Calcio Storico, the world’s most brutal sport

Calcio Storico, Florence, Italie

In Florence, Calcio Storico is a spectacular and violent tradition, a mixture of rugby, soccer and wrestling.

Dating back to the 16th century, today’s calcio storico (or Florentine calcio) is certainly the most violent form of soccer in the world. It is played only in Florence, Italy, where the four 27-man teams represent four historic Florentine districts (the Azzurri of Santa Croce, the Rossi of Santa Maria Novella, the Bianchi of Santo Spirito and the Verdi of San Giovanni), and compete every year in June.

Calcio storico (« historical soccer ») has its origins inharpastum, a game played by the legionaries of the Roman Empire. Very popular with the legionnaires, it spread to every corner of the Empire, including Florence. The official rules were written in 1580 by Giovanni de Bardi, a count of Florence. A referee(giudice arbitro) and six line judges(segnalinee) control the game, with an additional judge(giudice commissario) outside the court. Finally, a referee (maestro di campo) oversees the game and restores order in the event of major problems or cheating.

Défilé calcio storico

Costume parade before the start of the calcio storico final in Florence in 2011 – Photo credit: Flickr – Jon Gonzalo Torróntegui

Each team has to score as many goals(caccia) as possible against its opponents, but the virtual absence of rules makes the game very tough. Kicks to the head are forbidden, as are two-on-ones. Everything else is permitted. So it doesn’t matter how the ball lands in the net: with 54 costumed men punching, kicking, head-butting, elbowing and wrestling with each other on a vast, dusty field, each 50-minute match resembles a battle of the clowns.

But the violence they inflict and endure, and the game’s status as a symbol of Florentine culture, the calcianti (players) are revered as representatives of their communities.

Calcio Storico, Florence

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Lorenzo Noccioli

For some, it’s the most eagerly awaited event of the year, more so than Christmas. It’s 100% Florentine.

Traditionally, the winning team received a Chianina cow, an ancient local breed. Instead, a post-match feast is offered to the winning team.

In 2015, it was the Bianchi team from the Santi Spirito district that won, after beating the Verdi from San Giovanni on June 24.

Team composition

Four datori indietro (goalkeepers),

Three datori innanzi (defenders),

Five sconciatori (midfielders),

Fifteen innanzi or corridori (forwards).

Disappeared in the 18th century, it was revived in Florence in the 1930s. Today, it is revived each year with a major tournament, the Torneo dei Quattro Quartieri (Tournament of the Four Quarters), comprising three major matches (two eliminatory rounds and the final) held from June 14, with the final played on the feast day of the city’s patron saint, John the Baptist.

54 players compete in medieval costume on the piazza Santa Croce, in the heart of the city, which is covered in sand for the occasion, in front of some 6,000 spectators.

Calcio Storico, place Santa Croce

Calcio storico takes place in Piazza Santa Croce, where many spectators watch the matches from the stands or from the windows of the houses surrounding the square – Photo credit: Flickr – Alexandra

In 1575, a match was organized in Lyon by Florentine merchants in honor of King Henri III. The latter did not appreciate the spectacle, declaring: « It’s too small to be called war, too cruel to be called a game ».

Main photo credit: YouTube – Narratively