Billy Chalmers and Juventus: The curse of the Derby della Mole

Matt Busby, Ally McCoist, Alex Neil and Lee McCulloch, these are just a few of the famous and not so famous names of football players and managers who have emerged from the small Scottish town of Bellshill.

Sitting just 16 kilometres from the centre of Glasgow, Bellshill’s population of just over 20,000 has produced more than its fair share of top level Scottish footballers. It is also in this Scottish town that we find the origins of a man who holds a rather unfortunate record in the Derby della Mole. William ‘Billy’ Chalmers was born on 24 July 1907, and would go on to have a successful if rather understated playing career both north and south of the border. During the 21 years that Billy would grace the pitch, he would represent no fewer than seven different clubs.

Perhaps prophetically for the purposes of this article, three of those clubs – Newcastle United, Grimsby Town and Notts County – played in black and white stripe jerseys. Indeed, it was one of these clubs, Notts County, who would inspire Chalmers future club Juventus to take on their now famous strip. As Chalmers playing career wound down, he gradually segued into management, although he did maintain a playing role during his first job at Aldershot Town. After spending the formative years of World War II managing in Hampshire, he would eventually move on for a short spell in Wales with Ebbw Vale.

It was only then, after these initial forays into management, that La Vecchia Signora would come calling, in what was one of the most surprising appointments ever made by the Turin giants. How was it that Chalmers had come to be on the radar of Juventus? Well, an article from the Motherwell Times gives us a clue. With the 1948-49 season approaching, the club were in need of a head-coach after Renato Cesarini had stepped down from the role. The story goes that the then Juve president, Gianni Agnelli, was dead set on bringing in a British manager after watching the Azzurri get hammered 4-0 by England in Turin earlier that year.

Of all the potential candidates, Juventus plumped for Chalmers, a decision that remains a mystery. Again, the Motherwell Times provides a small hint as to why he may have got the job. Apparently, Billy had once scored for Newcastle whilst playing against Ambrosiana Inter in Milan back in 1929. This seems to be his only connection with the country throughout his playing career. Admittedly, it seems highly unlikely that such a match would have caught the interest of Gianni Agnelli and even if it had, it seems a little farfetched to suggest that this would have inspired the Juve president to appoint Chalmers as a head-coach.

Nevertheless, for whatever reason, Chalmers was given the job. Unfortunately for the Scotsman, however, it was to last just a single season (1948-49). Juve would finish fourth under his tutelage, while neighbours Torino – who were devastated by the Superga tragedy later that season – claimed their fifth consecutive title. As for Chalmer’s time with the club, it is not remembered with great fondness, as his eccentric training methods did little to endear himself to the players.

That solitary season in Turin would also see him come away with a rather unfortunate record that still stands to this day. On 28 October 1948, Juventus hosted Il Grande Torino in the first of the two derbies that season. On that autumn afternoon, Franco Ossola gave Torino the lead on 25 minutes before an own goal by Aldo Ballarin drew the Old Lady level just before the break. However, with 32 minutes of the second half gone, the Granata’s magisterial captain Valentino Mazzola popped up to score a decisive second and give Toro the victory in the Derby.

Four months later at Torino’s iconic Filadelfia stadium – the spiritual home of Il Grande Torino –  Juventus would get their chance for revenge. Sadly, for Chalmers and his players the match would once again go against them. With only 17 minutes on the clock, Toro took the lead through Guglielmo Gabetto. Juve pegged their city rivals back early in the second-half but the respite was temporary, as two Ezio Loik goals would once again give the Granata the bragging rights.

While any Juventus coach can lose a derby, and many did during the era of Il Grande Torino, Chalmers holds the unenviable position of being the only Bianconeri Mister in history to take charge of two or more derbies and come out with a 100 per cent losing record. Thus, the man from Bellshill has gone down in the Juve and Derby della Mole history. Unfortunately for Chalmers and Juventus, it is for all the wrong reasons.

Words by Kevin Nolan: @KevinNolan11.

Kevin is an Irishman who loves to watch calcio no matter how lowly the level, Parma being his team of choice. Besides the @GentlemanUltra, he also writes for @ItalianFD.