Only Fate could beat them
Superga air disaster: Il Grande Torino
On the 4th of May, in 1949, Italy experienced a tragedy that shook not just the country but also the entire football world. The Torino Football Club lost its most formidable squad, Il Grande Torino, in a plane crash. The Superga air disaster robbed Italy of one of its greatest teams. Like all fatal misfortunes involving famous sportspersons and celebrities, interest in the tragedy extended well beyond sports media.The team was coming back from Lisbon after playing a friendly match with Benfica in honour of Francisco Ferreira, the Portuguese captain. Valentino Mazzola, the Torino team captain, had met Ferreira in Genoa during a game between Italy and Portugal. Ferreira asked Mazzola to play a friendly against his side, Benfica, as a farewell tribute to him. The match was then set for Tuesday the 3rd of May, 1949. Torino had to move forward, their game against Inter Milan to the 30th of April in order to accommodate the friendly match. Torino lost the game, 4-3 to Benfica, in front of a supportive crowd who applauded Ferreira who was to retire from football.The next day, the team began their journey back home. The Fiat G.212CP operated by Avio Linee Italiane left Lisbon at 9.40 am that morning for Barcelona. The Torino team crossed paths with AC Milan, who were also on a stopover on their way to Madrid. While the aircraft was being refuelled, the two groups had lunch together.The team then set off at 2.50 pm for Turin-Aeritalia Airport. The flight plan was to go over Cap de Creus, Toulon, Nice, Albenga and Savona before heading for Turin. The control tower communicated the weather situation to the pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel Pierluigi Meroni, at 4.55 pm.
The crowd's pressure was so much that the police had to turn back the fans on several occasions as the people advanced to watch the procession. In attendance representing the Italian government was Giulio Andreotti, assistant Secretary of State in charge of entertainment (who would later become Prime Minister of Italy). The President of the Italian FA, the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), Ottorino Barassi, was also in attendance.
The Italian media joined with the Italian people in mourning. The tragedy was covered for more than a week in thorough detail. The effect of the disaster really did extend beyond Italy. River Plate, the Argentine club, decided to organise a benefit match to raise funds for the crash victims' families. The executive committee of FIFA decided that all international games played on the 7th of May 1950 observe a minute of silence in memory of the Superga Disaster.
On the anniversary of the tragedy in 2008 (4th of May), a museum 'Museo del Grande Torino e della Leggenda Granata' was opened to commemorate the team. Remains of the aircraft are kept in the museum in Grugliasco near Turin. The personal bags of Mazzola, Maroso, and Erbstein are also preserved in the museum. Eleven of the 31 who died in the crash are buried at the Cimitero Monumentale of Turin, including the two coaches and Renato Casalbore. A memorial to the victims is also maintained at the Basilica wall. Every year thousands of people gather at the site where the crash occurred.
The tragedy strengthened the emotional bond the club's supporters had for their club. Torino's fans became intent on preserving the memory of the players who fell at Superga. This memory is now embedded in what it means to be a Torino fan. The Grande Torino will continue to maintain a mythical hold in the hearts of fans.