Calcio Storico’s Beautiful Chaos

by Brian Sciaretta

This Sunday is June 24, which in Italy is the Festival of San Giovanni. If you are familiar with the culture in the city of Florence, the Festival of San Giovanni means one thing: the final of the annual Calcio Storico tournament.

If you have never heard about or seen the sport of Calcio Storico, I highly recommend watching clips of it that are widely available on Youtube. It’s an ancient game in Florence that was revived into an annual tournament in 1930.

The rules are simple. There arena is a big sand pit enclosed by walls. A goal runs on top of the wall on each of the endlines. If a player gets the ball into the opponents net, it is a point for his team. If, however, he shoots wildly and misses over the net, it is a half point for his opponents. Each team has 27 players and the game runs 50 minutes.

Aside from that, there are simply no rules and almost everything goes: Fighting, punching, kicking, wrestling, head-butting, and elbowing are all allowed and even encouraged. Usually the madness starts prior to the opening whistle.

In the tournament there are four teams which represent the original four quadrants of Florence. In the semifinals last week, Santa Croce (the Blues) and Santo Spirito (the Whites) advanced to this Sunday’s final.

The competition begins with fantastic pageantry which dates back to its founding in 1580 when the rules of the game were initially published. All the players, referees, and town officials dress in historical garments for the centuries-old procession into the arena.

The game then begins — in total chaos. It is a breathtaking spectacle that resembles a full scale riot more than an actual competition. By the end, few players remain standing.

If you have time, I hope you are able to check out this video from last year’s tournament between the Reds and the Whites (the first 4:10 are the parade; the start of the game follows).