Turin, Italy | The torch of the 20th Winter Olympiad began its last-day descent from Superga Basilica, acknowledging a tragic component of city history before being transported to the rechristined Stadio Comunale north of the Torrente Sangone. On 4 May 1949 a plane carrying 18 members of “Il Grande Torino,” four-time winners of the Scudetto, crashed in an embankment below the church and monastic complex (see Feb 10 2005). Thirty-one passengers died in mist and rain, following a trip to Portugal to honor Benfica’s Francisco Ferreira.
The Opening Ceremonies of these Olympics took place in the former Stadio Comunale, home to both Juventus and Torino before the sides relocated to the remote Stadio delle Alpi in 1990. The stadium was originally constructed in 1933, named for Benito Mussolini, and hosted two matches in the 1934 World Cup finals. Its renovation will facilitate the return of Torino, now competing in Italy’s Serie B, next season, when the stadium will be called Grande Torino. Christopher Clarey of the International Herald Tribune details the facility’s renewal and recalls a pre-Olympics trip to the Superga shrine:
Walk past [architect Filippo] Juvarra‘s grand façade and soaring ocher dome and negotiate an icy pathway and a few steps, and you soon arrive at a small stone shrine where the names of the dead are inscribed on the wall and where fresh bouquets of roses stand vigil.
Giuseppe Travaglini, a 58-year-old taxi driver and Torino supporter, has made this pilgrimage many times since he was a boy, and as he stood in front of the shrine this misty Wednesday, he opened his wallet and pulled out a small card featuring the 18 portraits of the dead players. “What happened here is still a part of all of us,” Travaglini said. “The young don’t remember, but the old make sure to tell the young.”
Mike Lopresti of USA Today speaks with the only player left from the great Torino side: Sauro Toma, 80, who still lives five blocks from the stadium, Filadelphia, in which Torino played from 1926 to 1960. Toma had not accompanied the team to Portugal in order to continue recuperating from a knee injury. Now suffering from Alzheimer’s, he recalls his teammates’ passions and idiosyncracies and visits Superga every year on the 4 May anniversary. But he says he avoids the team museum, which includes soccer shoes and bags from the crash scene.
Vittorio Pozzo, Turin-born, a player and manager for Torino and two-time World Cup winner as manager for the Italian national team, was called to identify the bodies 57 years ago. He also served as a football journalist and recalled the horrible loss in the city’s La Stampa:
[Torino] had had passages of play as shining and resplendent as precious metals. It had won the love and the enthusiasm of the crowds…. It bore a fine name, the name of one of those clubs which, passing through joys and griefs, had succeeded in building Italian football out of nothing, a monument of imposing size and of social significance. In its qualities and defects, in its greatness and weakness, it was the genuine image of every human impulse. Gradually it was losing impetus and polish, now and then refusing to give way, with flashes of play which lit up the horizon. Perhaps it was for this reason—so as not to succumb to the common, fatal law of decay, that it preferred to die suddenly, disappear as though struck by lightning, go out with glory.
Update and links: A brief report on Il Grande Torino aired on NBC Nightly News on Feb 12. “They were the best interpreters of the renaissance of the nation,” says one lifelong fan.