Calcio storico fiorentino (Medieval Football)

Of course you know that, to Italians, sports is basically soccer. Other sports are essentially ignored and silently considered weird – but this may have a strong historical reason. Modern soccer is in fact the evolution of calcio fiorentino (‘soccer of Firenze’), a violent medieval game that actually looks closer to rugby and which is rarely played today but for historical reenactments. The rules used today during these highly anticipated games, which are almost exclusively played in and around Firenze, are those from the fourteenth century – the earliest found in written form. They call for 54 players, one rather heavy ball and a sand court. The most prestigious venue is piazza Santa Croce, where the Torneo dei Quattro quartieri (‘four quarters tournament’) is held.

The aim of the game is to place the ball in the opposite team’s net, extending for the whole short end of the court length. Each team is composed of 27 players, divided in: 4 datori indietro (goalkeepers), 3 datori innanzi (fullbacks), 5 sconciatori (halfbacks) and 15 corridori (attackers). A telling detail is the presence of a tent behind each net, where one captain and one standard bearer are ready to intervene to stop the savage brawls commonly erupting between athletes. A game lasts 50 minutes and the rules are… that there are no rules: players can do absolutely anything to put the ball in the aversaries’ net. You can easily imagine the intensity of these games, which are usually played by extremely muscular and irritable young men.

Any ball overshooting the net counts as half point for the opposite team, and when the ending hymn plays the winner is awarded… a select chianina veal, which is of course perfect for bistecche alla fiorentina, or steaks, Florentine-style.