Calcio Fiorentino: a game of modern day gladiators

Football is often referred to as “the beautiful game” due to its flowing artistry on the ball, where people judge a player’s skill and grace rather than his ability to knock someone unconscious. However, what if football didn’t have any rules?

Free kicks and penalties would be something of an abandoned past time. People would applaud outrages tackles and respective governing bodies would embrace extreme physical contact. Is this something of a far-fetched idea? Well not in Florence, Italy, were people gather three times a year to watch Calcio Fiorentino – a sport where athletes literally pour blood, sweat and tears on the pitch.

Historical Origins

The sport is also known as Calcio storico – “historical football” – due to it originating in the 16th century. The sport is reminiscent of a scene from Gladiator, where the crowd cheer every blow and rejoice in the splatter of blood. However no deaths occur here and there is an ambulance on call if needed.

Rules of Calcio Fiorentino

– The game is played in Piazza Santa Croce, a main square in the historical centre of Florence. The sport itself is like football meets UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).

– Matches are 50 minutes long and the game is played in a field covered in sand, with pitches twice as long as it is wide.

– A team from each quartiere of the city is represented:

  • Santa Croce / Azzurri (Blues)
  • Santa Maria Novella / Rossi (Reds)
  • Santo Spirito / Bianchi (Whites)
  • San Giovanni / Verdi (Greens)

– Both teams have 27 players which consist of four goalkeepers, three fullbacks, five half backs and 15 forwards.

– The captain’s role is slightly different to many sports, as their main aim is to shout and instruct the players like a seasoned manager. With the added responsibility of acting as referees, they have to calm their players down in order to stop any blood baths. Furthermore they sit in a tent at the centre of the goal net, making it a very unique and prestigious position in this sport.

– A referee and six linesmen oversee the match, with the added help of a Judge Commissioner, who remains off the field.

– Above all, the highest position belongs to the Master of the Field. He has the last say on any decisions and makes sure everything runs accordingly, stepping into the field only to maintain order.

– Kick off begins when the ball is thrown in the centre line and a cannon shot is fired to signal the beginning of the game. From then on the two teams fight tooth and nail to get the ball into the oppositions goal. Teams change sides with every goal scored, with “half a goal” given if chances are missed, so accuracy is important in this game. The team with the most goals win the overall contest.

– Along with a Palio, the winning team are awarded with a “Chianina Cow”, an Italian breed of cattle.

Popularity of the Sport

In my opinion, the sport itself is never going to grow from its Italian origins. Its unique appeal is the setting of Florence and the people embrace its tradition and raw appeal. So if you fancy going to see this game of violence, then here is a sneak peak of what to expect:

Photo Credits: Pietro di Lorenzo Bini

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