaign.
With the World War II looming in, the Italian Championship had to be halted for two years following the conclusion of 1942-43 season. The disruptions caused by World War II forced the FIGC to divide the 1945-46 Italian Championship into two groups – North and South. Since there was an insufficient number of Southern teams, a handful of clubs from Serie B were included as replacements.
Novo once again displayed his shrewd and sheer administrative skills when Torino brought in six players to strengthen their team further. He also brought in former winger Luigi Ferrero as their new coach who had a successful stint with A.S Bari. The first arrival ahead of the 1945-46 season was Savona’s Goalkeeper Valerio Bacigalupo, defender Aldo Ballarin from Triestina, Virgilio Maroso from Alessandria, Eusebio Castigliano and central midfielder Mario Rigamonti from Brescia.
Torino lost the opening game of the championship 1-0 at the hands of city-rivals Juventus in the Derby della Mole. Silvio Piola, who had a short one-year spell with Torino, scored the only goal of the match from the spot. But Ferrero’s man bounced back ruthlessly. Torino smashed Genoa and Sampierdarenese with the scoreline of 6-0 and 5-0 respectively and later went on to defeat Milan 4-0 to continue their rise in the Northern Italy Serie A Championship.
In the second half of the season, Torino avenged the previous 1-0 defeat against Juventus by the same scoreline, courtesy Eusebio Castigliano’s decisive goal. The Granata finished at the top of the Northern Championship which put them up against the likes of Napoli, A.S Bari, A.S Roma, and Pro Livorno in the next and final round of the 1945-46 Italian Championship. That’s when Il Grande Torino’s superiority over the rest of the Italian clubs came into the limelight.
In an away game at the Stadio Olimpico against Roma, Ferrero’s prowling Torino side outclassed the Romans 7-0. Of the seven goals scored, six were bagged inside the first twenty-minutes, averaging one goal every three minutes. Such was their superiority that at half-time, Ferrero instructed his players to slow down the game and don’t go for more goals to avoid humiliating Roma.
Later, Il Toro went on to thrash Napoli 7-1 but lost out to Juventus 1-0. Once again, it was Silvio Piola’s penalty which made the difference. In the return Derby della Mole, Torino showed great desire to edge the Bianconeri 1-0, all thanks to a goal from Gabetto. On the last day of the season, both the Turin-based clubs were level on points. While Napoli held Juventus 1-1 in Naples, Torino recorded their biggest win of the season with the 9-1 decimation of Pro Livorno to win their third Scudetto and second under President Novo.
In the process, Torino’s Stadio Filadelfia would also go on to become a fortress. After having an unbeaten streak in the 1945-46 season, the Granata would remain unbeaten at the ground for the next four seasons. The following season, Torino won the Scudetto again and for the third consecutive time. Having started the season slowly, the team registered six wins in a row which included an impressive 4-0 win over an in-form Bologna. Prior to the game, Bologna was on a seven-game unbeaten streak and their goalkeeper Glauco Vanz had not conceded a single goal since the beginning of the campaign.
A scintillating 7-2 win over Fiorentina followed but Torino would later lose to Alessandria before being held by Modena, the latter would be the last time Il Toro would drop points in the 1946-47 season. Torino also went on a sixteen-game unbeaten run, winning fourteen and ending up scoring a staggering 104 goals throughout the campaign. Star midfielder Valentino Mazzola became the Capocannoniere with 29 goals, eight more than second-placed Ettore Puricelli of Milan.
If the 1946-47 season looks astonishing, then the following one was truly unbelievable. In the 1947-48 campaign, under the tutelage of Mario Sperone, Torino set records one after another. The maximum advantage over the second-placed team (16 points), biggest home win (10-0 against Alessandria), most number of wins (29 victories in 40 games), the longest unbeaten streak (21), the most number of wins at home (19 wins out of 20 home games), the highest number of goals scored (125), and the best defense, conceding just 33.
Valentino Mazzola finished as the second-highest goalscorer (25 goals) behind Juventus’ Giampiero Boniperti (27 goals) while Guglielmo Gabetto finished third on the podium with 23 goals. Torino made all the Italian clubs look ordinary and there was absolutely no stopping them on the field. Unfortunately, the following season would turn out to be the last of this incredible team.
Club President Ferruccio Novo appointed Erno Erbstein as the Technical Director. Apart from bringing in the Hungarian, Novo appointed Englishman Leslie Lievesley as the head coach of Grande Torino. A handful of signings was made as well where the Italian champions brought in midfielder Ruben Fadini, Aldo Ballarin’s brother Dino, Julius Schubert, and strikers Emile Bongiorni and Ruggero Grava.
As compared to the previous seasons, the 1948-49 Serie A was a close affair. On their road to the fifth straight Scudetto, Il Toro, after winning five consecutive games, suffered a couple of losses at the hands of Atalanta, Milan, and Genoa. Midway through the season, Torino and Genoa were level on points at the top of the table. Lievesley side later completed a double over Juventus in the Derby della Mole with a comfortable 3-0 win.
But the race for Scudetto was still wide open. On the other hand, Inter, direct rivals for the Scudetto, closed the gap after Torino dropped points against Triestina and Bari. In April 1949, when both Inter and Torino met in Milan, the game ended in a goalless draw, confirming Granata’s status as the champions of Italy, again and, for the record fifth time.
However, despite the joy, great grief was around the corner. Two months before playing Inter, on 27 February 1949, Italy had hosted Portugal in an international friendly at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa. In front of a staggering 60,000 spectators, the two-time world champions hammered the Portuguese 4-1 to register a comprehensive victory. After Portugal opened the scoring through Miguel Lourenco in the early stages of the first-half, Italy showed their brilliance upfront and scored four times to seal a memorable win.
Among the goalscorers was Torino’s starlet Valentino Mazzola. On that occasion, Portugal’s captain Francisco Ferreira, who was plying his trade with Benfica, had a brief conversation with Italy’s captain, Mazzola. Ferreira was nearing the end of his career and Benfica had a plan in mind to honour their legendary midfielder in a friendly game. During the conversation, Mazzola got convinced by the idea and a friendly game between Benfica and Torino was scheduled for 3 May 1949 in Lisbon.
In what was a goal-fest, Benfica got the better of Torino 4-3 with all the seven goals being scored in the first-half. As it was friendly, both the outfits played without many restrictions on them. Torino made a great start when Franco Ossola gave II Toro a solitary lead but two quick goals from Alfredo Melao for Benfica changed the course of the match. As the game progressed, Arsenic extended Benfica’s lead to two goals but Torino quickly cut short the deficit in the 37th minute, courtesy Emile Bongiorni’s brilliant finish past goalkeeper Rogerio Contreiras.
Benfica didn’t hesitate to push forward and just three minutes after Bongiorni’s goal, striker Rogerio Pipi restored the two-goal lead. Shortly before the half-time whistle, Benfica conceded a penalty. Romeo Menti stepped up and converted from the spot. At the break, Benfica was still 4-3 up. The score stayed the same until the final whistle and Benfica emerged as the winner.
After the end of the game, there was a huge celebration on the occasion of Francisco Ferreira’s sparkling career. Both the teams and the fans in the National Stadium of Jamor applauded Ferreira as he left the field. The brief conversation after the international friendly back in Genoa and the reverence shared during this friendly created a new bond between Ferreira and Mazzola. Later that evening in Lisbon, a farewell party was hosted by Benfica to conclude the memorable day which had been etched into the history of Benfica and Torino.
Next morning, on 4 May, Torino boarded the Fiat G-212 plane from Lisbon Airport as they were headed back home to Turin. With heavy rain pouring down the city of Turin and the visibility close to nothing due to fog and mist, the Fiat G-212 crashed into the wall at the back of an 18th-century basilica on the top of the hill at Superga, on outskirts of Turin, killing all the 31 passengers and crew on board.
Former Italy manager, Vittorio Pozzo, who was a journalist for La Stampa at the time of the disaster, identified the victims at the crash site. Later that evening, Pozzo filed his piece for La Stampa sent the nation into a period of grief.
With no survivors from the crash, Torino had to play the last four games with their reserve squad to complete their campaign. All their opponents fairly fielded their reserve teams in return and Torino finished their campaign 15 points ahead of runners-up Inter. On 6 May, close to half-a-million people attended Grande Torino’s funeral in Turin.
Ferruccio Novo, the instrumental figure behind the Grande Torino, had missed the trip to Lisbon due to suffering from influenza. The side which he had led the foundation of was no more. The Italian national team, who once fielded 10 Torino players against Hungary in 1947 would have to start from scratch. An extraordinary team with gifted players – the darlings of Calcio – are still held in such high regard in the country. Their impact was immeasurable, their dominance was unparalleled, and one thing is for certain: their legacy lives on forever.