This Day in Sports History: May 4, 1949

On May 4, 1949, a plane carrying the Torino Serie A soccer team crashed on the outskirts of Turin, Italy, killing all 31 passengers that were on board.

Grande Torino (The Great Torino), as the team was called, was the standard of football in the 1940s, and were in position for a fifth straight league title.

With only four matches remaining in the season, Torino headed to Lisbon Benfica. Lisbon’s team captain, Francisco Ferreira, was set to retire at the end of the season, and out of respect, Torino team captain, Valtentino Mazzola, agreed to a friendly farewell match between the two clubs.

The match was played on May 3rd, 1949 and ended in a 4-3 loss for Torino.

[ May 4, 1949: The tragedy of Superga ]

The team flew out the next day through the fog when their Fiat G212 plane crashed into the Basilica of Superga, taking the lives of all 31 passengers including 18 players, 3 members of the coaching staff, 3 club officials, 3 journalists, and four flight crew members.

The crash was concluded as an accident that was brought on by malfunctioning equipment that lead the pilot to believe that he cleared the wall at the back of the Basilica.

Only three members of the team did not travel for various reasons, as well at the club’s President, Ferruccio Novo, and commentator, Nicolò Carosio. They were the only survivors.

[ The plane crash that killed Serie A’s champions and their English coach ]

File – In this 2006 file photo a Torino’ supporters demontration takes place in front of the Superga Basilica, near Turin. On May 4 2009 it is the 60th anniversary of the Superga tragedy, the day not just Turin but the whole of Italy lost a team touted as one of the nation’s greatest ever. At 5:05 pm on May 4, 1949, the aircraft carrying the Torino team back home from a friendly in Lisbon crashed in foggy conditions into Superga Basilica on a hill overlooking Turin. All 31 people on board well killed, including the 18 players and two coaches. (AP Photo/Massimo Pinca, FILE)

Italy was rocked by the tragedy and half a million people attended the funeral that was held two days later on May 6. Members of other Italian teams and even some foreign teams attended as well.

Italian journalist and historian, Indro Montanelli wrote of the devastation, “The heroes are always immortals in the eyes of those who believe in them. And so the kids will believe that Torino has not died: it is only away.”

The remaining four games of the season were played out by Torino’s youth team that competed against the youth counterparts of other teams. With the youth’s assistance, Torino won their remaining four games to finish the season with 60 points, 5 points ahead of the runner-up, to earn the club’s fifth consecutive league title.

The following season, other teams from the league were each asked to donate a player to help Torino rebuild, but the club was never quite the same.

Today, the vicissitude still remains a huge part of the football club’s identity and every year people visit the site to remember the souls that were lost.