Unusual Sports: Calcio Storico — a vicious sport of papal origins

Calcio Storico is a very popular sport for the Italians, an ancient game dating back to the 15th century. Unlike most sports, though, it only takes place in Florence, Italy. You also must be born in Florence to compete in it. There are four teams, each representing Florence’s original historical neighborhoods: Santa Maria Novella (Reds), Santa Croce (Blues), Santo Spirito (Whites) and San Giovanni (Greens). The catch is that not everyone can play this sport; you must be born in an original neighborhood to compete in it. All players are volunteers, meaning they make no money from playing this sport. The real prize is the pride that you bring to your hometown if you win. This is very important to the Italian players and helps to drive their competitive edge, going in with the mentality of “No Mercy!” This sport is recognized as a dangerous sport, “It’s a mix of rugby, MMA soccer and American Football,” said Alessandro Gargani, a former Calcio player. Another reason why this sport is so dangerous is that it has few rules. Players can use almost any means necessary to get the ball past the opposing players and score, such as kicking, punching and choking. These violent, and what most people would consider unsportsmanlike, actions aren’t seen as bad but, rather, as an integral part to the sport, Calcio Storico.  

  What are the rules, then? There are two teams, each consisting of 27 players (four of them are goalkeepers, three fullbacks, five halfbacks, and 15 forwards). Though head-butting, punching, choking and kicking are allowed, sucker punches will likely draw a whistle from one of the many “referees.” This game is played on a field of sand, and the teams switch sides after each score, which is worth one point. It’s important to note that the game does not stop for injured players, you just play around them, or they do get in your way, just another obstacle. How do you win? The Calcio pitch is 80 meters by 40 meters. It has nets on either end, and the game’s object is to get the ball into the opposing team’s net to score a goal (known as “caccia”). The team with the most goals scored during the end of the 50-minute regulation wins.  

  This sport is only played during one specific period every year, consisting of only three matches. The two semifinal matches occur in early June, with the final match always taking place on the third Sunday in June. Why? Religious reasons. The third Sunday of June is a cultural holiday that honors St. John the Baptist. Florentines throughout the city come together to celebrate this feast day. The day consists of parades of nobles in period costumes, multiple Catholic mass services, and builds up to the final match of Calcio Storico (“historical soccer”). This final match is always played in Piazza de Santa Croce. The city square gets converted into a stadium for the games.  

  Some more advice from Gargani: “In order to play, you have to think less, because if you think about what you’re about to go through, you might not end up going through with it. Getting hurt is a part of the game.” However, the players believe that the risk is worth it because of the pride you get from winning, which I talked briefly about earlier. “Just to be on a team and wear your neighborhood colors is a great honor, the biggest in Florence. The winner is the winner of Florence and the winner of the world.”

  This sport was originally introduced in the 15th century. At first, this sport was widely popular among the nobility, being played by popes and clergy. Even today though its traditions are kept alive and, for the most part, have been unchanged. For example, on the day of the final match, the scene in Santa Croce would be very recognizable for a 15th-century Florentine: a parade of flag bearers and soldiers carrying the standards of each of the neighborhoods, enter the stadium before the match. Some women and men are dressed in costume to represent the nobility that once fought for power in Florence, both on and off the pitch. The players even wear the same uniforms as the previous players who came before them in the 15th century, but by the end of the match, the jerseys are usually left in pieces. 

  Although you can’t personally compete in such a gutsy and violent game such as “Calcio Storico,” you can watch this historical event online, or if you happen to be in Florence in June, you may have a chance to watch it live! Then you can judge for yourself if this really is the most violent sport you’ve ever seen that or exists.