It’s a tale of two eras. The first of which was defined by success, reverence and grandeur only to be cut short by tragedy. The second has been characterised by pathos, spite, hope and, above all, nostalgia. Torino F.C. is one of the most prestigious clubs in Italy but their history has been defined by a sciagura – a catastrophe.
On 4 May 1949, the Fiat G-212 plane carrying the Great Torino team crashed into the side of a hill at Superga, just outside Turin. The torrential downpour and dark cloud surrounding Superga had allegedly impaired the pilot’s vision and in an instant, a team on the verge on winning their fifth successive championship were wiped out. Around half a million people attended the team’s funerals and the ceremony was transmitted live on national radio.
For Torino, Superga not only shaped their future but also carved a new identity. Back in 1917 Sigmund Freud had written: “Mourning is regularly the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one … In some people the same influences produce melancholia instead of mourning and we consequently suspect them of a pathological disposition.”
All those involved with Torino continue to live the trauma. But as Freud suggested, this trauma is now inextricably linked with nostalgia and a desperate attempt to preserve the images of that pre-traumatic, halcyon era of Il Grande Torino. John Foot, author of Calcio: A History of Italian Football, observed “After Superga the victims of the disaster, already close to perfection and nigh on unbeatable on the pitch, entered into the realms of myth.”
The basilica that sits on Superga has become a shrine through which the Torinesiremember their fallen heroes. The church is accompanied by the museum of Claret Red History and a commemorative plaque inscribed with the names of those who died. On every May 4 since 1949, families, supporters and players have flocked to this site to pay homage.
Since Superga, Torino teams have been a shadow of their all-conquering predecessors. The supporters have experienced the humiliations of Serie B and bankruptcy while being tormented by the inexorable rise of their city rivals, Juventus. To add insult to injury, the Serie A title they won in 1976 remains their only Scudetto triumph since 1949.
But this adversity has only strengthened the fans’ sense of belonging to their club. Today, many Torinesi may not have lived Superga but among them a sense of tragedy and martyrdom endures, reinforcing their faith. It is this history that distinguishes them.
During the 2013-14 Serie A season, Torino’s average attendance was just under 17,000. This is around 11,000 fewer than the Stadio Olimpico’s capacity, however, the clamour of the crowd would have you believe otherwise. Draped with flags, banners and scarves, the Curva Maratona’s blend of maroon and white makes for a particularly splendid spectacle. The ultras behind these displays have a chequered history.
It’s a history that dates back to 1951, with the formation of Fellissimi Granata(Maroon Loyalists), a group often regarded as the harbinger of the Italian ultra phenomenon. In the second half of the 1960s, some members branched off to form Commandos Fedelissimi, allegedly the first group to adopt a moniker inspired by guerrilla warfare. It soon became a trend with fans across the peninsula, with groups embracing militant symbols including Panthers, Fedayn and Tupamaros.
These were testing years. This was the Superga generation, a generation for which journalist and Toro fan, Massimo Gramellini, coined the term “Uomo Superga” (“Supergaman”). In 1958 Torino would be relegated to Serie B and their suffering was compounded five years later by the loss of their iconic home, the Stadio Filadelfia.
It had been the fortress in which Il Grande Torino had mesmerised their supporters. Led by their magisterial captain, Valentino Mazzola, they would blitz teams during the “Claret red quarter of an hour”, a 15-minute spell of high-tempo football heralded by the sounding of the “Trumpet of Filadelfia”. By 1963, the stadium was one of the only enduring legacies of the team’s exploits. However, the crumbling venue needed serious renovation.
Torino moved to the Stadio Olimipico – known then as the Stadio Comunale – and shared the ground with Juventus. Barring a 16-year spell at the Stadio Delle Alpi, Toro have since remained at the Olimpico. Despite longing for a return to regular games at the Filadelfia, countless promises to re-build the venue have been broken.
Having visited the Filadelfia and even taken a penalty within its archaic remains, Torino supporter and blogger Rob Gillman expresses his frustrations. “It is nothing short of a disgrace that it has been allowed to become such a ruin, but plans are in place to renovate. It will not be a stadium, but more of a training facility and perhaps even a museum, but until something has been built, I remain wary.”
The supporters stuck with their team and translated their dedication through activism, choreographing impressive tifos, including a banner that stretched the length and breadth of the Curva Maratona. Unfortunately their status had also been built upon a more sordid episode. In 1970, Torino’s game against Vicenza ended in pandemonium after referee Rosario Lo Bello awarded Vicenza two penalties, reversing Torino’s 2-1 lead. The Torinesi reportedly left a trail of havoc while trying to confront Lo Bello on his way to the airport. Their behaviour prompted the media to label the supporters “ultras”, a tag they adopted happily.
The dismissal of coach Gustavo Giagnoni in 1974 brought with it the customary in-house rifts, spurring the youngsters from the Fedelissimi to shred their membership cards and create the Maratona Club Torino Ultras Granata. They became the vanguard of Torino’s support behind their legendary banner, a sinister looking white skull with maroon trim.
Being Italy, football is seldom free from politics and Torino’s fanbase has historically harboured left-wing sympathies. Some have been more extreme than others. In 2000, Etarras – a group inspired by the militant Basque nationalist organisation ETA, reignited the left-wing political agenda, often flying Cuban and Basque flags. Members were also known to join protests with radical leftist groups such as Autonomia Operaia and Pantera Studentesca. In the 1980s, the right-wing sympathies of both Granata Korps and Viking led to occasional internecine clashes, however these differences ameliorated over time.
Recently, the atmosphere in the Olimpico has been boosted by groups such asEstranei taking up residence in the Curva Primavera, an end named after the club’s youth teams. During a game against Sassuolo in November 2014, the Ultras Granata’s iconic skull banner made a return and there has been a gradual de-politicisation of the hardcore support. After forming in 2012, Gruppo Stendardidistanced themselves from politics and they decorate their area of the Curva by allowing anyone to hang banners and fly flags. The Torinesi have even taken to denouncing politics in the stadium, deriding the right-wing factions of Lazio fans during a game for placing politics before football.
Rob thinks that the fraught relationship with their city rivals has helped to make the atmosphere at Torino special. “I’ve always sensed a belief that Toro supporters like to stand out and show that they haven’t taken the ‘easy option’ of supporting a team that always win,” he says. “This may be reflected in the choreography, an attempt to be original and different, rather than the mass produced consumerism of the fans on the other side of the city.”
The Derby della Mole – named after Turin’s iconic landmark the Mole Antonelliana– is one of the most acrimonious rivalries in Italy. Among Torinesi there is undoubtedly a sense that they support a club that truly represents Turin. The club predominately garners support from the city, while Juve’s fanbase spreads the length of Italy. During last season’s derby, Toro supporters displayed a satirical “Welcome to Torino” banner for their counterparts in black and white.
However, on occasions the nature in which opposition fans have taunted each other has been vile. For a time, while the stadium announcer would read through the names of Torino’s squad, some Juve supporters would sway from side to side, humming a noise mimicking that of a plane. As the announcer reeled off the last name on the Granata team sheet some fans would shout: “Boom!”
In 1985, the Heysel tragedy which claimed the lives of 39 Juventini, gave Toro fans a riposte. One chant went “39 sotto terra, viva viva Ingilhterra” (“39 in the ground, long live England”). Such sentiments have besmirched the rivalry but the majority of supporters have proved they can take a more light-hearted approach. For example, the Torinesi unveiled a banner comparing Juventus to the ugly design of the Fiat Multipla due to their links to the car manufacturer.
The strong friendship between Torino and Fiorentina fans is also largely based on their visceral hatred of Juventus. Rob calls it an “anti-Juve alliance” however the origins of this gmellaggio (twinning) are far more sentimental, dating back to Superga. With Torino struggling for players in the aftermath of the crash, Fiorentina lent them youth players until the end of the championship. The gesture has not been forgotten, forming what the supporters refer to as a blood-tie. This gregarious relationship was in evidence on the final day of the 2013-14 season, when Torino travelled to Fiorentina needing a win to secure Europa League qualification. There was a surreal atmosphere at the game as a large section of the Viola support booed their team’s goals and celebrated when Toro scored.
The game ended in heartbreak after the Granata’s star man, Alessio Cerci, missed a last-minute penalty, allowing Parma to snatch the final European spot. However, Parma’s financial malaise saw them expelled from Europe, allowing Toro to return after a 20-year hiatus. Under the tenure of Giampiero Ventura, this renaissance has continued with the club reaching the last-16 of this season’s Europa League. But it’s a victory over Juventus that the supporters so desperately crave.
Having been travelling to Turin for 10 years to watch Torino, Rob knows better than most the importance of the Derby della Mole: “For Toro fans this is the most important fixture of the season, but the unique thing about this derby in recent years is Toro’s horrendous record. Before April 2015, they hadn’t won a derby since 1995, and until Bruno Peres’ goal in November 2014, they hadn’t even scored since 2002. When Toro do manage to beat Juventus, however, the celebrations last for a long, long time,” says Rob.