In its heyday it stood majestically as the home of Torino. It housed ‘Il Grande Torino’, arguably the greatest side calcio has ever witnessed. It presented a wall of noise in an intimate atmosphere. It was where Torino claimed six of their seven Scudetti. Today the Stadio Filadelfia is a desolate, crumbling shadow of its former glory. The spiritual home of the Granata – claret reds – has few sections remaining. Like an Ancient Roman ruin, pieces of edifice linger to offer a haunting reminder of its majesty.
Torino haven’t played a League match at the stadium since May 19, 1963. On that occasion 1982 World Cup winning Coach Enzo Bearzot was on target in a 1-1 draw against Napoli. A month later was the last match, a 2-1 Mitropa Cup victory over Hungarian club Vasas. Since then the Filadelfia story has been one of ruin. Of promises both empty and broken. For Toro fans, the Fila is a subject close to their hearts. The overwhelming desire is to see the stadium rebuilt and house the Granata once again. Club owners know this. They prey on this sense of desire. Just as sure as politicians promise to lower taxes, the mantra of an incoming Torino owner is to solve the Filadelfia issue. But like with politicians, the populace eventually get fed up with broken promises. Generations of Granata supporters have had hopes raised and subsequently dashed.
While the Filadelfia did not host matches post-1963, Torino still utilised the ground. It persisted as the training base, even if in the latter years it was clear the venue was in need of repair. It remained popular with fans: crowds of up to 1000 watched training sessions. Emiliano Mondonico, Coach in the early 1990s, acknowledged the ground as “a home, a monument, a den.” It was a symbolic link to their past legends. However, in 1994 the stadium was closed to fans, deemed unsafe. Training was moved to the outskirts of the city and training numbers dwindled.
This came after the first attempt to reopen the venue four years earlier. In the early 1990s the team excelled on the pitch – winning the Coppa Italia in 1992-93 after making the UEFA Cup Final a year earlier – and it seemed new life would be breathed into the iconic Filadelfia. Plans were drawn up for a 30,000-seat stadium. Then financial strife struck and the team fell into Serie B. Filadelfia plans were shelved.
That was one of many reconstruction attempts. With each blueprint seemingly came a reduction in capacity. Ex-Turin mayor Diego Novelli created the Fondazione Filadelfia – Filadefia Foundation – in 1994. His rebuilding plan consisted of a 12,000-15,000 seat training base. It was supposed to be completed by the 50th anniversary of the Superga air disaster, which tragically ended Il Grande Torino on May 4 1949. That date would come and go.
In 1997 parts of the crumbling stadium were demolished for what was thought to be the start of construction. That never occurred. There were even plans to sell the land to builders, who would turn it into a supermarket. Thankfully that never went ahead. In 2004 another design would cut the stadium to just 2200 seats and was deemed a ‘stadium of memory’ fit to host friendlies, youth matches and first-team training.
As Torino struggled on the pitch, battled financial issues and passed through a string of owners, rebuilding the spiritual Filadelfia became unfeasible. Its location in a residential area proved another stumbling block. But that did not stop fans cries. On that 50th anniversary of Superga, fans chanted “We want our Filadelfia back.” Franco Ossola, his father of the same name a Superga victim, said of the situation, “I only had this field where I could feel that my father was alive…they are taking everything away from us.”
In 2011 came aspirations to construct a 4000-seat venue fit for training and matches. A second pitch would also be built, as would indoor training facilities, shops, bars and restaurants. Plans evolved as further talks were held and blueprints surfaced last year. More important discussions were held this March. The new Fila will cost around €8million, but with potential extras could rise to €12million. Money will arrive largely from the city and regional council, plus Torino President Urbano Cairo. Ideally the stadium would be able to host first-team matches.
Foundation member Domenico Beccaria recently voiced his scepticism regarding the economic solidity of the project. “We are wasting time. They are procrastinating transferring the money and that’s the real reason why construction of the Granata Temple doesn’t start. It is a shame. I’m speaking as a citizen and a fan. I feel like we are going around in circles. They promise money when the election is on but never keep their word.”
In late April, the preliminary reconstruction and financial plans were approved. While Foundation Vice-President Gianluca Vignale called it a “historical day” there are more hurdles to overcome before building can commence. There still needs to be a final vote, then a construction group would be sought out. Should the current endeavour not make it to the building stage, it will drive another nail into the Filadelfia coffin. As if it needs another failure.
Renato Zaccarelli was a member of Torino’s only post-Superga Scudetto squad in 1975-76 and remembers the overpowering aura of the fallen greats at the Filadelfia. “When I started with Torino in the youth team we trained in Il Grande Torino’s stadium and heard the stories of the great team that fell in 1949. That was 14 or 15 years afterward so the memories were still fresh. There was one kit man who told us stories of [goalkeeper Valerio] Bacigalupo and [captain Valentino] Mazzola, and this continued the tradition of ‘Il Grande Torino.’ You felt it at training and in the changing rooms. You had to walk through their tunnel and train on the field where they used to play.”
Zaccarelli hopes the famous stadium can be given a new lease of life. “They could make it the training ground. For the fans it would be important to recover the place where the team played. There are fans who have never seen anything of the Grande Torino team, have only heard stories and it would be a place where they could go to understand the team.” For former Torino player Paolo Poggi, “the Filadelfia is Torino and Torino is the Filadelfia.” Meanwhile, current captain Rolando Bianchi has expressed his desire to see a new Fila erected.
In its glory days, the 30,000-seat Filadelfia was famed for its fervent atmosphere. In 1931, La Stampa’s Derby della Mole report spoke of the differences between Juventus and Torino fans. Of the Bianconeri, the newspaper said: “Even when he’s in the parterre or in the popular benches he knows how to keep his style; from the parting of his hair to the stripe on his trousers, it’s one single line.” However, the typical Torino supporter “doesn’t hide his passions, on the contrary he shows them to the whole world. Refusing to comply with the Juventus chic he wore the colours or emblem of his team on various items such as flags or papier-mache statues at the stadium, in the street, in the tram, in the cafe.”
Four years earlier police confiscated one thousand red hats to be worn by Toro fans during the Derby, while prohibiting the use of trumpets and megaphones. This early type of organised tifo display demonstrated the atmospheric mood within the Filadelfia. And the great team of the 1940s responded in kind with five straight Scudetti.
Fans refuse to let the memory of the Filadelfia and Il Grande Torino fade. In 2005 a match was organised between members of the ultra groups and past Toro players at the ground. Volunteers worked for a month to get the Fila up to standard. 8000 people were in attendance and those in the apartments overlooking the area stood transfixed on their balconies, proving the power of, and nostalgia for, the Filadelfia.
For years the fans plea has been simple – they want their Filadelfia back. Despite the passing of years, the memory of Il Grande Torino and the stadium, so inexplicably linked, remain. Yet the question all in claret red wonder is whether any rebuilding will ever occur. Supposed white knights have come and gone. Fans have been roped into supporting lost causes. But if there’s one thing about Torino and its supporters, it’s their celebration and remembrance of the past. The heroes, the triumphs and the tragedies. Whether a new Filadelfia becomes reality or not, the memory of the iconic venue and the greats it housed will forever remain entrenched in the minds and hearts of all involved with Torino.
By Luca Cetta
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona