Football is a common sight in Italy, but in Florence, during the third week in June, the sport takes on a unique and spectacular form. Each year in the Piazza Santa Croce, the four 'quartieres' of the city play a series of football matches using the original rules, as developed in Florence during the 15th century.
The 'Calcio Storico Fiorentino' teams are:
- Santa Croce - Azzurri (Blues)
- Santa Maria Novella - Rossi (Reds)
- Santo Spirito - Bianchi (Whites)
- San Giovanni - Verdi (Greens)
After a series of 'Round Robin' matches, the final is played out on June 24th, San Giovani's Day, the patron saint of Florence. The winning team receives a Chianina cow as the prize.
The game was called 'Calcio Fiorentino' (Florentine Football), or just 'Calcio', which is the same word used for football in Italy today. It was played by wealthy aristocrats and soon became popular further afield. It seems that even Popes Clement III, Leo XI and Urban VIII used to play it in Vatican City.
Although there are some similarities with the modern game of soccer, the levels of aggression and violence involved in these matches would make even the most outrageous of modern day fouls seem very tame in comparison. Acceptable techniques include head-butting, punching, elbowing and choking an opponent. However, kicking an opponent's head is not allowed, and a player can only be attacked by one other player at a time. The French king, Henry III, having witnessed a game of 'Calcio' held in his honour, remarked that it was: "Too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game!"
Giovani de Bardi, a Florentine count, was the first to publish the rules of 'Calcio' in 1580.
There are two teams, each with 27 players:
- 4 goalkeepers (Datori indietro)
- 3 Fullbacks (Datori innanzi)
- 5 halfbacks (Sconciatori)
- 15 forwards (Innanzi o Corridori)
The captain stays off the field and is responsible for organising his team.
There are 8 officials: a referee, 6 linesmen and a 'Field Master' who normally only comes onto the pitch to break up fights!
Calcio Storico Fiorentino Parade - Photo: Lorenzo Noccioli
The match is played on a field of sand that is twice as long as it is wide. There is a goal running the width of the pitch at each end. Players can use their hands and feet to pass the ball and a goal is scored by throwing the ball over the netting into the goal, called a 'Caccia'. Each time a team shoots and misses the goal, the other team is awarded a 'half caccia'. The match lasts for 50 minutes with no break or substitutions. The team with the most goals at the end is the winner.