Calcio Storico (historic football) is a phenomenal annual historical sporting event with deep roots that anyone who loves football (and fighting) should experience at least once in life.
Calcio Storico is a combination of football, wrestling, and rugby all under one roof and is played in traditional attire. The Calcio Storico is played between four teams that originate from the historical neighborhood in the city of Florence.
A long time ago it was widely played and is thought to have originated in the Piazza Santa Crone in Florence. At that time, it gained the name giuoco del Calcio fiorentina (Florentine kick game). Today, it is also known as Calcio Fiorentina.
The game has its roots deep after the restoration of a Roman sport known as harpastum. It was played by two teams with an even number of players. The game took place on the Sandy fields while they used a large ball that was made of leather or rugs. The main aim of the game was to have the ball into the opponent’s side of the field using any available means.
The game allowed head-to-head as well as bodily contact in order to have possession of the ball. The game was made popular by soldiers who then spread it throughout other regions of the Roman Empire.
It’s origin dates back to the early 59 A.D. at a time when historic Florence (Fiorenza) was founded by soldiers who had just retired and were living with their families.
In the beginning, only the ruling/high class used to play the game. It only took place each night between epiphany and lent. There is a high chance that the game was being played in the 15th century. This is shown by the fact that other matches took place on a completely frozen Arno River at around 1490.
However, in 1580, Giovanni de’ Bardi who was a count in Florence published the Calcio Storico official rules.
The Modern Game
The main teams from the four historic neighbourhoods face each other in two semi-finals and then in a final to come up with the victorious team. The team’s that are always involved from the neighborhood include: Santa Croce (blue), San Giovanni (green), Santa Maria Novella (red), and Santo Spirito (white).
The games are always hosted at the Pizza Santa Croce. The field is always in dirt so as to give it that traditional aesthetic that was there when it began. However, stands are set up in a modern way in order to give the fans a decent view.
The initial semi-finals are played over a weekend in the month of June while the final is always played on the 24th of June at exactly 5 pm. This is because of the significance of this day in Florence. The Florence feast day goes hand in hand with St. John the Baptist day, who is the patron saint of the city.
There are various activities that take place throughout these celebrations. A beautiful parade starts in Piazza Santa Maria Novella with spectators and participants donning historical costumes of different colors.
The price for the winners is free dinner. However, past duels saw the winners receive a Chianina, which is a type of special cow. Additionally, the players from the Calcio Storico earn nothing.
At the end of the day, the participants and spectators continue with the celebrations in various ways. Some go into clubs while others head down to the bank of the Arno to witness the spectacular fireworks launched from Piazzale Michelangelo.
The matches in the Calcio Storico last 50 minutes in a Sandy field. The field measures 80×40 metres. Moreover, the field is divided by a white line with two squares that are identical on both sides. There is as a goal net that runs the entire area of each end.
Each team goes into the duel with 27 players. Furthermore, there are no substitutes allowed even if a player is sent off or injured and can’t continue.
The team structure entails four goalkeepers (Datori indietro), three fullbacks (Datori innanzi), five halfbacks (sconciatori), and fifteen forwards (innanzi o corridori).
The captain as well as the standard bearer’s tent is set up at the center of the goal net. They usually never participate fully in the game. However, they are always seen to organise their teams and at times they act as referees. They stop fights and also calm their players when tempers flare up.
The referee while assisted by his six linesmen take charge of the game and is always in constant communication with the judge commissioner. The judge is always out of the field. The ref is on top of the chain and above all.
For the game to kick-off, the Pallaio throws the ball towards the center line and a small cannon is fired. Then, it is the duty of players to try by any means to get the ball into their rival’s goal, known as caccia. With each caccia scored, the teams change goals. This game is about precision and ‘shots off-target’ are costly. When the ball goes over the net half a caccia is awarded to the opponent. Additionally, the game does not even stop for medical personnel when a player is injured. It goes on and after 50 minutes, the team with the most cacce wins the Calcio Storico.
- Ganging up is not allowed. If a player is already engaged physically with another teammate, you are not allowed to touch them unless they are carrying the ball.
- Striking from the back is not allowed. This includes kicks, punches and similar techniques. However, rugby like tackles are still very much allowed.
- No striking if on the ground. In case an opponent is on the ground, you are not allowed to attack them. However, you are allowed to pin an opponent on the ground.
Failure to observe these rules while the game is on can even earn one expulsion from the game.
The Calcio Storico is an all-day event. There is a medieval parade as well as marching bands and individuals with varieties of costumes taking over the streets of Florence as the celebrations continue throughout the day.
The Calcio Storico is deeply embedded within the Florence community. All the four teams are named after a church. The Bianchi (white), are associated with the Basilica do Santo Spirito, the Rossi (reds) are linked to Santa Maria Novella, the Verdi (Greens) with Giovanni and the Azzuri (Blues) with Santa Croce. Before the games, teams have their flags blessed in special ceremonies.
In order to play in Calcio Storico, one must have lived in Florence for ten consecutive years or simply be born there.
Calcio Storico is a spectacle that every football fan should experience at least once. So, next time you plan a trip to Florence make sure it falls on the weekend in early June when Calcio Storico takes place.