Regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous sports, Calcio Storico Fiorentino, or ‘historical Florentine football,” dates back to 16th century Florence.
A combination of football and rugby, it was a pastime for wealthy aristocrats and even popes, such as Clement Ⅶ, Leo Ⅺ, and Urban Ⅴ Ⅲ who participated in this violent game.
A bit of history
Although its popularity began to fade in the early 17th, a revival of the sport came in the 1930s as a recognized practice under Benito Mussolini’s rule. Since the 1930s, Calcio Storico has become an annual event to attend Florence in Piazza Santa Croce, upholding many of its historical traditions with a few recent changes.
The new changes that have been made are essential precautions to prevent deaths for participants.
Classic moves, such as kicks to the head or when multiple players attack one opponent, are now banned to avoid fatal injuries. In 2007, a brawl took place, which resulted in 50 players being arrested and a one-year ban of the event.
But moves such as punches, kicks, headbutts, and wrestling are still considered fair game for players to immobilize their opponents.
Besides these few changes that have been introduced, the game is played traditionally in Florence in the Piazza Santa Croce in front of the Santa Croce church, which is covered in dirt to create the pitch.
The rules of Calcio Storico Fiorentino
As per tradition, before each match begins, trumpet fanfares, marching drums, and flag-throwers march into the Piazza, as well as costumed dignitaries in traditional renaissance era colors representative of their designated teams. This opening ceremony hypes the crowd, giving momentum to spectators and players’ excitement for what happens next.
There are four teams: Blue, White, Red, and Green, that compete against each other as the four traditional quarters or neighborhoods of Florence.
Santa Croce plays as the blue team, Santo Spirito as the white, and Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni play as the red and green team. The teams that compete against each other in the semi-finals are chosen by picking painted balls, and the winners of each match play against each other in the finale.
Each neighborhood puts up a team of 27 men, and the objective of the game is for players to get a ball over a 1.2m fence at either end of the pitch, similar to modern-day football.
Besides, there is a chief referee, six linesmen, and a field master present on the pitch. Teams are led by a captain and a standard-bearer who does not participate in the match but serves to keep players’ tempers at bay, a key component considering the violence that occurs on the pitch.
Each game is played for 50 minutes. The winner is the team with the most points or “cache” scored, and the winning team would traditionally receive a Chianina calf but now gets a free dinner at a restaurant.
Professionals are not allowed to participate in the Calcio Storico, and players do not receive compensation for participating: they compete to test their strength and for the glory of winning. Since the finale takes place on the evening of the feast day of St. John the Baptist, spectators and locals can expect to see a bustling and vibrant atmosphere celebrating its winners and history.
Tickets generally range from 29 to 80 euros, and the best seat is considered to be Tribune A. But for those who cannot attend in person, it is televised through a live stream offered by RTV38, which gives a sense of what it feels like to attend this historic event.
Calcio Storico Fiorentino is full of historical relevance through keeping up traditions right down to the costumes worn. Although deemed the ‘world’s most dangerous sport’ or, as Henry III said, “too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game,” it is a game full of tradition and pride for Florence natives.