This year’s Derby Della Mole holds a special significance to Torino. They face Champions and arch rivals Juventus one day before the 70th anniversary of the Superga disaster, and in fact the fixture was moved to ensure they wouldn’t have to play on the exact date. It is also the Granata’s best opportunity in decades to beat their city rivals and edge closer to potential Champions League qualification.
Just being in this position signals how much they have developed since Urbano Cairo saved them from bankruptcy. For Toro, this Derby symbolises that as a club, they are not just The Old Lady’s quiet neighbour.
Saturday May 4 is the 70th anniversary of the Superga disaster. In 1949, the ‘Grande Torino’ team and staff (31 people in total) were killed when, flying back in bad weather from a friendly in Lisbon, the plane crashed into the Basilica on the Superga hill near Turin. This was practically the entire Italy squad at the time, the past, present and future of the sport in the post-war era. Wiped out.
There has always been an air of fatalism around this club. Tragedy seems to follow them throughout their story, as if it was written in a novel. Just as they were pushing for the top spots again thanks to the exploits of winger Gigi Meroni, he was killed hours after a 4-2 win over Sampdoria, hit by a car while crossing the road in Turin on October 15 1967. The driver of that vehicle was Attilio Romero, then a 19-year-old Granata supporter. Romero would go on to become President of Torino in 2000.
Over 20,000 flocked to attend Meroni’s funeral and a week later they played the Derby Della Mole, beating Juventus 4-0. It remains their biggest post-Superga victory over their rivals.
Toro traditionally hold more support in the city, even if Juventus dwarf them on the global scale. Many who follow Toro will still point back to the loss of this team as the start of the decline and believe that the Bianconeri rise is inherently linked.
The Granata have not been without success along the way, however. Since the disaster they have won three editions of the Coppa Italia and the Scudetto in 1975-76, which allowed them to feature in the European Cup for the only time in their history, where they beat Malmo before exiting to Borussia Monchengladbach.
They are no strangers to Europe and these outings live long in the memory of the fans. In 1992 they reached the UEFA Cup Final, beating Real Madrid before losing to Ajax on away goals in a two-legged affair. More recently, in 2015, they managed a 2-2 draw with Athletic Bilbao and travelled to Spain in the second leg of the Round of 32.
In an epic tie that became known as ‘The Night of San Mames’ Torino became the first Italian team to beat Athletic Bilbao in Spain. They took the lead twice and both times their hosts equalised before Matteo Darmian made himself a hero by sealing victory. The win meant so much to the fans who, in their next game, displayed a banner on the Curva Maratona saying: “It really happened.” They would exit in the next round to Zenit St. Petersburg, but will never forget that night.
Torino are a club who have lived in the shadow of their neighbours Juventus, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an illustrious past. That has been the problem in some ways, as this longing for the past has restricted their future, the continual and impossible push to move back to the Stadio Filadelfia represented this. The ground that saw all of their glories until 1958 had fallen into disrepair. It was never a possibility for it to be their home ground, but Cairo and the Stadio Filadelfia Foundation saw it rebuilt to host youth team games and training sessions, which are regularly packed out with fans. It also has a museum dedicated to the history of this legendary club.
Cairo deserves immense credit after he saved the club from bankruptcy in 2005 and has seen them develop to being on the edge of the Champions League.
The Derby Della Mole will certainly be one that captures the imagination. For Torino to reach the Champions League is one for the romantics who enjoy cloaking themselves in nostalgia. Milan might be more likely to go further in the competition, as they have deeper pockets and a better pedigree. Roma have recent experience and would also do Italian football justice perhaps, whilst Atalanta play better football than all of them and have a fantastic squad to boot.
Torino are pragmatic, well put together by Walter Mazzarri and have a mean defence. They are perhaps the least well equipped to go deep into the competition, but what they would bring is atmosphere and passion in their support. It would be like an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider Veloce turning up for a race with some Ferrari 488 GTB’s, you know the result, but it’s not really about that.