Last Friday saw the 200th official edition of the Derby della Mole between Juventus and Torino, the two clubs that reside in Turin. That nine of the first 15 matches played between these sides since the first in January 1907 were won by the Granata is not a pattern that has continued, and during the last eight years Torino have beaten the Old Lady just once.
Aside from two draws, Juve have won every other encounter between the pair in the spell during which they have won eight league titles, won the Coppa Italia four times, and twice reached the Champions League final.
A look at Toro meanwhile reveals that in 2011-12 — the first year of this current title-winning stretch for Juventus — saw them promoted to Serie A after finishing second in Serie B, followed by finishes of 16th, seventh, ninth, 12th, ninth, and ninth in the seasons that have followed.
Such discrepancy between the levels of success of these cross-city rivals would lead you to believe that Juventus supporters, thrilled that their team had already secured the title before the derby encounter, would have been the more jubilant in last weekend’s fixture. Yet this was not the case.
A desire to be one of the most competitive sides in Europe has seen the Juve hierarchy invest heavily in modern marketing and a club-owned stadium unveiled in 2011. Such a policy has led to a huge demand for tickets from foreign supporters; however, with their team left with nothing to play for, this Derby fixture saw large numbers of empty seats and an apathetic atmosphere.
Conversely, Torino Ultras packed the triangular-shaped away sector as usual in the Allianz Stadium, their bid for the top four only a surprise bonus to the supporters who are present for their side come what may. That Torino coach Walter Mazzarri has hugely improved their team as they make a shock bid for the Champions League only served to bolster their resolve to out-sing the almost non-existent home chants, the Granata single-handedly providing the derby atmosphere.
Such a topsy-turvy situation may seem strange to the uninitiated onlooker but — to draw on a Divine Comedy reference from famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri — Juventus are a team who are stuck in purgatory at this moment in time.
Who knows what the Torino supporters would give to win Serie A even once in this modern era? Yet this has become almost routine for Juve, while the ultimate prize of the Champions League still eludes them. Coach Max Allegri and his squad have proven their domestic superiority time and time again, however, it remains to be seen whether he, and they, are up to the task of winning in Europe, even with Cristiano Ronaldo now in tow.
Such uncertainty for the future has definitely squashed what little atmosphere there was already in the home of the Bianconeri, but the situation for their rivals couldn’t be more difficult.
This is a team who feel quite comfortable in a state of purgatory, having fully understood how hot the fires of hell can burn.
After earning a credible 1-1 draw with Juve, thoughts very quickly moved on to a much more important event. Saturday, May 4, 2019, marked an important anniversary of when their entire side were tragically killed, their plane having crashed into the back wall of the Basilica di Superga exactly 70 years earlier.
Had their team of “invincibles” not lost their lives that day, the story of Torino FC could have been so different. They too might have gone on to win eight or more league titles if their run of five in a row hadn’t been so cruelly interrupted by a disaster in their own city, the fortunes of the club surely completely changed if they had not been forced to start from scratch after suffering this terrible tragedy in 1949.
As club captain Andrea Belotti marked the yearly tradition of leading the team and thousands of onlookers on a pilgrimage up the steep hill to the memorial site and reading out the names of each player killed at Superga, it’s easy to understand why this club have a different outlook to that of their Torinese rivals.
Whether they reach the Champions League or not this term, Granata fans understand that there will be many ups and downs to come in the years that follow. The course of every single day has been altered since that unthinkable tragedy, and even those who are not old enough to remember have a real sense of this club’s tragic past ingrained in them.
Of course, this comes with both positive and negative ramifications, but the main resulting factor is that — come what may — the supporters are ever-present in letting the 11 players that represent them on the field understand that they are behind them.
Such diehard support is perhaps not entirely unusual, but what makes the difference for Torino is that they will never find themselves in a state of apathy surrounding their side. They truly understand the feeling of having plunged as far down as it’s possible to go, but they have the example of their team of invincible angels to reach for, their legacy ensuring that supporters only ever look up.