Published on May 31st, 2012 | by Christopher Moriarty0
A Mixture of Rugby, Football and UFC: The Calcio Storico
Forget Euro 2012, 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.
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, stealing a march on the recently trialled new UEFA system of four assistant referees, 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 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.
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.
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, so you probably wouldn’t have wanted Fernando Torres on your side this year. Kicks to the head and sucker punches are forbidden, but pretty much anything else goes.
The endurance of the traditional sport is steeped in history, with players having defiantly taken part in the contest in front of the advancing Imperial troops of Charles V who watched on flabbergasted at the sporting spectacle continued with the players seemingly non-plussed by the canon fire and gunshots around them.
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.
Calcio Storico is played every June in Florence, Italy.