Welcome to a new Oxygen.ie series where our resident crazed sports guru Oisin McQueirns (Disclaimer: he neither resides here, nor is a qualified guru) delves into the weird and wonderful world of bizarre sports from around the planet, telling you a bit about their history, how they work, and of course what makes them so ridiculous. The first in the series, this week’s article looks at the Italian sport of Calcio Fiorentino.
A brief history:
Before we get into how incredibly mental this ancient Italian sport is and how it works, let’s take a little look at its history shall we? Calcio Fiorentino or Calcio Storico as it’s often referred to, is an early form of football that originated in 16th century Italy. The game, (I use that term loosely) began in Florence and was originally reserved for rich Italian aristocrats, with some Popes even dabbling in the action.
Referred to as being “Too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game” by King Henry III of France in 1574, Calcio Fiorentino petered out towards the start of the 17th century, however thanks to everyone’s favorite Italian, Benito Mussolini, it was reorganized as a game in the ancient state known as The Kingdom of Italy. Nowadays it is played in a tournament format every year in Florence during the 3rd week of June.
The four teams, Santa Croce / Azzurri (Blues), Santa Maria Novella / Rossi (Reds), Santo Spirito / Bianchi (Whites) and San Giovanni / Verdi (Greens) each represent a part of the City of Florence. Three matches are played in total, with the winners of the opening two games facing off against one another in the final, which occurs every year on June 24th, San Giovanni’s Day- the patron saint of Florence.
How do you play:
Now that the history lesson is out of the way let’s take a look at how you actually go about having a lovely game of Calcio Fiorentino. So far all I’ve really told you is that this is ancient form of football, but let me assure you, this is not like a “jumpers for goalposts” kick-about you and your mates have down at the park.
For a start each team consists of 27 players; 4 goalkeepers, 3 fullbacks, 5 halfbacks and a whopping 15 forwards. Matches last 50 minutes each with no breaks (of course) and is played in, what is essentially, an 80×40 sandpit. A white line divides the field in half and a goal net runs the width of each end.
The aim of the game is to get a ball into the oppositions net or end zone. Pretty straight forward in truth. But it’s the lengths you have to go to actually score a goal which is what truly makes this sport so outrageous.
What makes it so mental?:
Calcio Fiorentino is as close to an all-out brawl as you’re likely to see in any sport. You have to do whatever is necessary to get the ball into your opponent’s end zone, and most of the time that means physically incapacitating members of the other team.
The 15 forwards are usually tasked with tiring their opponent‘s defence by fighting them in a wild mix of martial arts, including punching, kicking, tackling and even choking. There are however, some rules (That’s nice of them). You cannot sucker punch or kick your opponent in the head and 2 on 1 beat downs are, thankfully, outlawed.
Substitutions are also not allowed, so if one of your teammates gets put to sleep, don’t expect a fresh man to take his place. That’s not how this incredible game works. Injuries are of course common, with around 7 or 8 players from each team usually not finishing the match. On the bright side, no one has died during a game of Calcio Fiorentino, however as Luciano Artusi, a former director of the body that oversees the games, told The New York Times “We have had a spleen removed”.
I know what you’re thinking. The risk of being cut, bruised, kicked and even losing a spleen must be worth the hefty financial reward these crazy Italians receive for taking part in this game right? Well that’s where you’d be wrong. This a game that is far too steeped in tradition for any of its players to receive money, not even the winning team.
The winners of Calcio Fiorentino receive that evening’s dinner paid for, and nothing more. They used to get a calf from Tuscany, but that does not occur anymore. No trophies, no medals, no fame. Just their dinner and the all-important prestige that comes with winning Florence’s most prized tournament. Mental.
The Oxygen.ie scale of ridiculous sports:
With this being the first article in the series Calcio Fiorentino has the disadvantage of having no precedent to compare it to. That being said this is still an utterly crazy sport so the ancient Italian sport of Calcio Fiorentino gets a well-deserved 8/10 on The Oxygen.ie scale of ridiculous sports.
Watch the 2016 final below: