Picture a sport that is a cross between football, rugby, and an all-out street brawl, and you might come close to envisioning Calcio Storico.

Calcio Storico began in Florence in the 16th century where it was played by teams of aristocrats—between the times of Epiphany and Lent. The sport was not limited to Florence though, it saw some fame throughout Italy, and was even played by Popes Clement VII, Leo XI and Urban VIII in Vatican City. Even by the looser standards of the time, it was considered a violent pastime. In 1574, upon seeing a match of Calcio Storico, Henry III of France was reported to have called it “too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game”.

Did you know?

  • Though it dates back to the 16th century, Calcio Storico fell out of favour in the 17th century and was later revived by Mussolini in 1930 to glorify the history of Italy.
  • Just as it was in traditional times, the sport is played in Santa Croce square in Florence, on a field of sand.
  • The teams are named after four colours (white, red, green and blue) and represent the four neighborhoods of Florence.
  • The 50-minute games are played on a field that is 80 meters long by 40 meters wide—the aim is to score in the nets on each side, which are the width of the field.
  • There are 27 people on each team, and no substitutions are allowed for injuries.
  • The game is run by a referee, six linesmen, and a judge—off the field; and yet they still sometimes lose control of things.
  • A recent game in June of 2017 became so violent that riot police were called to shut it down.
  • There is a long list of rules meant to keep injuries to a minimum, but this doesn’t make the game peaceful.
  • Head-butting, punching, elbowing, tripping, tackling, choking, and even martial arts and other fighting techniques are actively permitted on the field (and frequently used).
  • While there have been no fatalities in modern times, numerous players have been hospitalized…some for months at a time.
  • Players participate for glory, not for prizes. The winning team in modern times is given a free restaurant dinner.