The Italian city of Turin plays hosts to one of football’s most famous teams, Juventus. The Old Lady are a side rich in history, tradition and honour, becoming Italy’s best side this century. Former Juventus manager Billy Chalmers’ story is rarely mentioned in the Old Lady’s history books.
They have had a long running rivalry with many teams both in Italy and across Europe, but their is no doubting that city rivals Torino are their biggest foes. It’s a rivalry that stretches back over 100 years to 1906. Juventus are on top in the city nowadays, but that hasn’t always been the situation.
During the 1940s, Torino’s most famous team ‘il Grande Torino’, which means the great Torino in English, won five Italian titles in a row, before the tragic Superga air disaster in 1949.
It is this story which is often remembered during the 1948/49 season, so it isn’t often that the story of the Scotsman in charge of the Old Lady is mentioned. Chalmers came to Juventus in 1948, arriving from defunct Welsh club Ebbw Vale.
His hometown of Bellshill has been the birthplace of many great footballing names. Ally McCoist and Sir Matt Busby are just a couple to emerge from the sleepy North Lanarkshire town. Chalmers is another to come from this town, but his weird venture with the Italian champions is often forgotten about.
Chalmers was born in Bellshill in 1907. Dreaming of life as a footballer, he started out at local junior side Bellshill Athletic. This is where he developed his love and passion for the game.
When he hung up his boots in 1943, Chalmers’ managerial path begins to venture into the unknown.
How did Chalmers get there?
Chalmers had a decent playing career, starring for Queen’s Park at the age of 15. He then moved on to play for Rangers, but his Ibrox career really didn’t take off as he might have hoped. Spells down south were to follow, turning out for Newcastle, Grimsby, Bury, Notts County and Aldershot Town. His playing career was decent but nothing really to shout about.
Chalmers joined Welsh side Ebbw Vale in the same year he retired, but in what capacity is still unknown to this day. Vale disbanded in 1998, so most of their historical records have either been lost or destroyed.
This makes it even more challenging to piece together how he managed to bag a move to Juventus. He couldn’t speak the language, Chalmers had never played in Italy, and seemingly had no links to the country. The only thing he had done was score in a friendly against Inter in 1929.
The man with no European footballing experience was in the hot seat of Juve. He brought the first British player to Serie A, in the form of Johnny Jordan from Tottenham.
The Bellshill born manager was given the mantle of bringing the Old Lady it’s first league win since before World War II. More importantly, Chalmers had the task of ending arch-rivals Torino’s dominance in Italy.
A forgotten man
Chalmers started well, but in his first game against Torino, he suffered his first defeat as Juve fell 2-1 to their rivals. Having started so well, this seemed to derail Chalmers’ men and the title challenge fell off a cliff in the weeks following defeat to Torino.
The next Derby della Mole saw Chalmers face another blow, a 3-1 defeat away from home. This match is tinged with sadness, as this would be the last ever game this great Torino side would play before the tragic plane crash in 1949. Everyone aboard the flight was killed, and with it, a tragic end to one of Torino’s greatest sides.
With millions mourning the deaths of the Torino heroes, Juventus got a fourth place finish, and Chalmers left at the end of the season. He took charge of 48 games, with a 50% win ratio not enough to allow Chalmers to stay in Turin. The former Bellshill Athletic youngster is the only Old Lady manager to lose all of his games against Torino, of those who faced the men in maroon once or more.
He managed Bury after Juve but Chalmers fell off the face of the earth after leaving the Shakers. There isn’t any concrete evidence of what happened after Bury. An accurate time of death isn’t even known.
Chalmers is one of two Scottish men to manage Juventus. The history books have not been kind to Chalmers though, and it’s unlikely he’ll be talked about in years to come.