Florence, a city that has given the world amazing historical figures like Michelangelo, Giotto, Dante, Galileo and many other masters of the renaissance, has had the foresight of preserving facets of their culture for posterity. It’s no wonder why traditions die hard in a city with such a rich tapestry of historical events. One such tradition is the annual game known as Calcio Storico, historic football.
Calcio Storico began in the 15th century and is believed to have started in Piazza Santa Croce where it is currently played today. Keeping true to the renaissance era tradition, the game is played in historic costumes and is preceded by a procession through the city that ends on the field. The piazza is transformed into a field of old, with trucks of dirt brought in to duplicate the original conditions in which the game was played.
The 4 historic neighborhoods of Florence are represented every year and each have their respective colors. Santa Croce are the blues, Santo Spirito are the whites, Santa Maria Novella are the reds and San Giovanni are the greens. The matches are held in June, culminating with the final on June 24th which is the feast day for St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence.
The games last 50 minutes and have teams of 27 players. There are goal keepers, forwards, half backs and fullbacks. The object of the game is to score in the opposing teams goal net like many other sports. What sets this sport apart is the full contact fighting that is involved. Bareknuckle boxing as well as wrestling are employed by both defense and offense to allow or prevent scoring, respectively.
There are no substitutions for injured players in this sport that is not for the feint of heart. Ambulances line the outside of the field ready to rush injured players to emergency care. Seeing players carried out on stretchers is commonplace at these matches. All out brawls can erupt between teams in which scoring a goal takes a backseat to the pandemonium.
This longtime tradition can seem brutal to the onlooker but for the residents of the city, it is a great source of pride to represent their neighborhoods. The matches draw thousands of chanting fans and the victors are celebrated as heroes. Calcio Storico is not for everyone, but the commitment to preserving a historic game that the city rejoices in, should not be dismissed.