Tales from the Peninsula: Aberdeen vs. Torino (1993-94), by Mark Gordon

When Aberdeen were drawn to play Torino in the second round of the 1993-94 Cup Winners Cup my two footballing loves of the time were brought together. Born and brought up in Aberdeen, I have been going to Pittodrie since I was old enough to remember. My affinity to Italian football was born out of one goal, Roberto Baggio’s goal-of-the-tournament against Czechoslovakia at the 1990 World Cup.

The Italia 90 tournament was something of a footballing epiphany for this young Aberdonian. It was the first World Cup that I was old enough to appreciate and it remains my favourite to this day. The colours, the stadia and the passion of the home nation was so far removed from my football watching experience that it immediately captured my imagination.

My Italian football viewing was limited to stumbling upon midweek games on Rai through my parent’s cable TV, that was, until Channel 4 grabbed the Serie A broadcast rights in 1992. For me and many football fans of a similar age, Football Italia was a huge part of their football watching formative years. It re-ignited my affection for the game in Italy and I became an avid viewer of all things Serie A. Thus, when Torino made the trip to Aberdeen, there was no question I would be attending the game.

It was a typical November night on the Scotland’s north-east coast as Torino visited Pittodrie. A brisk wind, sent into the ground courtesy of the nearby North Sea, swirled around the stands as if it were doing laps of the pitch. The bright white shorts of the Torino kit, yet to be soiled by the wet Scottish turf, billowed as the players lined up for the pre-match team photo opportunity.

The rain that was falling was illuminated by the floodlights giving the impression that the droplets were being drawn to the light, like moths to a flame. A mist hung in the air above the four stands, the warm expectant breath of the capacity crowd mixing with the smoke coming from a flare set off by the visiting Torino Ultras.

It was 10 years on from the stadium’s most famous night, when Bayern Munich succumbed to a Dons team on their way to Cup Winners Cup glory. Those who had been there on that occasion were offered the chance to reminisce as another European giant arrived. For those who were too young to remember that thrilling 3-2 victory in 1983, it was an opportunity to gain a sense of what that historic night felt like.

A small enclave of Torino fans had been housed in the Main Stand and whilst they may have been few in number, they made up for that in terms of noise and passion. As a young fan, I’d never seen support like it in my previous visits to football. The way they looked, the flags, the flares were all completely different to what I was used to from the support of visiting Scottish teams.

Then of course, there was the players in that famous maroon shirt. A famous kit for a famous side. This version of Torino though wasn’t quite the best ‘Granata’ side that the 90s’ had to offer. Just two years earlier, Torino had come within the width of the woodwork from beating Ajax in the UEFA Cup final.

The Turin side that preceded the one that arrived in Aberdeen was probably the last great Torino team. Head coach Emiliano Mondonico had assembled a phenomenal team, loaded with players who were, or would go on to be, household names.

Although those big names had moved on, Mondonico still had a talented squad at his disposal when he arrived in Scotland to face Aberdeen. 22-year-old forward Benito Carbone was looked at as being a future Azzurri star and it was easy to see why. The diminutive front-man seemed to be playing his own game at times, twisting and turning as if attempting to elude the falling rain-drops, as well as the Aberdeen defenders.

Partnered alongside Carbone was the 6-foot-3-inch number 9 Andrea Silenzi. A son of Rome, Silenzi looked to a Scot, like a typical Italian footballer. His long, curly darks locks were not uncommon in Serie A at the time, a look that Paolo Maldini perfected. Silenzi was a big powerful striker, probably more common in the Scottish game than its Italian equivalent.


Andrea Silenzi: The first Italian in the Premier League

In Daniele Fortunato, Roberto Mussi and Angelo Gregucci, Torino had players who were Serie A mainstays. Italian sides were known for their defensive stinginess at the time but on that night, for me at least, it was the big man/little man tandem upfront which really caught the eye.

As much as I loved Italian football, my allegiances remained with the home side who, trailing 3-2 after a thrilling first leg in Turin, took the lead with one of their most memorable goals of that era. Just 12 minutes were on the clock when Lee Richardson sent a thunderous left-foot strike into the back of Giovanni Galli’s net.

I was in the stand behind the goals, sitting level with the crossbar and when the Englishman’s shot flew into the top corner the moisture lying on the net was thrown into the air like an explosion.

It was to be the only high point in the game for Aberdeen as Torino’s class came to the fore. Il Granata drew level just before half-time thanks to a Daniele Fortunato strike, made by the brilliance of Carbone.

The diminutive frontman expertly took down a high-ball played into the Aberdeen penalty area on his chest before quickly shifting the ball from his left to his right. The speed of movement as Carbone turned fooled everyone, including the Aberdeen defence. His shot across goal was turned in by Fortunato to put Torino back in front on aggregate.

The visitors finished off the tie in the second period as the Carbone-Silenzi partnership combined in devasting fashion. Once again Carbone was twisting and turning after receiving the ball out wide, it was as if the ball was somehow attached to his feet with Velcro or magnets as he eluded two Aberdeen defenders.

Having worked himself some space, Carbone delivered a wonderful cross into the penalty area which Silenzi met with a devastating result. The tall striker timed his arrival and leap to perfection as he cut through the damp Scottish air to power a header into the home net.

It seems strange now, given the elongated forms that European competitions have taken, that the prize for a second-round win was a quarter-final place. Torino’s prize for victory in Scotland was a trip to England to face Arsenal.

Arsenal would edge past Torino with Tony Adams scoring the only goal over the two legs. The Gunners would go on to lift the trophy by defeating another Italian side in the final as they again ran out 1-0 winners, this time against Nevio Scala’s Parma.

The two stars of the Torino team that night in Aberdeen had interesting careers, although neither quite lived up to just how good I remember them being in that match. Silenzi became the first Italian to play in the English Premier League but he failed to make a real impact before returning to Italy.

Carbone’s career was somewhat nomadic as he ended up playing for 13 different sides following his departure from Turin. One season stays at both Napoli and Inter preceded an extended spell in England for Carbone, who never quite made the leap from promising youngster to Azzurri regular.

On that wet night in Scotland though, it was Carbone who shone brighter than the Pittodrie floodlights. It was a first glimpse, in person, of Serie A talent which I’ve always remembered. He may not have been Roberto Baggio, the player which made me fall for Italian football, but on that night Benito Carbone looked just as good as Baggio.

Words by Mark Gordon: @TheMarkGordon

Image Credit: Aberdeen FC