Steeped in almost 500 years of tradition and described loosely as a mix between football and rugby — with a good dose of bare-knuckle boxing added to the mix — Calcio Storico is not a game for those who flinch at the site of blood.
Calcio Storico can be traced back as far as February 17, 1530, although different accounts have it dating back even further. At that time Florence had been over-run by the imperial troops of Charles V and at Florence's Piazza Santa Croce a match was played between the Bianchi and the Verdi as an outward sign of contempt and provocation.
History spells out that during the 1500's there were four teams Bianchi, Verdi, Rossi and Azzurri representing the four Florentine districs of the time — Santo Spirito, San Giovanni, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce. Encounters were held to tie in with local celebrations and continued well into the 18th century when for a period the game died out.
In 1930 Calcio Storico was re-introduced to the Florentine calendar and today three games a year are held in late June and early July to coincide with the celebration of St. John's Day (the Patron Saint of Florence).
Over the centuries not a lot has changed in the way Calcio Storico is enacted, but then again, that's where the beauty in this bloody spectacle lies. Players still dress in authentic period costume and parade to the Piazza through the historic centre of Florence where they are introduced to the spectators and the Seigniory — usually an important guest of the city.
Then the game begins. There are two teams each made up of 27 combatants. The playing field is a giant sand pit with a goal running the width of each end. There is a main referee, six linesmen and a field master who intervenes in the very likely event of fisticuffs. Each game is played out for 50 hard fought minutes with the winner being the team that has amassed the most points or 'cacce'.
So amidst a colorful display of period costume, blood and team colored smoke bombs the battle unfolds in front of thousands of cheering locals and tourists in Florence for the spectacle.
The prize? Well, the winning team receives a pile of steaks of a weight equivalent to that of a white calf. I'll take mine rare with a nice drop of Barbaresco.