Turin | Football City Guide
When you think of Italian cities, Turin certainly isn't the first city that comes to mind. Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan all rightly draw in the eyeballs and wallets of the 62 million tourists that visit 'Il bel Paese' annually.
Tucked in the north-west corner of Italy and surrounded by the stunning backdrop of the Alps lies a city steeped in history, art, culture and, of course, football. Boasting a population of 900,000, Turin has plenty to offer and is somewhat a criminally underrated city. For a fairly large city, you don't experience the almost overwhelming hustle and bustle of tourists and street sellers you'd find in say Rome or Venice.
Stunning views from the Gran Madre Di Dio
The city of Turin is bursting with football history. Football is not only embedded in the city’s fabric it has also changed the landscape of football support across Italy. During the economic boom of the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Italians from the south went to work in the city’s factories, especially Fiat and its famous Lingotto plant. They started to follow the Old Lady and as they went back to their families in the coming decades, many took their support with them, passing it down from generation to generation. This is a key reason why Juve has such strong support across the country. From Palermo to Parma, you'll find a strong contingent of Juve fans and this goes some way to explaining why Juve are so well supported away from home.
My first visit came back in 2008 as my father and I did a back to back Seria A weekend (Torino Saturday, Milan Sunday). I'd prepared for the trip by watching 'The Italian Job' starring Micheal Cane. Aside from the iconic story, the film literally moves through the city, from one site to another. Indeed a wonderful promotion film for Turin. Despite filming over 50 years ago, the locations have barely changed bar the building facades being giving a good scrubbing down.
Il Toro (The Bulls)
Despite my black and white affiliation, I was fascinated to learn more about I Granata. Torino are a side not well known outside Italy, especially to younger generations. The oldest club in Turin, they amassed countless league titles (scudetti) in the early years of Calcio. So dominant did they become in the 1940s, they were dubbed 'Il Grande Torino' by the media after winning five scudetti in that decade.
Tragedy then struck in May 1949 as the plane carrying the team back from a a friendly against Benfica struck the back of the basilica at Superga. All thirty one people onboard died, shocking Italy and the football world to it's core. The club never fully recovered after that and it's era of dominance hasn't been repeated since.
I took the opportunity to visit the Basilica of Superga. Lying at the top of a mountain overlooking the city, there's a memorial around the back of the basilica marking the spot of the crash. Flags, stickers, scarfs and written notes are scattered around from clubs all over the world. It was a humbling moment and showed me how despite all the rivalry and hate in the game, football has the ability to unite fans.
A sombre moment at the back of the Basilica of Superga
Taking the funicular railway down from Supergra, I then wanted to visit the iconic Stadio Filadelfia. This is where that famous Torino side won their scudetti in the 1940s. It's a small ground, wedged in between large apartment blocks to the south of the city centre. To their fans, this place is the holy grail and once the club left for their current ground in 1964, Stadio Filadelfia fell into disrepair. Numerous attempts to revive the ground were brought forward but it took half a century for it to be finally turned into a training ground for the first team, as well as being the headquarters for the club.
Part of the original stand still remains directly ahead
Torino now play at what is now known as Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino but was originally was called the Stadio Municipale Benito Mussolini (probably a good thing they changed the name). Opened in 1933, it's changed names multiple times since and went through a major refurbishment in 2006 for the Winter Olympics. Home to both Juventus and Torino for decades, this was the true home of Calcio for a long period.
Outside the modernised ground on matchday back in 2008
Originally hosting over 65,000 fans in its heyday, the more modern version was scaled down to just shy of 28,000 using the original structure and adding a thin third tier on top. This was the setting for my first ever Serie A game as minnows Empoli beat Torino 1-0 thanks to a late Giovinco goal.
The Curva Maratona was in full voice that day and despite the legacy of what is essentially an athletics stadium, the views were solid and the sound didn't dissipate beyond the freshly painted walls. The tickets were fairly cheap for what was a low band Seria A game at the time and we had no problems with the locals.
A very young fake Torino fan for the day. Please forgive me Bianconeri
La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady)
Juventus. A word that actually means 'youth' in latin yet are dubbed the ‘Old Lady’ due to it's long history and the fact passionate male fans refer to the club as if it's their other half.
With 37 scudetti under their belt (35 according the league due to a certain Calciopoli scandal) the Bianconeri are Italy's most successful team. Whilst I won't rattle out all their accolades here (just wikipedia it), it's interesting to note that the Juve we know today didn't really come about until the 60s as they took advantage of Torino's tragic fall from grace.
They shared their ground with Torino until 1990 when they moved into the infamous Stadio Del Alpi. I think we all know the story by now. The ground was a white elephant project, over budget, placed out of town,, with poor visibility and a roof designed in a way that let in the harsh winter wind. To make matters worst, the athletics track keeping the fans apart was literally never used either. It didn't last long and by 2011 they bulldozed it down and rebuilt it from scratch.
I first visited this sparkly new ground in 2013 as Juve were coming off a second straight Scudetto. The game itself was pretty mundane, with the title wrapped up it felt like a training session. The scoreline reflected this as Juve came from a goal down to settle for a 1-1 draw thanks to Vucinic.
The stadium arches, symbolising the alps in the distance
Many eyebrows were raised when the club announced it would 'only' hold 41,000 seats. Those closer to the action knew well why. As stated above, Juve's support isn't predominantly in the city itself. The clubs tentacles spread for and wide throughout the peninsula, with Gazzetta Dello Sport claiming that over 16 million Italians claim to support the club. The harsh cold winters near the Alps have been known to draw low crowds. So low in fact that in 2003, only 237 fans turned up for a Coppa Italia game against Sampdoria. Yes, you read that right, 237.
The club has generally drawn crowds of around 40,000 throughout the decades so the new capacity does make sense. Entering the ground, you'd hardly notice this was literally half the capacity of the San Siro just 87 miles away in Milan. It's steep curvas and close proximity to the pitch makes it appear larger than it really is. Homage is also paid to it's predecessor as two giant arches sit on the exterior of the ground behind each curva. It's a nice touch and gives it a unique identity that's lost in so many modern grounds.
As mentioned earlier in the article, the clubs fan base stretches far and wide, with strong support across the peninsula and abroad. When you add the natural flow emigration from Italy to Europe and beyond in the twentieth century, the club has global visibility and hundreds of fan clubs to it's name. In a previous article on fan experiences, I touched on my experience of meeting other Bianconeri from across the globe in the build up to the Fiorentina game. Organised by Around Turin, we shared drinks and spoke about our passion for the team and how we came to support the Old Lady.
Facing the Curva Nord as Juventus beat Fiorentina 3-0
Turin isn't just a city of football. As well as being Italy’s first capital city after Unification in 1861 and the home of the famous ‘Turin Shroud’, the city is the home of the Italian automobile industry. It has a long and vast experience in the sector, with Fiat, Lancia, Iveco, Pininfarina, Bertone, Giugiaro, Ghia, Cisitalia all founded here. Petrolheads can even go to the top of the former Lingotto car factory (via an art museum) to see the old rooftop test track used in 'The Italian Job', and only a 10 minute walk away is the Italian National Automobile Museum. I had the opportunity to visit this in February and I thoroughly recommend it if that's your thing.
It's also worth noting that Fiat's owners, the Agnelli family, are also the majority owners in Juventus. It also partly explains why Jeep (part of the Fiat Chrysler corporation) sponsor Juve.
A walk-on map highlighting all the car companies founded in Turin over the decades
Wrapping it up
Football fans looking for a piece of action in Italy might naturally turn to Milan for the San Siro or tie in a weekend break in Roma to see a game at the Stadio Olimpico. I think they're missing a trick here. This city, whilst smaller and less sparkly than it's rivals, is steeped in football history and has plenty to offer on the side to fulfil those Instagram snaps.
Two great clubs, two famous stadiums and a whole lot in between. Make your sure your next trip has TRN on the airport ticket, you won't regret it.
Written by Richard Tester
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Epic street race through Turin on 'The Italian Job' (1969)