Walking down via Filadelfia, in the Lingotto district of Turin, eventually leads to the Stadio Olimpico, home of Torino FC. Along the way is a building site in a residential area, which on first glance could be mistaken for any ordinary urban regeneration project. It is only on closer inspection that you can see some eerie looking parts of an old concrete football stand. It is only Graffiti scribbled along one wall reading “Vecchio Cuore Granata” that provides a hint of the building site’s significance.
After being closed in 1963 and all but demolished in 1998, the Stadio Filadelfia is being redeveloped after numerous failed attempts. This is no ordinary undertaking, as the crumbling old ground is, as the poignant street art says, home to the old heart of this once dominant club. To this day, it still carries a unique history that is deeply embedded in the soul of anyone who ever cheered for Torino.
In order to comprehend more about the emotion surrounding this current undertaking, one must travel up the well maintained tramline to the site of the plane crash which killed the entire Grande Torino team on May 4th 1949. The 20 minute, steep journey on a railway that has been in operation since 1884 provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on the sheer altitude of the crash site, some 425 metres above sea level.
On arrival at the summit, the location of the crash is not visible, with the imposing structure of the 300-year-old Basilica di Superga dominating the landscape. The atmosphere is always serene and quiet, the sun often shining brightly over the fog that envelops the city below. There is no hint of a tribute, other than a sign pointing to a memorial commemorating the “Caduti di Superga.”
Caduti is a word used by Italians to describe those lost in battle, but here “the fallen” are the players and club officials, journalists and flight crew of a crash that left no survivors. Around the back of the church, there is no brash, tourist centred memorial but instead a subtle and understated reminder of a tragedy which has not only had an immeasurable impact on Torino FC but the wider world of football ever since.
Mounted to the wall is a picture of the team in their Granata shirts, and a memorial stone which mentions all of the deceased by name. Under the heading I Campioni d’ Italia, the player’s names are carved into the stone, made equal by an alphabetical list. The only stand out name is Valentino Mazzola, who has (cap.) next to his name.
A symbol of the team who found unparalleled success, Mazzola often inspired his teammates to victory single-handedly. Mario Rigamonti, who also perished at Superga, once said “Valentino alone is half the squad, and the other half is made up of the rest of us together.” Mazzola’s importance is recognised on a bull shaped plaque which lists every Torino captain that has followed in his footsteps, right up to current skipper Kamil Glik.
In-keeping with what is now a club tradition, the Poland international takes his turn to lead the current team on their annual pilgrimage up the hill to Superga on May 4th, taking a captain’s wreath in an act of remembrance.
Il Grande Torino began an unbeaten streak at the Stadio Filadelfia on January 17th 1943, and it was only halted by their tragic deaths more than six years later. This incredible winning run spanned 100 games and in the five seasons from 1942-43 to 1948-49, this team scored 440 goals and conceded a mere 17.
These formidable players had so dominated the Italian national team that on one famous occasion in a friendly against Hungary, all ten outfield players belonged to Torino. After seeing many of their best players wiped out at Superga, the Azzurri struggled to recover, unable to emerge from the group stages of the next five tournaments before eventually finishing as runners up in 1970.
It is no surprise that after the disaster, Torino themselves suffered greatly, having lost all of their players barring three that had not been on the aircraft. Having been invincible over the course of that six year period, a steady decline after the crash led the Granata to eventual relegation to Serie B in 1959.
It was during the same year that President of Torino, Ferruccio Novo – having placed the stadium in the hands of the Italian Football Association – gave the go ahead for the Filadelfia to become a public space and potentially be demolished. The team temporarily moved to the Stadio Communale, but after relegation they moved back to the Filadelfia, until the last match was played there in 1963, after which they made the switch to what is now the Olimpico.
Intrinsically linked to the success and ultimate demise of Il Grande Torino, there has been a long-standing desire amongst the Toro fans to see their former home rebuilt. In its current dilapidated state, it only serves as a reminder of the desolation caused by Superga, and many attempts have been made to revive it in the past.
In 2011, a new idea was formulated to resurrect the old stadium, located at number 36 via Filadelfia. Income streams for the project have included pulling in money from the local council, Torino FC and various fan groups while financial assistance is now being sought through crowdfunding.
After so many false dawns, this past autumn saw 10,000 fans turn out for the laying of the foundation stone for the new structure and it is hoped that the construction will take exactly a year to complete. The date carries major significance, with ground broken on October 17th, meaning the stadium is set to reopen exactly 90 years after the Filadelfia hosted its first match.
The first team will continue to play at the Olimpico, but the new facility will serve as a modern training centre. The home of the greatest Torino team in history will also be used to provide for the club’s future, with youth team fixtures set to be played in the 4,200 seater stadium.
The plans also provide room for a museum to immortalise those players lost in the tragedy, but perhaps the most poignant gesture of all will be found in two of the four corners of the stadium. Past will meet present where the old concrete corners of the stand will remain and become part of the new design.
The remaining original aspects of the site currently create a similar atmosphere to that at Superga, providing an opportunity for quiet and understated contemplation of the magnitude of what happened back in 1949. It is clear that this date is never far from the hearts and minds of those in Granata, as a short walk down to the Stadio Olimpico leads to the area outside the stadium which is appropriately named Piazzale Grande Torino.
Superga will always remain a place to mourn the loss of that most wonderful team, but the new stadium – complete with remnants of the old stands – will finally be a place to celebrate their greatness. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of their fans, the Filadelfia will no longer serve as a haunting reminder of the club’s tragic past, but instead will become home to Torino’s future.
Follow Chloe Beresford on Twitter: @ChloeJBeresford