Italy’s Historic Football Not for the Fainthearted

There is one rule – no kicking allowed to the head/Photo: EFE
Italy’s Historic Football Not for the Fainthearted
Rival teams duke it out in a violent, body-to-body match played on a sand-covered playing field

Blood, sweat and sand.

Those three words just may sum up the annual tournament for calcio storico, or historic football, played in front of the imposing marble facade of the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy.

Calcio Storico is an early form of football that originated in 16th century Italy, previously reserved for rich aristocrats who played every night between Epiphany and Lent. Even Popes, including Clement VII, Leo XI and Urban VIII were known to play the sport in Vatican City.

How the game works is players use their hands, heads, and feet to get the ball over four-foot high wooden fences at either end of the field.

There is one rule – no kicking allowed to the head.

To drive home this rule-free point, players are allowed to hurl themselves and block their opponents by punching, kicking, and wrestling them to the ground, sometimes so violently that it leads to bloodshed.

Understandably, local police have had to step in to make the game less violent. A few years ago they barred convicted criminals and players who were considered too violent.

Now, referees in plumed hats scramble to enforce the few rules inside the field, but their role is limited, and players pay them little heed in the mayhem.

​In the end of the blood, sweat and shredding clothes, the winning team takes home the prize – a much-coveted Chianina breed cow from which the famous local steak specialty, bistecca alla fiorentina, is derived.

This year the calcio storico tournament will be celebrated from mid June.



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