Back in the Summer of 1914, a steamer called the Duke of Genoa set sail from Italy bound for South America. That ship had sixteen members of the Torino team aboard. Their trainer, the great Vittorio Pozzo, was taking them on a fairly lengthy visit to Brazil and Argentina, breaking new ground for the club and operating as a warm-up to the new season, which would begin in October. Torino would end up spending a couple of weeks in Brazil, based in Sao Paulo, a city that had a high number of Italian inhabitants¹ particularly, at the time, a great many Northern Italians. The team moved on into September, to Argentina, to play a little bit more football there.
The trip was a triumph. It was a success in footballing terms, which was obviously nice, but it was also a success in terms of the relationships Torino forged while they were abroad. It is a curiosity of European football that clubs’ supporters form not just rivalries with other fans, as in England, but friendships, too. One of the most long-standing of those is the link between Torino and Corinthians, a link that was forged on that 1914 tour of Brazil.
Its probably worth noting, too, that Torino were still a pretty young club at this stage. If you look at the club badge, you’ll note they were formed in 1906, andthey’d only played around 100 games in total by the time they set off to Brazil. Torino received an invitation from the Paulista league earlier in the year, which was a source of no little pride for the club. Not entirely coincidentally, Pro Vercelli were also invited to Brazil, and also travelled, as guests of the rival Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) league at a similar time. It was quite a coup for Torino, but Pro were one of the dominant clubs in Italy at the time, winning many league titles in the Serie A era. Both clubs visits, then, were seen as trophies, but both trips went well.
All Torino’s matches in Brazil were played at the Parco Antartica – long-time home of Palmeiras, the first at 16.00 on the 9th August 1914 against Internacionale; it was a Sunday afternoon. Before the game, the Brazilians presented the Torino team with a bunch of flowers – a gesture that must have pleased the 5,000 spectators. The visitors showed no such generosity to their hosts once the game had begun. By half-time, Toro led 0-3, with goals from two of the three Arioni brothers in the team. They added another three in the second half to start the tour with a resounding 0-6 victory.
Three days later, Torino played another match, this time against a Paulista League XI, a match had had to be hastily re-arranged because of the outbreak of World War I. Their opponents that day were originally meant to be a team formed of German ex-pats based in Sao Paolo, but they were unable to take part, for obvious reasons.
It was another quick start, but this time by the Paulista League XI as Baumgartner put them 1-0 up after only 15 minutes. That lead didn’t last long, though, as Torino equalised through Tomaselli after 21 minutes; he added another before the break to put the Granata two up, and it ended a lopsided 1-5 to the visitors, Tomaselli scoring four of the five.
That leads us to the most important event of the tour, the game with Corinthians on the 15th August (it was a Saturday). Corinthians were getting to be a big team in 1914, and came into the game with Torino top of the Paulista League and as such there was a huge turnout and widespread interest for the game, particularly from the immigrant community.
Despite that, Torino secured a resounding victory, after Debernardi tucked away an early penalty, Torino were leading 0-2 by half-time and ended up winning by three goals to nil. The victory was described by La Stampa as ‘great’ and as being greeted by ‘enthusiastic supporters, chiefly Italian colonists’ before the team went on, again, to face a Paulista League XI, though with a slightly different set of players.
That game ended in another comfortable victory, (1-7, on this occasion) before the tour finished with two games in two days before moving to Argentina. Firstly, a late Debernardi winner secured another victory against Corinthians, 1-2 on this occasion, then Torino were victorious against Luzitana the following day, by another 0-3 scoreline.
A little over a week later, on the first of September, Toro had travelled up to Buenos Aires for a shorter festival in Argentina, facing, first of all, an Argentinian Representative XI.
Perhaps still weary from the journey, Torino went down 2-0 during the first half, pulling a goal back to lose 2-1 in a match held at Avellaneda, then ground of Racing. Torino had arrived in Argentina without kit (they were certainly in the crimson shirts against Corinthians) and were without it until a representative of the Alummi club provided them with an all red kit before the first game. Pozzo was so grateful that Torino wore the all red strip in all three of their games in Argentina. Their second opponents were Racing themselves, though that game was at the home of Ferrocarril Oeste, and Torino suffered their second defeat in a row, Ohaco giving Racing a 1-0 win during the second half. The final game of the trip, on the 6th September, saw Torino face an Argentinian League XI (which contained five of the players from the Racing team) and secure their only victory in Argentina, by two goals to one; Mosso and Tirone scoring for the Granata.
On returning home, Torino went on to perform very well in the league and, when it was finally suspended as Italy entered the war on May 20th 1915, were in a position wherein if they’d beaten Genoa (and they had done, 6-1, a few weeks hence) they may well have been champions. Vittorio Pozzo was not impressed. Meanwhile, Corinthians retained their top spot, winning the Paulista League for the first of their (record) 26 titles.
The real story of the tour though, was the friendship formed between Corinthians and Torino. Torino’s visit marked the first foreign opponents for Corinthians. In 1948, Il Grande Torino visited Brazil. The Granata lost 2-1 against Corinthians that day, but cemented their friendship. Following the disaster at Superga, Corinthians played their next match in a claret shirt with the Scudetto on the chest to commemorate the lost, and donated all the income from the matches to the families of the victims. Furthermore, in 2011, Corinthians dedicated their third shirt to the Grande Torino team – playing in claret again.
Torino’s tour was ground-breaking in many ways (a lot of the things Pozzo did were) but forming Torino’s long-standing relationship was Corinthians was the most worthwhile outcome. Next time you’re watching a match in which Corinthians are involved, think back to this tour, some 99 years ago, and imagine how far afield it felt all that time ago.
¹Reports vary here, some think there was something like 150,000 Italians in the city at the time, others say there was far fewer than that, but 400,000 in Brazil, I’m tempted to think it was closer to the latter figure.
Lots of information from ArchivioToro, and lots from La Stampa’s excellent archive.