Over the last few days, workers had transformed the Piazza Santa Croce and covered it with a deep layer of sand surrounded by haystacks and fencing. Even though it was in the middle of February, a match of Calcio Storico, “Historical Soccer”, was planned. Italians really are not too bothered by dates and punctuality; supposedly, these famous games usually take place in June only but for some reason that I still have not figured out, a game was surprisingly scheduled in February. Since I would not be here anymore in June and did not expect to be able to watch a game, I was happy about this change in schedule.
Calcio Storico is also called Calcio Fiorentino and was created in the 16th century. It is a mixture of rugby, American football, wrestling, and to some degree soccer. Both hands and feet can be used to pass the ball, but it actually did not remind me much of soccer but much more of rugby. The goal is to score a point by getting the ball into the narrow goal that runs the width of each end of the playing field. A team consists of 27 players and there are no substitutions, so any injured players just means fewer players on that team. A half point can be scored if the opposing team tries to score a goal but kicks the ball over the goal. The game lasts 50 minutes with no halftime or break. In addition, tackling players even if they do not have the ball is perfectly acceptable and actually good strategy it seems.
The game I watched was played by the Bianchi (Whites) of the Santo Spirito neighborhood of Florence and the Verdi (Greens) of the San Giovanni neighborhood. The Verdi won by 5 points (or 6 points – I cannot remember) to 2.5 points, so yes, the Green Team tried a to kick a goal and missed the net.
Here is what amused me during the game and/or here is what I learned: The players are blessed inside the Basilica di Santa Croce before the game starts (this reminded me a lot of the prayers in the locker rooms that are always shown in Hollywood sport movies).
The uniforms of the referees at the Calcio Storico are even more ridiculous than the “zebra uniforms” of the American Football umpires and Footlocker employees.
The best defense seems to be to just tackle the best players of the other team and sit or lie on them. Seriously, this seems to be allowed and practiced. Even if the play is whistled dead, these interlocked pairs are still fighting for dominance.
There are no personal penalties; it seems normal to walk past an opponent and hit him on the back of the head with one’s elbow if the opponent is not paying attention; this can also happen away from the ball and does not trigger any penalties. I am not even sure there are penalties – just a ball out of play is called it seemed to me.
The players wear odd Renaissance-style puffy pants and regular T-shirts that also seem to be of very poor quality since many of the T-shirts get torn a few minutes into the game. It seems like no shirts at all would make more sense and is preferred by the players.
All the music played before and after the game is Renaissance-style music – no hip new top-of-the-chart hits for this game.
I am wondering what costumes any cheerleaders would wear – if they had cheerleaders.
The game is pretty entertaining to watch and easy to figure out especially if you are familiar with rugby and/or American Football rules. The 50-minute game passes quickly since there are no timeouts. If you are in Florence during the time Calcio is on the calendar (or even if there is a surprise unscheduled match), I hope you have a chance to check it out.