Inter vs Torino Throwback: The Last Game of the Grande Torino

How would you react if we told you that the recent nine-title streak of Juventus is actually not the most dominating winning cycle ever seen in Serie A?

Indeed, you don’t have to move far to find a team whose grip on the Italian top-flight once used to be even firmer than the Bianconeri’s. Between 1943 and 1949, cross-town rivals Torino won the Scudetto “only” five times. But they did so in such a dominating fashion, and casting such a sense of powerlessness over all opponents, that no club seemed able to even think about breaking their domestic rule.  

Five titles did the Grande Torino win, but so many more would have likely come, if the whole squad was not taken away in a disastrous plane crash known as the Tragedy of Superga.

All winning cycles come to an end, but none should have a tragic one like that reserved by fate to the Grande Torino. The entire Granata roster perished on May 4, 1949 as their plane crashed into the hills surrounding Turin on the way back from a friendly game against Benfica in Lisbon.

Five days earlier, they had played their last Serie A game, holding Inter to a goalless draw that delivered them the fourth title in a row. The last showdown of what was perhaps the greatest team even seen in Serie A.

But what was exactly the Grande Torino?

The Granata were an absolute war machine methodically assembled over the years by President Ferruccio Novo, an entrepreneur and former Torino player himself. Well-advised by a trusted pool of counsellors, Novo was among the first in Italy to promote the adoption of the WM formation pioneered by British manager Herbert Chapman.

Torino had basically no weak point. So comfortable was every player in his role, that Italy’s lineup featured on May 11, 1947, in a friendly game against Hungary included ten players from the Grande Torino, with the only exception of the goalkeeper.

Facing Torino in those days, especially at their home fortress Stadio Filadelfia, mostly meant being on the receiving end of a cat and mouse game. The Granata used to do their bare minimum for most of the playing time as fans eagerly waited for the legendary Torino’s “fifteen minutes” to start.

At some random point in the game, a trumpeter would blow three times from the stands. That was the call for Torino to do their thing. As captain Valentino Mazzola theatrically rolled up his sleeves to confirm the receipt of the message, the Granata would give their best for the next fifteen minutes.

That was most often enough to deliver a flurry of unanswered goals to the poor opposition. Torino scored four in 19 minutes in a game won 9-1 against Pro Livorno in July 1946. A few months earlier, they scored SIX in 14 minutes as they beat Roma 0-7 away. On May 30, 1948, when the trumpet blew, they bounced back from a three-goal deficit to beat Lazio 4-3.

The 1948/49 season, which ended up being the last of the Grande Torino, was set to be another notch in the belt of the Granata. Despite a few more bumps along the way than usual, Torino were comfortably cruising towards their fifth Scudetto. Inter were the only ones able to oppose some resistance and, when they received the Granata at the San Siro on April 30, 1949, still harbored some chance to spoil their party despite a four-point gap (with two points per victory awarded).

All that Torino needed to keep their rivals at a distance was going for a draw. Considering that they missed three key starters, including Mazzola who had the flu, that didn’t seem like a bad idea. And so, the Granata put their spectacular flair aside and adopted a conservative approach.

Rome-born Inter striker Amadeo Amadei tried everything but could not overcome goalkeeper Valerio Bacigalupo, who played one of the best games in his career. On the other hand, it was Torino to come closer to break the deadlock with a shot from Romeo Menti – the man after whom the stadium in Vicenza is named.

His teammate Franco Ossola – the man after whom the stadium in Varese is named – had an even better chance but thought he was in offside and hesitated a split second too much, allowing the Nerazzurri defense to somehow clear the ball away.  

Torino’s last Serie A showdown thus ended in a goalless draw in what was surely not their most remarkable performance. However, they did what they had to do and what they were expected to.  

The legend goes that the Grande Torino’s mastermind Novo was not enthusiastic about letting his players fly to Lisbon with the campionato still ongoing. However, he had stricken a gentleman’s agreement with Mazzola: “If you do not lose against Inter, you can go.”   

In retrospect, one would have hoped that Torino lost that game and did not board that ill-fated plane. They would have won the Scudetto anyway. But that was just not the way the Grande Torino did things.



April 30, 1949 – Serie A 1948-49 Round 34

INTER: Franzosi; Guaita, Pian; Fattori, Giovannini, Achilli; Armano, Amadei, Lorenzi, Campatelli, Nyers Coach: Cappelli
TORINO: Bacigalupo; Ballarin, Martelli; Castigliano, Rigamonti, Fadini; Menti, Loik, Gabetto, Schubert, Ossola Coach: Erbstein

REFEREE: Mr. Gemini from Rome