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The Violent Sport That Inspired Modern Football

The Violent Sport That Inspired Modern Football

Despite dreadful injuries, neighbourhoods in Florence, Tuscany, compete for glory each summer in games of calcio storico.

And even though you may not have heard of it, the chance is good that you have experience playing some version of it.

This Italian sport was invented during the Renaissance in that country, and it stands as the very first goal-orientated game.

Two teams fight it out on a field to defend their side, whilst invading their opponent’s goal at the same time.

The modern-day sports of soccer, lacrosse, American football, hockey and rugby are all iterations along the theme set by calcio storico.

No Pretend Fighting in Calcio Storico

In this game, however, whatever fighting you see is real, and not merely a by-product of the game, as is the case with football or hockey, but the actual main sport itself! There are many bizarre moments in sports of all kinds, but this really takes the cake.

Carla Vannucci, a photographer from Italy who grew up watching these games, says that these fights are the main attraction.

She started photographing the matches, and the resultant images speak of the hardiness and viciousness of the players engaged in these games.

The Rules Governing Calcio Storico

Under the rules of the game, there are two teams composed of 27 players each who start the game on different sides of a rectangular field.

A ball is then placed in the middle of this field, and for the next 50 minutes, well-built men do whatever is necessary to get the ball into the net of their opponent’s.

Participation in these games was once limited to only those who were native-born residents of Florence, but officials now let each team have two outside ringers. Although there are no online betting opportunities for this sport – yet – the points matter, and the crowd’s attention is very much concentrated on the hand-to-hand combat which characterises the game.

Part MMA/Part Football/Part Historical Recreation

One of the neighbourhood teams recruited James Zikic, a professional mixed martial art, or MMA, fighter from the United Kingdom, to play a game of calcio storico recently.

He fought until he was almost unrecognisable under a cloud of blood, wobbled on his feet, and nearly fainted on the field…

Players often leave the calcio storico field with bloodied faces and broken limbs, with the latter sometimes revealing bones jutting out of their skin.

Why? It’s not for the prize, which is a cow, by tradition, a little money and a palio –a painted piece of fabric, somewhat resembling a flag.

No, as is the case with most sports, the most valuable currency in calcio storico is the glory. One simply cannot put a price on the standing of becoming a neighbourhood legend for a year!

Calcio Storico: Influential Sport or Barbaric Footnote?

The question of whether calcio storico is an important sport that has gone on to create many hugely popular modern ones or just a barbaric postscript necessarily phased out in favour of gentler sensitivities is a good one, and not that easy to answer.

It is most likely a bit of both: immense pride in an illustrious cultural history along with a legal way to process everyday aggression makes for a sport that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon!


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