Everything you need to know about Calcio Storico, Italy’s most violent tradition

On June 24th each year, Florence's main square turns into an arena for a sport that's a brutal combination of rugby, football, and wrestling. The Local explores the history of this unique tradition.

Everything you need to know about Calcio Storico, Italy's most violent tradition
A game of Calcio Storico in Florence. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Calcio Storico (Historical football) is a game thought up by 16th-century Florentines and as the name suggests, it's an early – and very violent – form of football. It was also known as giuoco del calcio fiorentino (Florentine kicking game) and was very popular several centuries ago.


These days, your only chance to watch a match is in June, when four local teams battle it out in Florence to be crowned the champions. The whole city turns out to enjoy the spectacle.

Spectators gathered in Piazza Sante Croce for the game. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

How do you play?

The game is played on a rectangular field with a length roughly twice as long as the width, and covered with sand. It's divided down the middle into two matching squares, with goal nets at each end.

Two teams of 27 players take part in the matches which last for 50 minutes. No substitutions are allowed, even if there are injuries – which there often are. The ball is thrown into the centre of the pitch, and the teams descend on it in an effort to gain possession and kick it over a fence at the opposing team's end of the field.

Players can use hands and feet and tactics such as tripping and tackling are also admissible, meaning things get pretty violent – though there is a long list of rules aimed at keeping injuries to a minimum, updated from the original version written by a Renaisance count. For example, while many fighting techniques (including martial arts) are allowed, it's not OK for more than one player to attack a single opponent at once.

READ ALSO: Five crazy Italian festivals that no-one should miss

Is it dangerous?

Yes. While there have been no deaths during the game in modern times, there have been numerous cases of players hospitalized, sometimes for months.

City authorities in 2007 banned the match for a year after a brawl which saw around 50 players (that's almost all of them) taken to court. After that, new rules banned convicted criminals from taking part.

Who takes part?

Four teams take part in the Florentine Calcio Storico, each representing a different district of the city: Santa Croce (blue), Santa Maria Novella (red), Santo Spirito (white), and San Giovanni (green). Semi-finals take place early in June, with the pairings decided by drawing coloured balls on Easter Sunday, and the finals are held on June 24th, the feast day of Florence's patron saint, John the Baptist.

In 2014, the rules regarding participation in the tournament were changed, so only people born in Florence or who have lived in the area for at least ten years can take part. Those rule changes also aimed to cut down on violence, for example banning head-to-head clashes.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Are there prizes?

Of course! The winning team used to take home a butchered calf, but now they get a free ready-cooked dinner at a restaurant. There's no official prize-giving or medal ceremony – the players play for glory.

So … why do we celebrate it?

At one time, the game was practiced regularly, and today's match is in part a reenactment of a game played while Florence was under imperial siege. It's held on the city's patron saint's feast day as a celebration of Florentine pride by remembering the defiance of that match.

However, after the 17th-century, it fell out of favour and the tradition seems to have been forgotten for a couple of hundred years. Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini revived the game in the 1930s, promoting it as part of his regime's focus on glorifying Italy's past, and amateur games were held up and down the country.

But now, the only time you'll be able to watch it is in June in Florence.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Is there anything else going on?

Yes. Calcio Storico is not just a sporting event but a celebration of Florence, and the day begins with a medieval pageant. Marching bands and costumed people, including Calcio Storico players from each of the four teams, make their way through the city's streets on the way to Piazza Santa Croce.

The final takes place in the late afternoon at around 5pm, so afterwards you can expect a lively atmosphere in Florentine bars and pubs. St John's Day is rounded off with a fireworks display over the River Arno.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

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Champions League: Eight arrested after fans clash with police in Naples

Smoke bombs, flares, chairs, bottles and metal poles were thrown at police in Naples' historic centre on Wednesday, as Eintracht Frankfurt fans descended on the city despite a ban.

Champions League: Eight arrested after fans clash with police in Naples

Three German football fans and five Italians were arrested following violence in Naples before and after Napoli’s Champions League win over Eintracht Frankfurt, a local official said on Thursday.

Six police officers were injured in violence on Wednesday evening, according to Alessandro Giuliano, who is responsible for public safety in Naples.

Police were in the process of identifying 470 German fans who arrived in the city, and were scouring images to establish those responsible for the disorder, he told a press conference.

Dozens of supporters of Atalanta also joined forces with supporters of the German side, with whom they are twinned.

The first clashes occurred on Wednesday afternoon in Naples’ historic centre, and continued after the match, an easy 3-0 win for Napoli which took them through to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time.

Smoke bombs and flares, chairs, bottles and metal poles were thrown at police, who responded with tear gas. Later, Napoli fans were filmed by Italian media throwing objects at buses carrying Eintracht fans.

Naples mayor Gaetano Manfredi condemned the “unacceptable” violence, while opposition politicians have questioned the government’s handling of the situation, notably by Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi.

Napoli player Juan Jesus said the disorder was “bad for the city, and bad for football”.

“Because people come, then destroy, then leave, it’s not a good thing. It’s not possible to still see this in 2023, we are sorry to see these scenes,” he said.

The German supporters had travelled to southern Italy, with many arriving in Naples by train, even though Eintracht decided against selling tickets for the away section in Naples for the second leg of the last 16 tie.

Eintracht Frankfurt fans clash with anti-riot police after arriving in Naples despite not having tickets for their team’s Champions League decider with Napoli. (Photo by Ciro FUSCO / ANSA / AFP)

The Frankfurt club decided not to take up their allocation after the Naples prefecture decided on Sunday to ban residents of the German city from buying tickets.

A earlier Italian ban on Eintracht fans who lived anywhere in Germany was overturned.

Sunday’s decision came after violence in the first leg that was won 2-0 by Napoli in Frankfurt, which led to nine people being taken into custody.

Eintracht fans have been under close surveillance by European governing body UEFA since the pitch invasion which greeted the club reaching the final of the Europa League, which they won by beating Scottish club Rangers.