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Grande Torino – the Immortals

When people nowadays talk about great Italian teams they tend to think of Juventus, AC and Inter Milan, Napoli and perhaps Roma.

However, for anybody who lived through the 1940s, there was only one side and that was Turin – known as Grade Torino. Between 1943 and 1949 they won dive successive Serie A titles – the Scudetto was not contested in 1944 because of the War – and also became the first side to complete an Italian league and cup double.

Their highwater mark was perhaps the 1947 – 1948 season then they scored 120 goals in 40 matches, and finished with a goal difference of +92. The dominance of the team was reflected in the fact that ten players pulled on the Italy shirt for a friendly against Hungary in 1947. That remains, to this day, the record for an Italian national team.

However, their era of dominance came to a sudden and tragic end on May 4th, 1949, when they became involved in the one of the first Famous Air Crashes Involving Footballers.

With Torino on course for yet another Serie A title, they were invited to Portugal to play a friendly in honour of Portuguese captain Frances Ferreira.

For the return journey, they flew aboard a three-engine Fait G.212 aircraft that departed as normal from Benfica airport.

The plane then stopped in Barcelona to refuel, and the Torino players got off the plane to have lunch with an AC Milan side who were heading to Madrid to play a match.

Back on board again, the plane set off for Turin, but, as they neared their destination, bad weather began to set in, with fog, heavy cloud, and rain obscuring visibility. Meanwhile, in the cockpit the flight crew were having problems with a faulty altimeter.

In the confusion, the plane crashed into the perimeter wall of the Basilica of Superga, situated almost 700 meters above sea level.

All 31 people on board were killed, including 18 players, three journalists and three club officials. In addition, the victims included the side’s Jewish manager Eri Erbstein who had escaped Nazi prosecution only to meet his untimely end on a  Turin hillside. And then there was coach Leslie Lievesley, an Englishman, who had coached the Italian national team at the 1948 Olympics and then joined Torino.

The ness of the disaster sent shock waves not only throughout Italy but the rest of Europe as well.

Two days after the crash, half a million people thronged the streets of Turin to pay their respects as the funerals of the victims were held. Meanwhile, although the Serie A season was not yet finished, their rivals requested that Torino be awarded the league title.

To many, the team that died became known simply as “The Immortals”.

One man who survived the crash was defender Sauro Toma who did not make the trip to Portugal because of injury. He lived until the age of 92, but, for the rest of his life, was haunted with survivor’s guilt, condemned to live whilst his brothers had perished. 

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