Calcio Storico is an ancient game that has been described as the world’s most dangerous sport in the world, and the reason is not far-fetched.
A violent sport with a deep tradition, Calcio Storico Fiorentino (which means “historical Florentine football”) has origins dating as far back as 16th century Italy. The “Calcio Storico”, historical football, is a medieval ancestor of a fusion between modern rugby, street fighting, and football. Dating back to the 16th century and still played every summer in Florence.
Four teams, formed by 27 players each, named after four colors (white, red, green and blue) and representing respectively the four neighborhoods of Santo Spirito, Santa Maria Novella, San Giovanni and Santa Croce, face each other every year in the beautiful setting of Santa Croce square under a merciless Tuscan sun, using each part of their body.
For injured, no substitutions are allowed, that’s why the players, even if with broken bones, keep playing in the field for those endless 50 minutes of the game.
There are a few rules, but choking, punching, and are allowed, making Calcio Storico a unique sports experience of medieval brutality. In modern times it takes place in Piazza Santa Croce, with the area in front of Santa Croce church covered in dirt to create the pitch.
After its resurgence, Calcio Storico Fiorentino developed into the annual event seen today, with four teams taking part every summer. All players that take part are volunteers, who know that after a 50-minute match they are highly likely to be leaving the field injured and bloody.
Cannon fire signals the start of a game and the two teams of 27 players attempt to score by moving the ball into the opposing team’s goal, or “Caccia”, that spans the 40m width of the pitch, by any means necessary. If the ball is thrown over the net, however, half a point is given to the defending team.
No substitutes are allowed, and it is the aim of the 15 forwards on the pitch to injure or incapacitate their opponents while the backs run with the ball and attempt to score. The games themselves are a key element of the feast day celebrations in Florence for its patron saint St John the Baptist.
They treat spectators to a parade of all four teams in traditional uniforms before the game, with the end-of-games celebration taking place along the banks of the Arno. As for the players, they are not allowed to receive any compensation for taking part, as they permit no professionals.
In the past, the winning team would win a Chianina calf (an Italian breed of cattle) but in recent years they have reduced this prize to a free dinner. Those who are involved, however, are content just to take part, testing themselves in this most dangerous of games.