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Slow Tuscany > Tuscany > Florence > Florentine Football
"Calcio in Costume": Soccer from the Renaissance

Damiano Andreini

Florentine Football
Tuscany has now become multicolored: an extraordinary range of colors offered by the show of the wheat, which is now ready to be harvested, while giving the countryside a shade of gold outlined by the scarlet red of the poppies, that each year flower along the edges and all around the cultivated fields. Along a riverbank or at higher levels, we can catch sight of the intense green of the mulberry tree, of the beech tree or of the elder tree, which contributes like a rhythm in the light blue of a clear plain sky.

But not only sight sensations are offered to its tourists and inhabitants by this region, during this summer. In fact, for the first time, after almost a thousand years, the Leaning Tower of Pisa will offer a night time view of the city; not to mention of Florence, which just the last week celebrated the famous Calcio Fiorentino (an ancient issue of our modern soccer).

The Calcio Fiorentino, we said: despite the origin of soccer is commonly attributed to England, I would suggest you not to tell this to the Florentines, who claim this game existing in their city already in 59 b.C., when Florence was founded by the Romans under the name of Florentia. The Roman soldiers themselves were the ones who imported this game there, after having learnt the rules from the Greeks; differently from other cities of that time, this game was still played in Florence during the Middle Ages and especially during the Renaissance, by that time perfected in a real championship, whose teams were represented by the several town areas, according to the respective churches, therefore: San Giovanni (the Baptistery), Santa Croce, Santo Spirito and Santa Maria Novella.

People who today visit these churches, so rich in art, history and religion, would never think them to be the "flag" of the town football. During the Renaissance the matches were held at the end of winter, too, or during the last days of Carnival. In 1941 it happened, for example, that the match was played over the iced area of the Arno River, just in front of the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Any way, one match over all became legendary: it was the one played in 1530, the 17th of February, under the siege by the imperial armies of Charles V, when the Emperor surrounded the city with 30,000 soldiers in order to reinstate the Medici family, previously expelled by the Florentines who had established a republican government.

It could be dangerous to play that match in that situation, but the pride of the Florentines was equal to their shrewdness so as to decide to go on playing and ignoring the situation and to continue playing even when a cannon-ball flew over the crowd in Santa Croce square, crossing over the roof of the church without hurting anybody, luckily. Whistles and yells of derision towards the besiegers then followed.

Each time I think of this event, I imagine Michelangelo, the "divine" sculptor who actively defended its town, while looking at the town gates with one eye and while enjoying the match with the other eye. A match of the Calcio Fiorentino was - and still today is - the chance lasting a whole year to show the strength and the physical -athletic superiority of the inhabitants of a certain area of the city: the game field measures about 80 x 40 mt., therefore it is a bit smaller compared to the present game fields and it is completely covered with sand; the goals are of the same length as per the bottom lines and consist of a continuous net with a 80 cm. opening.

The number of the football players (called "calcianti") is of 27 per team (instead of 11 like in our modern soccer), all lined along four horizontal lines, thereby resembling the order of the fighting division in the tactical units of the Roman Legion (who imported the game in Florence), any way likewise in today's soccer (the lines for the goalkeeper, for the defenders , for the centre forward players ?and for the attackers). There are therefore the back "Datori" (side defenders) the forward "Datori" and the "Sconciatori" (two half-back lines); plus the "Innanzi or Corridori" (the fastest lines, who are the attackers for the goals to score). By the way!: "goal" is obviously an Anglo-Saxon word.

At Florence the goal has always been called "Caccia" and at each "caccia" scored the teams have to exchange the game field, differently from today's change, which occurs at the end of the half-time. The ball which once consisted of rags, hay, hairs or feathers pressed and covered with leather, or of animal bowel swelled with air and then sewn, can be advanced also keeping it by the hands. The match lasts 50 minutes and consists more or less of two main rules: 1. to score goals (better said "caccia's"); 2. to avoid the adversary team to score. All the rest is show and it is therefore permitted: the players of the team are usually chosen among young people of a certain physical and athletic appearance, who perform a game in which encounters, tackles, scuffles, everything - or nearly everything - is incredibly allowed.

At the end of the match the winners and the defeated players leave the field in their traditional costumes by then torn and with painful bones. The winner team gets a white cow or, let's say better: the equivalent of a white cow, but as "florentine" steaks, which will be served at the traditional final dinner. The importance is stressed in the pride of being the best "calcianti" in Florence.

The matches of the Calcio Fiorentino were officially suspended in 1739 and only restored in 1930, according to the ancient costumes. In the meantime, more northwards, in England, somebody thought of passing this ancient game on, but with shorter goals, less players and no use of the hands allowed, so this is to be considered another matter, absolutely..!

Damiano Andreini
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