If there’s one festival of football worth paying attention to, it’s Calcio Storico. While the Italians might take their fair share of the blame for introducing diving and rolling around like a sissy onto the football pitch, this violent variation of the sport is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
What Is It?
Billed as a cross between football, rugby and bare-knuckle boxing and dating back more than half a millennium, it’s bloody, brutal and brilliant fun to watch.
Rules are few and far between
Although referees are wisely deployed to stop matches descending into full-on brawls. In fact, Calcio Storico actually makes use of six referees strategically positioned around the pitch, although it’s unlikely that their dress of velvet caps with ostrich feathers will be replicated in the modern game (just imagine the chants from the terraces: “Who’s the b*d in the velvet and ostrich feather cap!”).
The Early Origins
The players don medieval garb to represent the early origins of the bouts, which saw the four areas of Florence represented in no-holds barred sporting clashes, with each area wearing different colours. It seems little has changed since those early matches, with the sport being played out on a makeshift pitch of sand laid out in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, watched by baying hordes who have arrived pitchside following a tension-building procession through the town.
The rules (or lack of) in the game are relatively simple, two teams of 27 compete and attempt to score a goal, known as a ‘cacce’, using feet and hands and attempting to get the ball over a designated spot at the end of each field, with a small wall running the width of each end to mark the goal. Refreshingly, bad shots are punished by awarding half a goal to the opposition. Kicks to the head and sucker punches are forbidden, but pretty much anything else goes.
Smoke bombs and costumed characters galore recreate the sport’s colourful past where men are men and prizes are meat. That’s right, the award for all this blood and guts sporting action is a massive pile of steak for the winning team. Now that’s a prize you can really get your teeth into.
A colourful pageant is also played out in the square as part of the festival which celebrates the Feast of St John, the patron saint of Florence. Calcio Storico is played every June in Florence, Italy.