Calcio Travel Notes: Torino

For better or worse, Torino are a club defined by their past. The imperious Grande Torino team of the 1940s swept their way to five consecutive scudetti in the war-interrupted decade. It was a measure of the esteem in which that team was held that, in 1947, Italy lined up to play Hungary having selected all ten outfield players from the club.

But Torino’s dominance in Italy was brought to an abrupt and tragic end. In May 1949, the entire team and their manager perished in the Superga disaster. Amidst thick fog, the plane carrying the team home from a testimonial match in Portugal crashed into the hilltop Basilica di Superga on the outskirts of the city.

It is perhaps fitting that their current home, the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, is located just a few hundred metres from their spiritual home, the Stadio Filadelfia. The “Fila” was a compact English-style ground. It was the scene of those scudetti victories and the stage for a 93 match unbeaten run between 1943 and 1949. Torino ceased playing first team matches there in 1963/64, but the stadium remained as a training and reserve team venue for many years after.

The Fila gradually degraded to the point that it was almost entirely demolished in the 1990s. After several failed restoration projects over the decades the venue was finally brought back to life as a modern training facility and club headquarters in 2017 (time lapse video here). The venue features the final remaining segment of terracing from the original ground.

The final fragment of the old “Fila”

Torino had a somewhat nomadic existence after leaving The Fila. Initially, they moved over the road to the larger Stadio Comunale (the previous name of the Olimpico) to co-habit with their city rivals. They then moved onto the Stadio Delle Alpi after the 1990 World Cup; despite being newly constructed this was a venue universally disliked for its poor sight-lines and out of town location. Finally, Torino returned to the renovated and renamed Stadio Olimpico in 2006.

The Olimpico is located in the Santa Rita district, around 4km south of the central Porta Nuova station. It can be accessed from the city centre along the number 4 and number 10 tram lines. The Lingotto Metro and overland rail stops also take you pretty close.

The stadium was initially constructed in 1933 as a venue to host the Fascist-era Littoriali Games, complete with running track and adjoining indoor swimming pool. It was, for a short time, the largest stadium in Italy, holding 65,000 spectators and hosting matches for the 1934 World Cup. The defining features of the stadium are its distinctive ellipsoid shape and the free-standing Maratona Tower positioned at the north end of the stadium.

The stadium was the subject of a €30 million overhaul ahead of hosting the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics, whereupon a third tier was added to house executive boxes and to support a new continuous roof structure. Although the running track was removed, they did not take the opportunity to reduce the distance between stands and the field of play.

I bought my ticket for the Saturday evening game against an in-form Bologna from vivaticket.it. The cost was just €21 for a place amongst the home fans of the Curva Maratona. As with most Italian grounds, there was little regard for seat numbers or, indeed, sitting. You just have to find a space wherever you can.

The atmosphere at the game was amongst the best I have experienced in Italy. The support for the team was incessant from start to finish – it was unquestionably passionate, unwavering but without verging into hostile (video here). The chanting was led by the ultras towards the centre of the curva, but everyone was joining in; women, children, old and young. All of this was playing out whilst an impromptu football match broke out amongst children at the front of the curva.

The curva itself was filled with the vibrant colour of deep maroon banners and flags. Unusually for a stadium where fans are set back so far from the pitch, it has an intimate feel. The relatively small scale of the stadium (capacity 28,000) and the superb acoustics no doubt contribute to this.

The game itself offered superb entertainment with five goals and two red cards. Torino started in the best possible fashion, going ahead after just six minutes. But Bologna hauled themselves back into the game with two quick fire goals before half time.

Wily veteran Bologna forward Rodrigo Palacio was inspired that evening and provided the assist for Bologna’s third goal after the break. Torino pressed to get back in the game, laying siege to the Bologna goal, but only managed a consolation goal in the 89th minute to end the game in a 2-3 defeat.

Torino experienced something of a revival in 2018/19 under Walter Mazzarri. The foundation of their success had been based on a solid backline that conceded less than a goal per game on average. Salvatore Sirigu, Armando Izzo and Nicolas N’Koulou had been instrumental in Toro’s record, but suffered an uncharacteristic lapse against a resurgent Bologna.

This was an unforgettable visit and I’ll definitely be coming back again in future. The experience underlined my belief that often the best groundhopping experiences are found away from big teams and big stadiums, where a passionate local fan base fill the ground and get behind their team.

My top tips if you’re visiting Torino;

  • Baslica di Superga – a visit to the hilltop basilica where the Grande Torino team perished is a deeply moving experience. It’s located around 6km from the centre of Torino and the terrain is pretty steep so you may wish to consider taking a bus or taxi. There is shrine at the basilica that forms the centre piece of the annual memorial service which is attended by the Torino team of the day.
  • Museo del Grande Torino – this is an independent museum dedicated to Il Grande Torino. It is a regret that I didn’t have time to fit this into my trip, but the website looks superb. It’s located in the Grugliasco suburb around 8km west of the Olimpico. Note that it’s closed for most of August.
  • alloSPACCIO Torino Nord – one for the shirt collectors. This is a large outlet store for the Kappa brand, selling amongst other things shirts and merchandise from previous seasons at knock-down prices. It’s a bit of a jumble sale; I passed up the Sassuolo training bib, but did pick up a couple of Napoli shirts for around €16 each.
  • Day trip to watch one of the Quadrilatero Piemontese – in the formative years of calcio, four clubs from the Piemonte region emerged as powerhouses of the Italian game. Pro Vercelli, Alessandria, Casale and Novara can all be reached from Torino Porta Nuova station within the hour. I opted for Vercelli and it was a great experience; the write up can be found here and a short video from the weekend here.
  • Chiesa Gran Madre Di Dio – this is the church on the banks of the River Po, where Michael Caine famously drove down the steps during his escape in the Italian Job.

Thanks for reading – if you enjoyed this you may be interested in my other travel guides in the Calcio Travel Notes section of the website.

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