Inside Florence’s ‘Calcio Storico’ the crazy sport where football meets fighting

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‘The game is gone’ is a diatribe regularly uttered by football fans, disgruntled at frustrating elements which have creeped into football.

From diving and players feigning injury, to VAR and pre-match light shows in the Premier League, many supporters are often unhappy by the subtle developments entering modern football.

Whether it is high player wages, or even the reality that most crunching tackles, which would have been greeted with a roar from the crowd and a handshake from the opposition, are often awarded with a yellow card, or after a lengthy review from VAR to their utter dismay, a red card.

Old fashioned supporters have often felt the Premier League, amidst its ludicrous wealth, power, and glamour, has abandoned many of its traditional roots.

However, deep in the heart of the ancient Italian city of Florence lies a unique substratum of the beautiful game called Calcio Storico.

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Directly translated as Historical Football, Calcio Storico is not for the feint hearted.

It’s only similarity to football as we know it, is there may be a few players on the floor clutching their face; except they would be doing so after being punched or kicked, often repeatedly, in the head.

This is exactly what happened to former player Stefano Di Puccio, a 63-year-old restaurant owner in Florence who was once rushed to hospital after being repeatedly kicked in the skull during the ensuing madness of the match.

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“The person that kicked me in the head actually became the godfather to one of my daughters,” he said enthusiastically in an interview with National Geographic.

There is method to the madness of this fierce, historical game.

Four teams from Florence’s classical neighbourhoods, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito, and San Giovanni, compete against each other in a historical variation of football.

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The pitch is a sandpit, the players are identified in ancient style dress with their neighbourhoods’ colours, and bare knuckle fighting, and maiming is as encouraged as it is allowed.

Thousands of fans flock together to witness the carnage which usually takes place on the City’s feast day for St John the Baptist on the 24th of June

Two teams made up of 27 players score points by throwing a ball into a long trough at the end of each’s teams’ line, and they compete for 50 minutes.

There is no Gegenpressing or Tiki Taka football in sight here, as the general strategy of the game is to incapacitate as many members of the other team as possible with headlocks, punches, kicks, scrums, takedowns, and stomps.

After all there is no substitutions, and if somebody is stretchered off, then they must play with a man short.

Calcio Football dates to the 14th century, but its most famous match took place in 1530, where locals insisted on the game being carried out, despite the fact the city was under siege from the army of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Unfortunately, amid fears of a second wave of Coronavirus in June 2020, the historical festival of Calcio Storico was postponed in June 2020.

But, with the very same historical defiance of the many generations to take up the sport, they were determined to find a way to play the games.

“The situation is tragicomic,” said Filipo Giovanelli, an executive of the parade and Calcio Storico celebration who also spoke to National Geographic.

“We cannot have a parade with masks. We cannot have a game without grappling. But we must be able to do something.”

“In 1530, the enemy was the troops, in 2020, it’s not the troops; it’s the virus,” Deputy Mayor, Andrea Vannucci, said.

“So, this is our foe. Our people are frightened. And we have to figure out what we can do to give hope to the city again.”

While it only involved two teams, instead of the usual four, the games did make a return in September.

Santa Croce and San Giovanni participated against each other, except the contest was broadcast live and carried out behind closed doors.

While the tradition of mayhem and adrenaline did not take place in its full format this year, the Florence locals will certainly find a way to bring it all back eventually.

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