They were sporting legends in their own lifetimes – which would be tragically cut short in 1949. Italy’s Torino football club – popularly known as Il Grande Torino (The Great Turin) – had won the last wartime Serie A league championship in 1944, returning after hostilities ceased to win the next three titles (1946-1948).
In May 1949 Torino was just four games from clinching another Serie A triumph when this super-successful team flew to Lisbon to play a friendly match against Portuguese giants Benfica. It was a testimonial for the great Xico Ferreira, a Benfica legend, and Torino duly adhered to tradition by losing a high-scoring match.
On the return journey, Torino’s three-engined Fiat G.212 – a nearly new aircraft chartered from Italian Airlines – encountered a thunderstorm and zero visibility approaching Turin, causing the pilot to descend in order to make a visual approach to the airport. Unfortunately, the combination of inadequate radio beacons, low cloud and a navigational error had a disastrous outcome. The plane crashed into Superga Hill, hitting the rear wall of the fabulous 18th century Basilica of Superga, resting place of kings and princes from the powerful House of Savoy. Everyone on board was killed instantly.
Italy was profoundly shocked by the tragedy. Torino lost all but one of its first-team players but carried on to win that fourth title, fielding its youth team. As a mark of respect, the remaining four opponents also fielded their youngsters, all of them losing to Torino. But that was the end of Il Grande Torino’s glory years. The club didn’t win another Serie A title for nearly 30 years and the Italian national team was drastically weakened by the loss of Torino’s ten international players.
When was the Superga Tragedy: May 4 1949
Where was the Superga Tragedy: Basilica of Superga, near Turin, Piedmont, Italy
What was the Superga tragedy death toll: 31 (18 members of the Torino first-team squad plus club officials, journalists and crew)
You should know: Torino’s revered captain Valentino Mazzola left behind a great soccer legacy. His six-year-old son Sandro would grow up to become a top player in his own right, making 417 appearances for inter Milan and representing Italy 70 times.