There are some seriously tough disciplines throughout the sporting world, whether it be extreme challenges of endurance like the Ironman triathlon or ultra-distance cycling, or those that require conditioning of the very highest level like boxing or MMA. But there is one sport known as Calcio Storico or “historic football,” which after viewing we think you’ll agree is hands down the toughest, most brutal sport going.
Calcio Storico is an early form of football that originated in 16th-century Italy. It’s certainly not the type of football you might be used to being more akin to a Gladiatorial battle than what you might see on a Premier League pitch. Popular in it’s time it’s thought to have started in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence (it’s also known as Calcio Fiorentino because of the location it was first played in).
The game was invented by rich aristocrats and was initially intended only to be played only by the higher social classes (even Popes got stuck in apparently), every evening on the dates between Epiphany (6th Jan) and Lent (14th Feb). These days the final matchup is played on June 24, the day of San Giovanni, patron saint of Florence.
There are four Florence teams each from a different neighbourhood that made up the competition. There’s the Azzurri (blue) of Santa Croce, the Verdi (green) of San Giovanni, the Bianchi (white) of Santo Spirito and the Rossi (red) of Santa Maria Novella. Modern-day competitors wear the same colours and traditional dress as their 16th-century counterparts, showing where their allegiances lie. Before we take a look at some of the action let’s have a quick rundown of the rules.
- Matches last 50 minutes and are played on a field covered in sand (approximately 80×40 meters). A white line divides the field into two squares, and a goal (caccia) net runs the width of each end. (So not a million miles away from beach soccer).
- Each team has 27 players and no substitutions are allowed for injured or expelled players. (You couldn’t see Mourinho being happy with this rule).
- The teams are made up of four keepers, three fullbacks, five halfbacks, and a staggering fifteen forwards!
- There’s a Captain and Standard Bearer who have a tent situated slap bang in the centre of the net. They don’t play but act as managers and even as refs when things get… let’s just say heated.
- The ref and six linesmen officiate the match, all in collaboration with the Judge Commissioner (a bit like a third official), he remains off the field.
- A small cannon shot is fired before the game (and why not), then the ball is kicked toward the centre line and a whistle blows when the ball comes to rest. Now it gets interesting as the huge muscular forwards launch into the opposition and kick the bejesus out of each other. This makes hockey fights look like a night at the panto, part of the appeal of the sport. The aim is to nobble the other team so a numbers advantage can be taken and attempts at scoring made.
- A goal is scored by placing the ball over a fence at the end of the pitch with a net behind it. The teams change sides after every goal scored. It’s a skill game because a shot overhead height leads to a half goal being awarded to the opposite team.
- The game allows punching, head-butting, elbowing, and choking – but it draws the line at kicks to the head, they’re banned and will likely get you sent off.
- As in normal footy, most goals win, but rather than three points of the glory of trophies these boys instead get the pride of Florence and a slap up meal. Although many doubtless end up eating it through a tube.
It’s earned such a fierce reputation due to its high-octane action that’s seen many of those brave enough to compete be rewarded with some serious injuries. There have been numerous shattered bones, ears have been bitten off and someone was even sent into a coma after a blow to the head.
Calcio Storico is a sort of combination of football, rugby & bare-knuckle fighting, not a sport for the faint of heart, even for those spectating in the charged atmosphere of the small stadia. Here’s a look at the speed, skill and don’t forget hard as nails attitude that makes up the uncompromising game of Calcio Storico.
This year’s semi-final was perhaps more brutal than ever after the referee was punched and a bloody 40-man brawl broke out, riot police had to be called to separate the warring players. Not the usual sight – even in sports where there are storied histories and fierce rivalries, matches or bouts tend to end in a respectful handshake at the least.
So if you fancy a more primitive sport that serves up a large measure of manliness and gumption, maybe Calcio Storico is for you. With this type of football, you won’t be moaning that the game has gone soft and players going down too easy. If these lads go down they’ve probably taken a heavy right hand to the jaw, less the beautiful game, more the brute-iful game.
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