This weekend will be the return of Calcio Storico Fiorentino for the first time fully in public since before COVID-19!
What is Calcio Storico Fiorentino you may ask?
Calcio Storico Florentino, or Classical Florentine Football is a medieval football that originated in Florence, Italy in the 1400s or 1500s, but possibly earlier as well.
During these early years, Calcio Storico Florentino
was played across the Italian Peninsula! In fact, Pope Leo X, a Medici pope from Florence, organized a Calcio Storico Fiorentino
match in the Papal States as early as the 16th Century
, and Pope Clement VII and Pope Leo XI, both Medici popes from Florence, as well as Pope Urban VIII, from a nearby city in the Duchy of Florence, all played Calcio Storico Fiorentino
. But, as you can tell by the popes closest to the sport, it was concentrated in Florence, and it was Florence's football. The Florentine footballers were nobles, princes, lords, and soldiers, or in other words, the sport was mainly played by the elites during these years.
According to other reports
however, the sport was originally played by the common people like the footballs it originated from, but it would be co-opted under the Medici age which gave rise to the spectacle of the procession and the costumes seen today in Florentine football. Either way, this is when the sport became popular and unified rules would be created, and thus, is seen as the beginning of this unique sport.
This older branch of football Calcio Storico Fiorentino
is a part of is called medieval or mob football that sprouted in either the British Isles or France, but most likely in England specifically. These games saw almost unlimited rules and unlimited playing surfaces with even rivers being in play. There were often goals at either end of the town or city, and for this reason, when football fever struck Florence, the city authorities decided to place boundaries on the sport and the game was limited to the historic squares of the city
. If the report from above is true, this would probably be at the point where football became an elitist sport. From the 14th Century, these squares each were situated in front of a corresponding basilica, and each represented one of the four quarters of Florence; Piazza Santa Croce in front of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Santa Croce, Piazza Santo Spirito in front of Basilica di Santo Spirito in Santo Spirito, Piazza Santa Maria Novella in front of the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella in Santa Maria Novella, and Piazza San Giovanni, which is different than the rest because it only features a baptistry called the Battistero di San Giovanni, while the next square over, the Piazza del Duomo features the basilica with a different name, formerly called the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, but now called the Duomo di Firenze, home of the Archdiocese of Florence. A map of the four quarters can be found here with this link
In 1530, a significant match
was played in the Piazza Santa Croce. Here, Republic of Florence supporters defied the Holy Roman Empire imperial troops that lay siege to their city, sponsored by the Holy Roman Empire and Spain (Habsburgs) and the Papal States (Medicis), who wanted to place the Medicis back into power which the Florentines had overthrown in 1527. This sparked the tradition seen to this day of the football matches being played in the Piazza Santa Croce.
These formative years saw the game grow in popularity and every night every night between the Epiphany and Lent, a game would be played, often by famous families looking to earn prestige and bragging rights.
, the sport finally was officially codified by Florentine count, Giovanni de' Bardi, famous for his musical genius which spurred the the precursors to the modern-day opera and Baroque music, as well for his exploits in battle having fought under Grand Duke Cosimo I of Tuscany against Sienna as the leaders of Florence took over neighboring Tuscan city-states to create the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, as well as having fought in the Knights of Malta's successful defense of Malta in the Siege of Malta against the Ottomans, and fighting under Emperor Maximillian II against the Ottomans in Hungary. His rules would copy some of the Roman Empire's ball sport harpastum
, often considered a precursor to football, or a football itself with its resemblance to Rugby football, as the sport would also feature 27 players on each side.
By the end of the 1700s, the sport would really drop off, and eventually would no longer be formally played with the last official match being in 1739 according to records. The common people would still play it informally, but it almost would disappear. Only in 1898 and 1902 would the sport come back formally for a re-enactment match. Outside of this, the sport was virtually extinct on a formal basis.
But, this was quick to change under Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini who decided that more Italian heritage sports needed to be recreated and played. He created a version of Rugby called volata, spread propaganda that Rugby football was a form of the Roman harpastum, and then one of his Florence born hier-ups, Alessandro Pavolini, organized formal Calcio Storico Fiorentino in 1930 to commemorate the 400 year anniversary of the Siege of Florence! Medieval Football came back!
Today, the sport is played at two different times in the year.
Informally, the sport tends to be played on 17 February, the same date of the famous match in 1530, to commemorate the siege. This match is free to attend and is really more of an informal match because the traditional teams are not competing for the championship prize. It is called the Partita dell’assedio
(Game of the Siege
But, the real matches take place in June!
On Easter Sunday each year, the teams are selected for who will play who in the Semi-finals and when. There are four balls painted in the colors of each team and they are drawn and paired with one other.
The Semi-finals are played on a June weekend before 24 June with one match on a Saturday and one match on a Sunday. The Final is played on 24 June on Saint John's Day, the patron saint of Florence.
Who are the teams?
The teams are the representatives of the four historic quarters of Florence.
The most successful quarter since the return of Calcio Storico Fiorentino is the Santa Croce Azzurri (Holy Cross Blues) who have won 23 tournaments since 1952 when the tournament expanded to its Semi-final and Final format.
The next most successful quarter is the Santo Spirito Bianchi (Holy Spirit Whites) who have won 18 tournaments since 1952.
Santa Maria Novella Rossi (New Saint Mary Reds) have won 8 tournaments since 1952, while the Santa Giovanni Verdi (Saint John Greens) have won 2 since 1952.
These numbers are disputed though because oftentimes, there have been non-recognized tournaments and tournaments such as last year's event only saw the Azzurri and Verdi compete, with the Azzurri winning, and the earlier versions of the tournaments did not always include everyone playing each other, but some would wish to count these as well.
In addition to these events, sometimes Calcio Storico Fiorentino is played outside of Florence such as on special occasions, like one time in New York City for an exhibition match. There have also been two times when a side representing all of Florence has played a side representing all of Lyon (France), and both times, Florence won.
How is the game played?
The game is very physical and punching, kicking, tripping, tackling, hacking, and wrestling are all allowed and more, however, there are no sunker punches to the head allowed nor kicks to the head for safety reasons. And, there can never be two guys fighting one guy at any one time. If someone breaks these rules, they are ejected!
The reason so much is allowed is because this sport is a historical medieval football, and traditionally, there were no rules outside of no killing, hence the other name mob football. In fact, the sport was so dangerous people had died playing it, and the sport was so hectic that occasionally, bulls would be placed into the square to encourage more attacking football. Yes, it was crazy and still is, but no more bulls and no more head punches, and also, only one person can fight one person at a time.
The 27 players are made up of 4 Datori indietro (goalkeepers), 3 Datori innanzi (fullbacks), 5 Sconciatori (halfbacks), and 15 Innanzi or Corridori (forwards). There is one referee, one judge commissioner, and six linesmen, and each team has a captain who does not participate as a player, but may intervene as a cacaas or referees to break up fights. The captain and the standard bearer's tent sit at the center of the opposing goals for each team.
There are goals placed at either end of the square, but instead of having to score a goal over the post like a field goal in American football, or under the post like in soccer, the goal has to be scored in between posts raised midway in the air around waist height for the average male. These goals are also peculiar because they run the width of the field on either end which is around 40-50 meters sort of like a goalline/end zone or try-line, while the length of the field is around 80-100 meters.
The object of the game is to score and in order to do so, players must get to the other side of the field and push, throw, or kick the ball into the goal net for a caccia or one point. If the ball goes over the net, then the other team gets a half caccia or 1/2 point. If the ball goes under the net, then nothing happens.
Like most medieval and modern-day footballs, the use of the hands is the primary way to move the ball up and down the field which is really just a bunch of dirt or sand placed over the square for these games in June. But, like medieval football, the hands and feet via throwing, carrying, and kicking, and many other techniques are allowed to move the ball up and down the field of play.
The game starts with the ball being tossed into the center almost like a tip-off in basketball and the forwards often run toward the ball to bat it back to their backs. This happens after caccias or half caccias are scored too, and after these, the teams switch sides as well.
The forwards usually are the ones who engage in the physical violence that often leaves someone going in an ambulance. They try to injure and tire out their opponents to open up space for the backs who often do the attacking and scoring. They also defend as well, and the goalkeepers are the last line of defense. You need 4 because the goal is so large!
is extremely helpful to explain the sport.
There are no substitutions so if you get injured, your team goes down a man.
The players that play represent their four quarters of Florence are supposed to be from there. They are amateur, but they do get "improper benefits" you could say, as displayed in this move here
, where the main character gets free food. This movie is called Lost in Florence
and is a good movie and can be seen free with the link provided.
Prior to the match, there will be a parade and procession that resembles the Renaissance with flag bearers and marching bands (or really drummers) all dressed up in Renaissance costumes for their quarters. The players themselves also wear Renaissance inspired costumes during the match, along with their team's colors.
Where to watch the match and when?
This year, the match is being played today, Friday 10 June, and Saturday 11 June, due to a national referendum election being held on Sunday 12 June this year.
10 June: Santa Croce Azzurri v.s. Santo Spirito Bianchi; Procession will start around 5 pm local time, and the match is supposed to start around 7 pm local time, 1 pm Eastern Time (New York City).
11 June: San Giovanni Verdi v.s. Santa Maria Novella Rossi; Procession will start at around 4 pm local time with the match starting around 6 pm local time, 12 pm Eastern Time.
24 June: Final; Procession will start at around 4 pm local time, followed by the match starting at around 6 pm local time, 12 pm Eastern Time.
The match lasts 50 minutes long, sometimes with a break in between. The winner of the Final gets a Chianina calf per tradition.
The match will be livestreamed on DAZN
and Toscana TV
. Unfortunately, it does not appear for those outside of Florence or Italy that there will be a free option this year to watch.