Football: Turin tragedy haunts Toma

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The Independent Online
SAURO TOMA yesterday mourned his former Torino team-mates and reflected on his own lucky escape on the 50th anniversary of the blackest day in the Italian club's history. For it was on 4 May, 1949 that their return flight from a friendly fixture against Benfica of Portugal came to grief on a misty Italian hillside.

Toma was a member of the great Torino side who emerged from the rubble of post-war Italy to win four consecutive Serie A titles from 1946-49. In their majestic 1947-48 season they scored a record 125 league goals, took the title by 16 points, won all but one of their 20 home matches and set a championship record by winning one game 10-0.

Thanks to a minor knee injury, Toma missed the game in Portugal, and still considers himself the luckiest man in Turin.

Disaster struck as the plane descended through mist and drizzle to land at Turin airport, strayed off course and smashed into the Superga hill on the western outskirts of the city. All 31 people on board were killed. They included Torino's English coach, Leslie Lievesley, and virtually the entire Italian national team including inside- right Enzio Loik, striker Guglielmo Gabetto, right-back Aldo Ballerin, goalkeeper Valeri Bacigalupo and Italy's finest player of the 1940s, inside-left Valentino Mazzola. "I was supposed to make the trip to Portugal but my knee had been playing up all season and I stayed behind," Toma recalled yesterday. "On that day I had been down at our Filadelfia stadium for treatment. I went home and found 30 or 40 people waiting outside my house. One of them, a friend, took me by the hand and told what had happened. It was an awful day - raining and snowing. We rushed over to Superga and people were streaming down the hill in tears.

"As we went up we met the club president and he took me to one side and wouldn't let me go any further. He didn't want me to see the remains of my team-mates, my friends."

Two days later the Italian Football League awarded Torino the 1949 title in honour of the victims of Superga. In truth though, there was little need.

At the time of the disaster Lievesley's side were four points clear at the top of the table with four matches to play.

They fielded a youth side for their remaining games, as did their opponents out of respect, and won all four matches to finish five points ahead of their nearest rivals, Internazionale.

Sadly Torino have failed to produce a team of similar quality since.