Each and every visit to Torino comes with an inescapable sense of history. It’s something the club’s Turin-based supporters recognize themselves with their chant Forza Vecchio Cuore Granata — a salutation that translates as “strength to the old maroon heart” — a nod to the color of their distinctively colored shirts.
In the mid-1940s, Toro had the kind of success that had never been seen before in the Italian top-flight, a side that contributed no less than 10 players simultaneously to the national team and that had won an unprecedented five titles in a row. Nicknamed Il Grande Torino, this side will remain forever invincible on the field, their unbeaten run only interrupted by the tragic Superga plane crash in which every member of the first team lost their lives.
By its very nature, an event such as this simply must have wide-reaching consequences on the future; think less “butterfly effect” and more “seismic occurrence” on this occasion. After many years, and with the help of the Fondazione Filadelfia, the previously dilapidated stadium in which this tragic side played in has now been restored into a modern 4,000 seater facility for both youth team matches and first-team training.
The appropriately named Via Filadelfia is the street which has become a life-giving vein, transporting the blood with which the Cuore Granata beats. It links the historic stadium with the recently re-named Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino in which Walter Mazzarri’s current team play their fixtures.
Located on the corner right between the old and the new is Cafe Matricola, a place in which Fiorentina and Torino fans met before their match in Turin last March. Unlike the Derby della Mole played between the Granata and cross-city rivals Juventus just over a month before, there were no lines of riot police on this street, instead just warm embraces and smiles.
Gemellaggio or “twinning” is not uncommon in Italy, as the Ultras of two clubs form a close friendship, usually because of a shared hatred of a common enemy. Of course, the despised Juve is the shared foe in this case, but there is certainly more than meets the eye in this relationship between football teams.
The Viola – like Torino – are proud of their history. Two Scudetti won in 1956 and 1969 represent the only times the Tuscan side have triumphed in Serie A; however, supporters remember the days of Giancarlo Antognoni and Gabriel Batistuta in the 1980s and ’90s, respectively, with keen fondness. These two teams have a history made from both triumphs and tears, and such a rollercoaster ride brings about an empathy that only a supporter of a side with very little silverware to show for the good times they have enjoyed can know.
On March 18, 2018, these sides met in what was Fiorentina’s first away match without Davide Astori, the captain having tragically died in his sleep exactly two weeks before. Fans of the home side knew the pain that was behind the tears of their opponent, the Viola supporters only then fully understanding the impact of a disaster that killed not one, but every man on an entire football team.
For that reason, the atmosphere was strange, without the intensity and edge of a contest between two teams at loggerheads with each other. On a bitterly cold and wet day, the events on the pitch seemed almost secondary to the reason why most had traveled, which was to stand together in communion for what had been lost.
This week, Fiorentina will make the journey north once again to Turin as the Granta will play host to their friendly rivals in the Coppa Italia. The tears may have dried up a little since that somber day in March, but the bond will be forever strengthened.
The Cafe Matricola will once again open its doors on Sunday, ready for the embraces and warm welcomes that will follow. These supporters may follow different teams, but the same things are in their hearts: their history, the highs and lows, a shared sense of loss and above all their beloved football teams.